2009 Annual Science Report

University of Hawaii, Manoa Reporting  |  JUL 2008 – AUG 2009

Keck Astrochemistry Laboratory

Project Summary

The overall goal of this project is to comprehend the chemical evolution of the Solar System. This will be achieved through an understanding of the formation of carbon-, hydrogen-, oxygen-, and nitrogen-bearing (CHON) molecules in ices of Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs) by reproducing the space environment in a specially designed experimental setup. KBOs are small planetary bodies orbiting the sun beyond the planet Neptune, which are considered as the most primitive objects in the Solar System. A study of KBOs is important because they resemble natural ‘time capsules’ at a frozen stage before life developed on Earth. Our methodology is based on a comparison of the molecules formed in the experiments with the current composition of KBOs; such approach provides an exceptional potential to reconstruct the composition of icy Solar System bodies at the time of their formation billions of years ago. The significance of this project is that our studies elucidate the origin of biologically relevant molecules and help unravel the chemical evolution of the Solar System. Since KBOs are believed to be the main reservoir of short-period comets, which are considered as ‘delivery systems’ of biologically important molecules to the early Earth, our project also brings us closer to the understanding of how life might have emerged on Earth.

4 Institutions
3 Teams
0 Publications
0 Field Sites
Field Sites

Project Progress

The overall goal of this project is to comprehend the chemical evolution of the Solar System. This will be achieved through an understanding of the formation of carbon-, hydrogen-, oxygen-, and nitrogen-bearing (CHON) molecules in ices of Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs) by reproducing the space environment in a specially designed experimental setup. KBOs are small planetary bodies orbiting the sun beyond the planet Neptune, which are considered as the most primitive objects in the Solar System. A study of KBOs is important because they resemble natural ‘time capsules’ at a frozen stage before life developed on Earth. Our methodology is based on a comparison of the molecules formed in the experiments with the current composition of KBOs; such approach provides an exceptional potential to reconstruct the composition of icy Solar System bodies at the time of their formation billions of years ago. The significance of this project is that our studies elucidate the origin of biologically relevant molecules and help unravel the chemical evo¬lution of the Solar System. Since KBOs are believed to be the main reservoir of short-period comets, which are considered as 'delivery systems’ of biologically important molecules to the early Earth, our project also brings us closer to the understanding of how life might have emerged on Earth.

At this time, the overall concept of the machine has been through 3 separate revisions to refine the design so that each instrument can be operated under optimum conditions. The technical drawings have been completed and sent out to companies for quotations. The renovations within the department are scheduled to be completed by the Universities facilities team by summer of 2010. Most of the instruments have already arrived and we are in the process of testing them on the smaller solid state machine we currently have installed in our laboratory.

  • PROJECT INVESTIGATORS:
    Ralf Kaiser
    Project Investigator
    Chris Bennett
    Postdoc
    Brant Jones Brant Jones
    Postdoc
    Xibin Gu
    Unspecified Role
  • PROJECT MEMBERS:
    John Cooper
    Co-Investigator

    John Head
    Co-Investigator

    David Jewitt
    Co-Investigator

    Karen Meech
    Co-Investigator

    Klaus Sattler
    Co-Investigator

    Shiv Sharma
    Co-Investigator

  • RELATED OBJECTIVES:
    Objective 1.1
    Formation and evolution of habitable planets.

    Objective 2.1
    Mars exploration.

    Objective 2.2
    Outer Solar System exploration

    Objective 3.1
    Sources of prebiotic materials and catalysts

    Objective 3.2
    Origins and evolution of functional biomolecules