2015 Annual Science Report

NASA Ames Research Center Reporting  |  JAN 2015 – DEC 2015

Executive Summary

The Ames CAN-7 team seeks a greater understanding of the chemical processes that occur at every stage in the evolution of organic chemical complexity from quiescent regions of dense molecular clouds, through all stages of disk and planet formation, and ultimately to the delivery of materials to planetary surfaces by comets, asteroids, cosmic dust, and meteorites. The overall goal of the effort is to assess the role that astrophysical and astrochemical processes have in the creation of habitable planets and delivery to their surfaces of materials that can play a role in the formation of life.

The team is structured as a coherent program consisting of four well-integrated research projects:
Modeling and Observation of Protostellar Disks
Modeling and Observation of Exoplanets
Laboratory Studies
Computational Quantum Chemistry

A brief description of each of these projects is provided below. Further details about the projects can be ... Continue reading.

Field Sites
5 Institutions
5 Project Reports
14 Publications
0 Field Sites

Project Reports

  • Modeling and Observation of Disks Project

    The broader goal of this NAI team is to understand and follow the evolution of complex, prebiotic organic molecules from the interstellar medium to their incorporation into planets. This Project’s work focuses on chemical evolution in the protoplanetary disk stage of planetary system formation. Disk matter provides the raw material for planet formation and its composition is thus expected to have a direct bearing on the composition of planets and eventually, the origin of life on them. We study disk chemical evolution via a two-pronged approach: (i) theoretical modeling of disk physical structure and its chemistry in time and the transport of matter in the disk as it evolves, and (ii) constructing synthetic line and continuum spectra and images of gas and dust in disks to compare with observational data from ground and space-based telescopes. New chemical networks that incorporate results from the Laboratory and Quantum Calculation Projects are developed and disk modeling results compared with observations to infer conditions under which the solar system and exoplanets formed.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 1.1 3.1 3.2
  • Modeling and Observations of Exoplanets

    The focus of this project is to use the Doppler velocity technique to detect and characterize extrasolar planets and use exoplanet data to establish the nature and diversity of planetary systems in the galaxy, with an emphasis on establishing the abundance of habitable planets in the universe.

  • Laboratory Studies

    The Laboratory Studies project uses a variety of cryo-vacuum systems to study the physical and chemical properties of astrophysically relevant materials to better understand the extent to which these materials can be converted in more complex organic materials of astrophysical and astrobiological importance. We concentrate on mimicking conditions found in astrophysically relevant environments involving low temperatures, low pressures, and high radiation fields. The main processes we explore are the photolytic processing of mixed molecular ices and organics and chemistry that occurs at gas-solid interfaces.

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 3.1 3.2 3.4
  • Computational Quantum Chemistry

    We investigated the formation and functionalization of nitrogen substituted cyclic aromatic molecules such as the precursors of biomolecules, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and the feasibility of their detection via spectroscopic techniques.

  • NAI ARC Communications

    The ARC NAI Team interacts with a number of institutions that fall outside the NAI proper. These include universities and other domestic and international organizations, chief of which are Langston University, the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations, and the Dutch Astrochemistry Network, which is part of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO).

    ROADMAP OBJECTIVES: 3.1 3.2 3.4