2013 Annual Science Report

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Reporting  |  SEP 2012 – AUG 2013

The Evolution of Organics in Space

Project Summary

The molecular heritage of our Solar System stretches back to the interstellar cloud from which it formed. Knowledge of the chemistry of this cloud is crucial to understanding the process of star and planet formation; this is part of the field of astrochemistry. Since much of astrochemistry deals with the organic molecules found in space and in solar system environments, astrochemistry itself may be considered part of the larger field of astrobiology. The present project includes both observations of these organic molecules and participating in the preparation of an Encyclopedia of Astrobiology.

4 Institutions
3 Teams
0 Publications
1 Field Site
Field Sites

Project Progress

International Administrative Responsibilities for Astrobiology:
Irvine has been elected to the Steering Committee of the International Astronomical Union’s new Division F, Planetary Systems and Bioastronomy. Commission F deals with our Solar System, extrasolar planetary systems, and bioastronomy (the IAU’s term for astrobiology). To this purpose, the Division promotes studies concerning planetary systems, including our own, aimed at the understanding of their formation and evolution, as well as of the occurrence of conditions favorable to the development of life in the universe. Division F also promotes the dissemination of reliable physical and dynamical data concerning the astronomical objects in the above fields, and oversees the assignment of proper nomenclature and discovery credits, where appropriate. Some 1740 of the IAU’s >10,000 members belong to Division F. Currently, the Steering Committee is busy evaluating proposals for symposia and other scientific events at the 2015 IAU General Assembly, to be held in Hawaii. In his capacity as Past President, Irvine also serves on the Organizing Committee for IAU Commission 51, Bioastronomy, which is part of Division F. The major responsibility of Bioastronomy is the organization of scientific meetings. The next triennial Bioastronomy meeting, entitled Origins 2014, is being planned jointly with ISSOL (The International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life-The International Astrobiology Society) to be held in Nara, Japan, July 6 to 11, 2014.

Education and Outreach:
Irvine continues as a Book Editor of the Encyclopedia of Astrobiology, published by Springer. The first edition appeared in 2011, both on-line and as print-to-order. This edition contained approximately 1700 entries, written by more than 300 authors. A 2nd edition is now being prepared, which will both update existing entries and add approximately 20% to the total number of articles. Irvine is responsible for the section on Astrochemistry, and is also helping with other sections such as that on the History of Science relevant to Astrobiology.

The Large Millimeter Telescope (LMT) is a joint project of the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the Instituto Nacional de Astrofisica, Optica y Electronica (INAOE) in Tonantzintla, Puebla, Mexico. The LMT is the largest single-dish telescope in the world operating at short millimeter wavelengths and is a powerful instrument for various fields within astrobiology. Irvine is working to insure that the telescope will indeed be utilized for research in astrobiology, including the study of the chemistry and physics of comets and other primitive bodies in the solar system, planetary and satellite atmospheres, and the interstellar medium in the Milky Way and external galaxies. At this time, initial scientific observations are underway with the LMT, using the inner 32-meters of the 50-meter diameter surface. Completion of the outer two rings of surface panels will take place after the initial science and commissioning observations are completed.

    William Irvine
    Project Investigator
    Objective 3.1
    Sources of prebiotic materials and catalysts