News and Updates

09/27/2013

Examination of loose rocks, sand and dust by X-rays provides new understanding of the local and global processes on Mars

During the nearly 14 months that it has spent on the red planet, Curiosity, the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover, has revealed a great deal about Mars’ composition and history. Analysis of observations and measurements by the rover’s science instruments during the first four months after the August 2012 landing are detailed in a series of five papers in this week’s edition of the journal Science.

ASU professor Jack Farmer, a scientist on the rover’s CheMin instrument team, is an author on two of the papers; one of which focuses on the composition and formation process of the Rocknest sand shadow, a small ripple of loose, wind-transported sand and dust. The other provides an evaluation of fine- and coarse-grained soil samples.

“The past few months the MSL team has been working our way from Yellowknife Bay toward the base of Mount Sharp, which is a primary goal for the mission. We have just completed our work at our first waypoint along the way to our destination,” says Farmer.

The first stop was Rocknest for an initial test of the functionality of Curiosity’s onboard analytical laboratory instruments, including the miniaturized laboratory for identifying minerals CheMin, short for “Chemistry and Mineralogy.” This shoebox-size laboratory uses X-rays to determine what minerals are present in a material, as well as provide information about elemental abundances – a first for a mission to Mars.

“Curiosity has completed the first comprehensive mineralogical analysis on another planet using X-ray diffraction, the gold standard laboratory method for mineral identification on Earth,” says Farmer. “It is a more quantitative method for identifying minerals than has been possible with previous Mars missions.”

Another instrument tested at Rocknest was Curiosity’s Sample Analysis on Mars (SAM), a tiny oven that heats samples and identifies the composition of gases given off by them. Professor Meenakshi Wadhwa is a collaborator with SAM.

At Rocknest, Curiosity’s robotic arm collected several scoops of loose sand and dust and delivered them into the portable laboratories for analysis.

“This little wind ripple provided well-sorted materials in the right size range for sieving and delivering to the CheMin and SAM instruments. This was important, because at this early stage of the mission we were still doing our stepwise testing of the payload instruments and were not yet ready to deploy the drill to sample rocks. We used materials already ground up and sorted by the wind as our test materials and in the process learned a lot about surface materials at Gale,” explains Farmer.

CheMin will analyze as many as 74 samples during the nominal prime mission, providing information about the environment at the time and place where the minerals in the rocks and soils formed or were altered.

Results are in
CheMin’s analysis reveals that the Rocknest drift has a complex history. The findings provide new understanding of the local and global processes on Mars and clues to the planet’s volcanic history.

The results indicate that the ripple materials had a basaltic composition, similar to soils that have been analyzed elsewhere on Mars. This confirmed the presence of basaltic source rocks in Gale Crater, and the absence of weathering products, like clays, suggests minimal interactions with water since the materials were liberated from their source rocks. Basalt is the volcanic rock that makes up most of the Earth’s crust, particularly the ocean floors. This Martian soil appears very similar to some weathered basaltic soils seen on Earth, in places like Mauna Kea, Hawaii.

X-ray analysis identified 10 distinct minerals, although half of these were in low abundance, near the detection limits of CheMin. Curiosity also discovered that an unexpectedly large portion of the Rocknest composition is a type of disordered material, similar in structure to glass.

“Perhaps the most interesting thing about the materials at Rocknest concerns the abundance of amorphous – essentially glassy – materials. These amorphous materials which make up nearly 45% of the sand ripple are essentially invisible to X-ray Diffraction. Their presence is inferred by combining CheMin results with elemental data from the Alpha Proton X-ray Spectrometer,” explains Farmer.

This is the first time the amorphous component of soils has been quantified for Martian surface materials and that is important for understanding what Mars is made of and how the materials have been affected by recent surface weathering processes. The results of the SAM instrument further suggest that water and other volatiles detected in the ripple deposit are likely to reside in the amorphous component of the soil.

Team spirit
What is it like being part of a team that is responsible for our evolving view of our neighbor Mars?

“It’s invigorating, but also challenging,” says Farmer, who juggles his MSL duties with teaching, advising graduate students and NASA Space Grant interns, and conducting his own research and proposal writing activities.

Since leaving Yellowknife Bay, the CheMin team has been digesting and refining its interpretations of the data obtained at Yellowknife Bay in order to better understand the nature of the aqueous environments they believe existed there long ago. The process of refinement requires careful, painstaking work achieved through lots of interaction among team members.

“Most every day, I dial in to MSL science meetings to review and discuss new data. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays this semester, I am available to fulfill my main MSL operational role as a CheMin downlink lead. Next week I will attend an MSL team meeting at JPL and will deliver my class lectures and discussions via Blackboard and Skype,” says Farmer.
For Farmer, sharing what he learns from Curiosity with his students is a priority. He regularly provides his students with mission updates and utilizes the full-scale model of Curiosity in ASU’s Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV.

Photo: Professor Jack Farmer with Curiosity test rover at JPL. Photo courtesy of Jack Farmer.

(Nikki Cassis)

 

09/25/2013

A performance celebrating the 25th anniversary of Stephen Hawking's groundbreaking book
Oct. 18, 2013, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 19, 2013, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 20, 2013, 2:00 p.m.

Marston Exploration Theater, ISTB 4
Campus: Tempe
Cost: $5.50 for students and $7.00 for general

A Brief Anniversary of Time, is a celebration of the 25th anniversary of Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time. In this one man show, featuring Dr. Lance Gharavi, the lead character is searching for some perspective in life. This live performance weaves together the story of three generations handling the very human inquiries about life, loss and death, juxtaposed with the vast world of Hawking’s book that lead us to question ‘how we got here,’ and ‘where are we going?’ Premiering in the new Marston Exploration Theatre, the performance will incorporate 3D media & sound, through the use of stereoscopic projection. The show is appropriate for families, though it may be too technical for very young children.

 

 

BUY TICKETS

https://asuevents.asu.edu/brief-anniversary-time

Arts, Media and Engineering
Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts
Film, Dance and Theatre
School of Theatre and Film

 

09/24/2013

Looking for a cheap way to explore the farthest reaches of the solar system? Look no further than Antarctica, writes Meenakshi Wadhwa, director of ASU’s Center for Meteorite Studies and professor at the School of Earth and Space Exploration, in a Future Tense article for Slate magazine.

Meteorites – fragments of asteroidal and planetary bodies in our solar system – enable scientists to “push back the limits of how and when our solar system and the planets in it were formed.” They fall everywhere on Earth with equal probability, but as Wadhwa explains, “there are places where they are more easily found because the geology and environmental conditions allow these fallen rocks to be preserved for up to millions of years.”

Due to its cold, dry climate and the dynamics of its vast ice fields, Antarctica is Earth’s foremost meteorite hunting ground. Among other major discoveries, the first meteorites established to have originated on the moon and Mars were recovered from the white continent.

Wadhwa has searched Antarctica for meteorites as a participant in the U.S. Antarctic Search for Meteorites (ANSMET) program during its 1992-1993 and 2012-2013 field seasons. ANSMET has recovered more than 20,000 meteorite specimens since 1976, many more “than were ever recovered throughout the world in the 500 years prior.” Amazingly, the total cost of the ANSMET program over the past 37 years, plus parallel European and Japanese programs, has been less than the cost of one NASA Discovery mission.

To learn more about meteorites, Antarctic expeditions and Dr. Wadhwa’s own life-changing experiences on the ice, visit Future Tense.

Future Tense is a collaboration among ASU, the New America Foundation and Slate magazine that explores how emerging technologies affect policy and society.

Image: Scientists from the U.S. Antarctic Search for Meteorites collect a meteorite during the 2006-2007 field season.
Photo by: National Science Foundation/Ralph Harvey
 

(Joey Eschrich)

 

09/24/2013

JOIN US for…

The First Earth & Space Open House of the year this Friday!

Date: Friday, Sept. 27 from 7-10 p.m.
Theme: High Energy Astrophysics
Location: ISTB 4 (lecture at 7:30 p.m. in the Marston Exploration Theater and telescopes from 8-10 p.m. on the Rural parking structure roof)

Event features: A public lecture, exhibits, demonstrations, and activities in the Gallery of Scientific Exploration (ISTB 4 1st and 2nd floor), including an underwater robotics demo.

Public Lecture Information:
Speaker: Nathaniel Butler
Time: 7:30 p.m. (Lecture is in Room 185)
Title: Gamma Ray Bursts - Chasing the Universe's Brightest and Most Distant Explosions

Nathaniel will be discussing his work on Gamma-ray Bursts (GRBs) -- explosions signaling the death of the most massive stars and the birth of a black hole -- and how scientists use these to study the very early Universe. GRBs are among the most extreme and most exotic of high-energy astrophysical phenomena. The first generation of stars could have produced these events, and the pencil beams of light they send our way provide unique clues to how the modern Universe formed. GRBs are detected in Gamma-ray's in space and at longer wavelengths from the ground. The explosions last for only seconds, and robotic telescopes must detect them rapidly from the ground. Chasing GRBs is fast-paced, extremely fun work. Nathaniel will discuss one particular effort he is leading which is now fully operational: the Reionization And Transients InfraRed (RATIR) camera (see, http://www.ratir.org), a simultaneous optical/NIR multi-band imaging camera which is 100% time-dedicated to the follow-up of GRBs. The camera is housed on the 1.5m telescope at Pedro San Martir in Baja California, one of the darkest high sites for optical astronomy on the planet.

Following the lecture, there will be a short 3D planetarium show at 8:45 p.m.

*********************************************************************************************************************************************************************************
The future open house dates for this year are 10/25, 11/22, 2/21, 3/28, and 4/25, each featuring a different earth and space-related theme.
Facebook Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/605491536170472/
Earth & Space Open House website: http://astopenhouse.com/

 

09/23/2013

Robots are the pioneering space explorers of the future, argues Srikanth Saripalli, an assistant professor at ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, in a Future Tense article for Slate magazine. Responding to a space exploration roadmap recently released by NASA and the International Space Exploration Coordination Group that calls for robotic and human missions to near-Earth asteroids, the Moon and Mars, Saripalli argues that most of the arguments in favor of manned space exploration are based on near-sighted assumptions about emerging developments in robotics.

Saripalli posits that in the next 100 years or so, human bodies will merge with robotic technologies, leading to advancements in human durability and survivability, even in harsh environments on other planets. You read that right: cyborg space exploration. The astronauts of the future will probably look more like Robocop than Buzz Aldrin.

While the Curiosity rover on Mars has been successful, Saripalli points out that the robots that we have sent into space so far “are not at all ‘autonomous’ or ‘intelligent’ in any sense” and require precise instructions from Earth for every movement, no matter how simple.

The robots we will use to explore space in the future will not look like the Curiosity rover or "Star Wars" iconic C-3PO or R2-D2. Instead, “we will transition from large, heavy robots and satellites to ‘nanosats’ and small, networked robots” that can be deployed cheaply by the thousands. These tiny bots will “form a self-organizing network that can quickly explore areas of interest and also organize themselves into larger machines that can mine metals or develop new vehicles for future exploration.”

Future Tense is a collaboration among ASU, the New America Foundation and Slate magazine that explores how emerging technologies affect policy and society.

Article:
http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2013/09/manned_space_exploration_cyborgs_and_finding_the_next_earth.html

(Joey Eschrich)

Image: Self-organizing swarms of tiny robots will replace large rovers like Curiosity in the future, argues ASU's Srikanth Saripalli.
Photo by: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

 

09/13/2013

Two of only five research projects funded from a 2013 National Science Foundation Frontiers in Earth Systems Dynamics (NSF-FESD) grant program are led by, or have primary researchers from ASU.

ASU is the lead institution in a project investigating why Earth’s atmosphere changed from one nearly devoid of oxygen to its current oxygen-rich state. Lead investigator and President’s Professor Ariel Anbar is a professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Other ASU researchers include David Bell, Ed Garnero, Hilairy Hartnett, Allan McNamara, Tom Sharp, Dan Shim and Everett Shock – all part of the School of Earth and Space Exploration – along with Sheri Klug Boonstra (director of the ASU Mars Education Program) and English professor Mark Hannah.

The second project looks at the geology of paleolakes in eastern Africa to study ancient climate change and ultimately what that might tell us about how climate affected the development of human ancestors. This research is led by the University of Arizona with lead ASU researchers Chris Campisano, research associate with the Institute of Human Origins and assistant professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, and Kaye Reed, research associate with the Institute of Human Origins and professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change. Campisano and Reed are joined by Ramon Arrowsmith, professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration.

This is the second set of grants for the NSF-FESD program, which is awarding $28 million to five projects focusing on “high risk, high return” research. The goals of the FESD program are to foster an interdisciplinary and multiscale understanding of the interplay among and within the subsystems at work on Earth and to catalyze research in geoscience areas poised for major advances.

The dynamics of Earth system oxygenation

Today, the breathable air we enjoy consists of 21 percent oxygen, in the form of the molecule O2. However, that was not always the case. During the first half of Earth’s history, O2 was nearly absent from the atmosphere and oceans. Then, some 2.45 billion years ago, the level of atmospheric oxygen began to rise – referred to as the “Great Oxidation Event” (GOE).

In the past decade, Anbar and his team have narrowed down the exact timing of this transition to the modern, O2-rich environment. This new $5 million, five-year project, supported by a research team consisting of investigators from five institutions – ASU, MIT, UC Riverside, U. Washington and U. Maryland – will focus on solving the mystery of what caused the rise of atmospheric O2.

“To go from a planet nearly devoid of oxygen at the surface to one that has abundant oxygen is one of the most remarkable transformations that earth has undergone,” said Anbar, a biogeochemist. “It paved the way for our form of life. It’s embarrassing, but we don’t understand why it happened. We don’t even have a solid community consensus as to the cause.”

Anbar’s team will refine and test a number of hypotheses proposed in the past decade.

“Many textbooks say that the rise of oxygen was due to the evolution of photosynthesis. It’s true that photosynthesis is a necessary condition to build up an O2-rich atmosphere, but it’s not sufficient. That’s because over geologic time, the O2 produced by biology is consumed by reactions with rocks and volcanic gases that come from the Earth’s O2-poor interior. So the amount of O2 in the atmosphere doesn’t just depend on biology. It depends on the solid Earth,” explains Anbar.

In their attempt to solve the mystery, Anbar and his researchers will integrate models of atmospheric chemistry, records of Earth's surface O2 history developed from inorganic and organic geochemical proxies, laboratory calibrations of these proxies, geochemical analyses of samples from the lithosphere and mantle, seismic reconstructions of Earth's interior structure, geodynamic models of mantle mixing and evolution, thermodynamic calculations and findings from mineral physics experiments.

In short, this isn’t a one-man job.

Earth system dynamics and its role in human evolution in Africa

Understanding the relationship between Earth history and human evolution is an enduring challenge of broad scientific and public interest. Scientists studying the effect of ancient climate change and human evolution have had to depend on local, but incomplete terrestrial records, or analysis of deep ocean cores collected a considerable distance from where major hominin fossils – the ancient remains of human ancestors – have actually been found.

The Hominin Sites and Paleolakes Drilling Project (HSPDP), funded in part by the NSF-FESD award, comprises a multinational research effort with researchers led by Andrew Cohen of the University of Arizona, ASU and 22 other institutions that will help scientists to better understand the dynamics that link climatic and evolutionary histories. The total continuing grant award will be nearly $4.8 million, with $1.2 million as ASU’s portion of the funding.

After over eight years of planning, five sites have been identified in Kenya and Ethiopia that are in close proximity and geologically and chronologically related to time periods critical to human evolution over the last four million years. Two of the Kenyan sites were successfully drilled in the summer of 2013 with funding from other sources.

“Correlations between environmental change and human evolutionary history have often been made with very broad strokes and assume that global climate changes affected all of eastern Africa and in similar ways,” said Campisano, scientific project manager for the HSPDP. “Obtaining these high-resolution, high-sensitivity records documenting when and how environmental fluctuations impacted the landscapes where human ancestors lived is the necessary first step to test a variety of current hypotheses of human evolution.”

Campisano, Reed and Arrowsmith will lead the scientific team in the Northern Awash River Valley in the Afar region of Ethiopia, close to where the 3.2 million year old fossil skeleton, Australopithecus afarensis, popularly known as “Lucy,” was discovered in 1974 by Institute of Human Origins founding director Don Johanson. They will assess the environmental record in the lake system that was active adjacent to the riverine landscape in which the animals lived.

(Nikki Cassis & Julie Russ)

Photo: A rough outline of the abundance of O2 in the atmosphere through time, in term of the percent of the present atmosphere ("PAL"). Today, about 20 percent of the atmosphere is O2. During the first half of Earth's history, before the Great Oxidation Event, it is generally thought that O2 was only present in trace amounts. Anbar and other scientists are trying to figure out when O2 first appeared, and how its abundance varied over time. Photo by: Figure modified after Kump, 2008 (modified by Sue Selkirk, ASU).

09/13/2013

The border region of southern Arizona and Sonora, Mexico faces the sustainability challenges of a semi-arid climate that experiences long periods of water scarcity. Economic, social and political cooperation will be required for the neighboring states to ensure the viability of their water resources in the future, says Arizona State University engineer Enrique Vivoni.

To help foster such collaboration, Vivoni established the U.S. Mexico Border Water and Environmental Sustainability Training program (UMB-WEST) in 2012. It is supported through 2014 by funding from the National Science Foundation’s International Research Experiences for Students program.

Vivoni is an associate professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, and in the School of Earth and Space Exploration in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

This summer, the program brought together 11 ASU students and 13 students from three Mexican universities (the Universidad de Sonora, the Instituto Tecnologico de Sonora and the Universidad Autonoma de Ciudad Juarez), along with 14 faculty members from ASU and other universities to gain a deeper understanding of the water scarcity problem in the Arizona-Sonora border region.

The group included professors and students in the fields of civil and environmental engineering, geology, ecology, agriculture, environmental science and global health.

Lessons in water conflicts

Their endeavor started with a week at ASU, where students spent time “organizing travel logistics, getting to know each other, preparing equipment and familiarizing themselves with the state of Sonora and the current water infrastructure,” explains Nolie Pierini, an ASU engineering doctoral student.

In the second week, students traveled to Mexico to learn about a major ongoing water dispute in Hermosillo, the largest city in Sonora and the state’s capitol, which has experienced significant population growth in the past decade. To meet the city’s increasing water demand, officials constructed a 162-kilometer-long aqueduct to transfer water from the Yaqui River Basin, a major supplier of water, to agricultural users in Ciudad Obregon.

“It's a commonly seen water conflict between industrial water users and agricultural water users,” says Matthew Thompson, who is pursuing a master’s degree in civil engineering at ASU. “The problem is amplified in the case of Sonora because they are in an area with significant drought and not enough water to meet everyone’s needs.”

Hydrology field studies

Students visited both Hermosillo and Ciudad Obregon, and heard discussions and presentations from those on both sides of the water debate. They took field trips to an aqueduct, a dam and reservoir, a hydroelectric power plant and a water treatment plant – all parts of water infrastructure in the state of Sonora.

After a week of tours and presentations from water policymakers and stakeholders, the students traveled to the nearby rural city of Rayón for a week of hydrology field research.

One research project, led by David Gochis, a scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., involved attaching radiosonde sensors to large helium weather balloons to track various atmospheric conditions at altitudes as high as 20 kilometers (65,600 feet) at various times of the day. The radiosonde measures temperature, humidity and pressure in the atmosphere, data that is sent directly to a laptop computer and then used to create an atmospheric model that tracks monsoon-season weather dynamics and patterns.

Another project, led by Agustin Robles-Morua, a professor at the Instituto Tecnologico de Sonora and a former postdoctoral researcher at ASU, surveyed people living in Rio San Miguel about water use practices, water quality and the impacts of new infrastructure.

Seth Morales, an ASU senior civil engineering major who is fluent in Spanish, was able to lead his group as they learned about different perspectives of water management and the water-use practices of specific users in the Rio San Miguel area near the town of Rayón.

ASU student Thompson, who worked with a team to install a weir (a barrier placed in a channel to enable measurement of water discharge) in a small stream, says he liked the hands-on aspect of the project. “It was gratifying to go to a remote, cool area and to use our hands to get a job done,” he says.

Seeing impact of research

Ara Ko, an ASU engineering doctoral student supervised by Vivoni, worked with water plant pressure chambers under the direction of Instituto Tecnologico de Sonora faculty member Enrico Yepez. Ko says she liked learning about semi-arid plant dynamics and exploring a climate and an ecosystem that is extremely different from her hometown in Korea.

Many of the students say learning about the region’s water issues during their first week in Mexico made the research experience more rewarding.

“Research like we did in Rayón can help us learn how to use water more efficiently and can ease future problems in water policy,” Pierini says.

“It was surprising to see how the research, or lack of research, can really have an impact on a whole community,” Morales says.

Along with gaining a renewed appreciation for thorough research, the ASU students say they enjoyed learning about a different culture.

“It was amazing to see people living in the same hot summer climate as in Arizona, but without abundant water resources,” Morales says. “Some homes only have access to water every three days for a two-hour window.”

Cultural connection

Along with making him more appreciative of the quality of water infrastructure in the United States, Morales says the program was a “turning point” for him. The experience led him to decide that hydrosystems engineering is the career path he wants to pursue.

Thompson, a self-proclaimed lover of the hot Sonoran desert climate, says he is glad he had the opportunity to get to know some of his “neighbors to the south.” He enjoyed learning about the government, culture, universities and people in Mexico, and says he was surprised that he formed a bond with people in Mexico, despite the language barrier.

“It definitely forces you out of your comfort zone, which is something that is essential for anyone who wants to learn how to coexist with people from other cultures,” Thompson says.

Adds Morales, “Interaction with another culture opens your mind and impacts the way you view science in general.”

(Rosie Gochnour and Joe Kullman)

Photo: The U.S. Mexico Border Water and Environmental Sustainability Training program established by ASU engineer Enrique Vivoni gathered students from ASU, the Insitituto Tecnológico de Sonora, Universidad de Sonora and Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez to study water challenges in the Arizona-Sonora, Mexico border region.

 

09/12/2013

A story published in the State Press Sept. 12 by Jennifer Cushman highlights the work of a team of ASU researchers using the Murchison Widefield Array, a low-frequency radio telescope which finished construction earlier this year, to scan the earlier universe.

Cosmology professor Judd Bowman, a project scientist for the MWA, said the project aims to look at the cosmic moments after the Big Bang, into a time when the universe was devoid of many of the celestial objects visible today.

According to the article, postdoctoral research associate Daniel Jacobs said "the assumption was that the universe began forming stars and galaxies locally rather than all at once. This would mean that one galaxy forming in one corner of the universe wouldn’t necessarily affect a star or other object forming in the other."

Read the full version of the story "Students, professors peer into cosmic dawn of the universe with new technology"

Image: Danny Jacobs, a post doctorate in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and G. Paul Hudak, content manager of the gallery of scientific exploration, observe the low-frequency radio sky image. This image illustrates everything we know about the low-frequency radio sky, according to Dr. Jacobs. (Photo by Hector Salas Almeida)

09/10/2013

An important discovery has been made concerning the possible inventory of molecules available to the early Earth. Scientists led by Sandra Pizzarello, a research professor at Arizona State University, found that the Sutter’s Mill meteorite, which exploded in a blazing fireball over California last year, contains organic molecules not previously found in any meteorites. These findings suggest a far greater availability of extraterrestrial organic molecules than previously thought possible, an inventory that could indeed have been important in molecular evolution and life itself.

The work is being published in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The paper is titled, “Processing of meteoritic organic materials as a possible analog of early molecular evolution in planetary environments,” and is co-authored by Pizzarello, geologist Lynda Williams, a reearch professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, NMR specialist Gregory Holland and graduate student Stephen Davidowski, all from ASU.

Coincidentally, Sutter’s Mill is also the gold discovery site that led to the 1849 California Gold Rush. Detection of the falling meteor by Doppler weather radar allowed for rapid recovery so that scientists could study for the first time a primitive meteorite with little exposure to the elements, providing the most pristine look yet at the surface of primitive asteroids.

“The analyses of meteorites never cease to surprise you ... and make you wonder,” explains Pizzarello. “This is a meteorite whose organics had been found altered by heat and of little appeal for bio- or prebiotic chemistry, yet, the very Solar System processes that lead to its alteration seem also to have brought about novel and complex molecules of definite prebiotic interest such as polyethers.”

Pizzarello and her team hydrothermally treated fragments of the meteorite and then detected the compounds released by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. The hydrothermal conditions of the experiments, which also mimic early Earth settings (a proximity to volcanic activity and impact craters), released a complex mixture of oxygen-rich compounds, the probable result of oxidative processes that occurred in the parent body. They include a variety of long chain linear and branched polyethers, whose number is quite bewildering.

This addition to the inventory of organic compounds produced in extraterrestrial environments furthers the discourse of whether their delivery to the early Earth by comets and meteorites might have aided the molecular evolution that preceded the origins of life.

Image: A portion of the asteroidal Sutter's Mill meteorite used in this study.

(Jenny Green)

 

09/09/2013

On Friday morning, bright and early, 77 first year and transfer students left with professors Arjun Heimsath, Kelin Whipple, Everett Shock and several upper class mentors on two charter buses to the Retreat at Tontozona. The incredibly helpful mentors helped our new students settle into their cabins and get oriented around the camp. The campers were joined at lunch time by SSE interim director, Jim Tyburczy, and Tom Sharp. Friday afternoon was spent with the campers getting a better sense of the geology, water resources, and the challenges of balancing development with conservation of natural resources, led by professors Sharp, Whipple, Shock and Heimsath in different groups. Kip Hodges joined by dinner time. After dinner, Tyburczy welcomed the new students to SESE and Tom Fraker, the Executive Director of the Retreat, provided history behind the mission behind the Retreat at Tontozona. Friday evening was choreographed to music, stars and planets by Ric Alling and his fantastic AstroDevil helpers. A bonfire was built by grad student Nathaniel Borneman, who also organized the S'mores!

Saturday morning found the group guided by the enthusiastic and competent Student Rec Center "Team Challenge" folks, led by Andy White. Sincere appreciation to them for guiding over 80 people through creative and fun bonding and team building exercises.

Saturday afternoon was a tour de force of SESE disciplines that was successful thanks to the truly fantastic contributions of several faculty, as well as the continued coordination and logistical help from the upperclass mentors.
* Rogier Windhorst did no less than three consecutive presentations on the Hubble Mission to rapt audiences full of questions.
* Kelin Whipple, with generous help from graduate student Matt Rossi, coordinated and ran the Scavenger Hunt/Orienteering course.
* Ed Stump and Steve Semkin held court with groups of rotating students on the geology, natural history, and physiography of AZ.
* Sara Walker and Everett Shock led an Astrobiology discussion session.
* Paul Scowen and Jenny Patience, with help from Ric and the AstroDevils, guided an observing and remote sensing session up with the array of telescopes.
* Enrique Vivoni helped students understand the water resources, hydrology, and Tonto Creek dynamics more clearly.
* Kip Hodges and Arjun Heimsath, helped by key mentor spotters, led rotating groups of students through a low ropes course.

Saturday dinner was wound down with an overview of the student clubs and the call for a new one focusing on the expanding student interest in Earth and Environmental Studies, especially as related to the sustainability of our natural resources. Another round of star gazing was somewhat thwarted by clouds and rain, but replaced by dance music and karaoke, another round of S'mores at the bonfire, and movies in the dining hall.

On Sunday morning the group enjoyed the rain and focused on engineering system design and cool robotics.
* Sri Saripalli and student Ben Stinnett successfully launched their robotic kite and photographed the human spelling of "SESE!" from on high. They then let students practice rover driving with their remote control model rover.
* Jekan Thanga, our newest faculty member, guided groups on building a mock lander to compete in an egg drop experiment.
* Chris Groppi and his student Kay guided groups on building their own working AM radio with common supplies and no battery.
* Hong Yu demonstrated and discussed how useful origami art is for engineering and space exploration.
* Danny Jacobs (post-doc working with Judd Bowman) was on call with their octocopter, but launch was scuttled by rain.

The entire weekend was photographed and captured with expertise by journalism student Brittany Morris.

Special and immense thanks to our undergraduate mentors who helped immensely with Camp SESE and are also continuing their service with help for the new students throughout the semester:
*** Chloe Antilla, Andrew Bochko, Michael Busch, Obed Cardin, Tom Chilton, Sarah Cronk, Elizabeth Dybal, Joe Kelsey, Janeen Lantry, Rachel Manak, John McCulloch, Ian McLeod, Chad Ostrander, Nate Pimental, Ben Stinnett, Lauren Turner, and Mason Waaler.

The AstroDevils rushing around in the dark to make the scopes work and support Ric's amazing sound-n-light shows at Camp SESE were:

Kristen Bennett, George Che, Prateek Garg, Trey Ingram, Matthew Mosher, Anish Ramaswamy, TJ Slezak, Diane Van Hoy, and Kim Ward-Duong.

Key behind the scenes help came from our amazing administrative team: Becca Dial and Kelli Wall helped guide students with their enrollment; Nikki Cassis did all the Camp registration, ordering of supplies, and roster building; Becky Polley handled the buses and car rental; Rose Petrini helped assemble the Camp SESE gear; Lillie Glenn handled the billing and finances. And a big thanks to Arjun for organizing and coordinating the whole event. A huge round of thanks to them all!

Thank you to our wonderful group of new students, who brought their keen insights, questions and great attitudes to Camp SESE and helped make the weekend truly fantastic.