Pennsylvania State University
02/2009 - 01/2015 (CAN 5)

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Signatures of Life From Earth and Beyond

A major research focus of astrobiology is enabling the recognition of signatures of life on the early Earth, in extreme environments, and in extraterrestrial settings. The NAI PSU Team will develop novel approaches to detecting and characterizing life, investigate biosignatures in mission-relevant ecosystems and ancient rocks, and evaluate the potential for biosignatures in extraterrestrial settings:

Developing New Biosignatures

  • The development and testing of potential indicators of life is essential for providing a critical scientific basis for the exploration of life in the cosmos. Efforts will focus on creating innovative approaches for the analyses of cells and other organic material, finding ways in which metal abundances and isotope systems reflect life, and developing creative approaches for using environmental DNA to study present and past life.

Biosignatures in Relevant Microbial Ecosystems

  • The team will investigate microbial life in some of Earth’s most mission-relevant ecosystems: the Dead Sea, the Chesapeake impact structure, the methane seeps of the Eel River Basin, and Greenland glacier ice.

Biosignatures in Ancient Rocks

  • The Earth’s Archean and Proterozoic eons offer the best opportunity for investigating a microbial world, such as might be found elsewhere in the cosmos. The ancient record on Earth provides an opportunity to see what geochemical signatures are produced by microbial life and how these signatures are preserved over geologic time.

Biosignatures in Extraterrestrial Settings

  • The team will investigate the abundance of sulfur gases and elucidate how these gases can be expected to evolve with time on young terrestrial planets. They will continue studies of planet formation in the presence of migration and model radial transport of volatiles in young planetary systems, and will be involved with searches for M star planetary companions and planets around K-giant stars.

Annual Reports