Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
02/2009 - 01/2015 (CAN 5)

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Setting the Stage for Life: From Interstellar Clouds to Early Earth and Mars

The NAI RPI Team’s research will address the universality and efficacy of key pathways that lead from atoms and molecules in the interstellar medium to planets and life. The team will investigate the evolution of biogenic compounds from the first chemical reactions in interstellar space to exogenous delivery of prebiotic molecules to planetary surfaces. Geochemical and isotopic analyses of samples, including lunar impact melts and terrestrial Hadean-Archean zircons, will be used to determine (respectively) the time line for impact frustration of life and the nature of the primitive atmosphere and oceans on early Earth. The NAI RPI team will investigate the applicability to Mars of geochemical methods used to place time constraints on processes and events on early Earth, and explore the potential role of mineral catalysis in production of RNA and other prebiotic molecules on both planets.

The research is organized into seven main areas:

  • Interstellar origins of preplanetary matter
  • Thermal processing of early Solar System materials
  • Pathways for exogenous organic matter to early Earth and Mars
  • Impact history in the Earth-Moon System
  • Vistas of early Mars: In preparation for sample return
  • The environment of the early Earth
  • Prebiotic chemical catalysis on early Earth and Mars

Annual Reports