LPL Colloquium: Dr. Nancy Chanover

Development and Field Testing of Instrumentation for Astrobiology Investigations

Dr. Nancy Chanover
New Mexico State University

Development and Field Testing of Instrumentation for Astrobiology Investigations

The development of in situ instrumentation for the detection of biomarkers on planetary surfaces is critical for the search for evidence of present or past life in our solar system.  To address this need, we developed a series of near infrared (NIR) point spectrometers as a means of characterizing host rock environments as potential habitats for microbial life and searching for identifiable biosignatures in those habitats. Most recently, we developed the Portable Acousto-optic Spectrometer for Astrobiology (PASA), a NIR point spectrometer intended for rapid bulk mineralogical identification of samples using an acousto-optic tunable filter (AOTF) as the wavelength selecting element. Caves on Earth serve as valuable analogs for similar structures on other solar system bodies such as the Moon and Mars. Due to the protection they offer from the constant bombardment of cosmic rays and energetic particles and radiation from the Sun, these subsurface environments may offer refugia where the environments could remain habitable over a long time scale. Hence, planetary caves are desirable sites for future robotic exploration efforts aimed at the detection of biosignatures resulting from extinct or extant life. We demonstrated the capabilities of PASA in several cave field sites that could serve as terrestrial analogs for extreme environments elsewhere in the solar system. Here we describe the results of these field demonstrations and a pilot effort to integrate PASA onto a rock-climbing robot.

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3:45 p.m. Dec. 1, 2020