The martian surface environment exhibits extremes of salinity, temperature, desiccation, and radiation that would make it difficult for terrestrial microbes to survive. Recent evidence suggests that martian soils contain high concentrations of MgSO4 minerals. Through warming of the soils, meltwater derived from subterranean ice-rich regolith may exist for an extended period of time and thus allow the propagation of terrestrial microbes and create significant bioburden at the near surface of Mars. The current report demonstrates that halotolerant bacteria from the Great Salt Plains (GSP) of Oklahoma are capable of growing at high concentrations of MgSO4 in the form of 2 M solutions of epsomite. The epsotolerance of isolates in the GSP bacterial collection was determined, with 35% growing at 2 M MgSO4. There was a complex physiological response to mixtures of MgSO4 and NaCl coupled with other environmental stressors. Growth also was measured at 1 M concentrations of other magnesium and sulfate salts. The complex responses may be partially explained by the pattern of chaotropicity observed for high-salt solutions as measured by agar gelation temperature. Select isolates could grow at the high salt concentrations and low temperatures found on Mars. Survival during repetitive freeze-thaw or drying-rewetting cycles was used as other measures of potential success on the martian surface. Our results indicate that terrestrial microbes might survive under the high-salt, low-temperature, anaerobic conditions on Mars and present significant potential for forward contamination. Stringent planetary protection requirements are needed for future life-detection missions to Mars. Key Words: Analogue—Mars—Planetary protection—Salts—Life in extreme environments. Astrobiology 12, 98–106.
While the Apex chert is one of the most well-studied Archean deposits on Earth, its formation history is still not fully understood. Here, we present Raman spectroscopic data collected on the carbonaceous material (CM) present within the matrix of the Apex chert. These data, collected within a paragenetic framework, reveal two different phases of CM deposited within separate phases of quartz matrix. These multiple generations of CM illustrate the difficulty of searching for signs of life in these rocks and, by extension, in other Archean sequences. Key Words: Apex chert—Carbonaceous material—Raman microspectroscopy—Paragenetic analysis—Archean. Astrobiology 12, 160–166.
The boundary between ice and basalt on Earth is an analogue for some near-surface environments of Mars. We investigated neutrophilic iron-oxidizing microorganisms from the basalt-ice interface in a lava tube from the Oregon Cascades with perennial ice. One of the isolates (Pseudomonas sp. HerB) can use ferrous iron Fe(II) from the igneous mineral olivine as an electron donor and O2 as an electron acceptor. The optimum growth temperature is ∼12–14°C, but growth also occurs at 5°C. Bicarbonate is a facultative source of carbon. Growth of Pseudomonas sp. HerB as a chemolithotrophic iron oxidizer with olivine as the source of energy is favored in low O2 conditions (e.g., 1.6% O2). Most likely, microbial oxidation of olivine near pH 7 requires low O2 to offset the abiotic oxidation of iron. The metabolic capabilities of this bacterium would allow it to live in near-surface, icy, volcanic environments of Mars in the present or recent geological past and make this type of physiology a prime candidate in the search for life on Mars. Key Words: Extremophiles—Mars—Olivine—Iron-oxidizing bacteria—Redox. Astrobiology 12, 9–18.
The emergence of an RNA entity capable of synthesizing peptides was a key prebiotic development. It is hypothesized that a precursor of the modern ribosomal exit tunnel was associated with this RNA entity (e.g., “protoribosome” or “bonding entity”) from the earliest time and played an essential role. Various compounds that can bind and activate amino acids, including extremely short RNA chains carrying amino acids, and possibly di- or tripeptides, would have associated with the internal cavity of the protoribosome. This cavity hosts the site for peptide bond formation and adjacent to it a relatively elongated feature that could have evolved to the modern ribosomal exit tunnel, as it is wide enough to allow passage of an oligopeptide. When two of the compounds carrying amino acids or di- or tripeptides (to which we refer, for simplicity, as small aminoacylated RNAs) were in proximity within the heart of the protoribosome, a peptide bond could form spontaneously. The growing peptide would enter the nearby cavity and would not disrupt the attachment of the substrates to the protoribosome or interfere with the subsequent attachment of additional small aminoacylated RNAs. Additionally, the presence of the peptide in the cavity would increase the lifetime of the oligopeptide in the protoribosome. Thus, subsequent addition of another amino acid would be more likely than detachment from the protoribosome, and synthesis could continue. The early ability to synthesize peptides may have resulted in an abbreviated RNA World. Key Words: Ribosome—RNA World—Prebiotic synthesis—Chirality—Ribosomal RNA. Astrobiology 12, 57–60.
The spaceflight environment presents unique challenges to terrestrial biology, including but not limited to the direct effects of gravity. As we near the end of the Space Shuttle era, there remain fundamental questions about the response and adaptation of plants to orbital spaceflight conditions. We address a key baseline question of whether gene expression changes are induced by the orbital environment, and then we ask whether undifferentiated cells, cells presumably lacking the typical gravity response mechanisms, perceive spaceflight. Arabidopsis seedlings and undifferentiated cultured Arabidopsis cells were launched in April, 2010, as part of the BRIC-16 flight experiment on STS-131. Biologically replicated DNA microarray and averaged RNA digital transcript profiling revealed several hundred genes in seedlings and cell cultures that were significantly affected by launch and spaceflight. The response was moderate in seedlings; only a few genes were induced by more than 7-fold, and the overall intrinsic expression level for most differentially expressed genes was low. In contrast, cell cultures displayed a more dramatic response, with dozens of genes showing this level of differential expression, a list comprised primarily of heat shock–related and stress-related genes. This baseline transcriptome profiling of seedlings and cultured cells confirms the fundamental hypothesis that survival of the spaceflight environment requires adaptive changes that are both governed and displayed by alterations in gene expression. The comparison of intact plants with cultures of undifferentiated cells confirms a second hypothesis: undifferentiated cells can detect spaceflight in the absence of specialized tissue or organized developmental structures known to detect gravity. Key Words: Tissue culture—Microgravity—Low Earth orbit—Space Shuttle—Microarray. Astrobiology 12, 40–56.
The Atacama Desert has long been considered a good Mars analogue for testing instrumentation for planetary exploration, but very few data (if any) have been reported about the geomicrobiology of its salt-rich subsurface. We performed a Mars analogue drilling campaign next to the Salar Grande (Atacama, Chile) in July 2009, and several cores and powder samples from up to 5 m deep were analyzed in situ with LDChip300 (a Life Detector Chip containing 300 antibodies). Here, we show the discovery of a hypersaline subsurface microbial habitat associated with halite-, nitrate-, and perchlorate-containing salts at 2 m deep. LDChip300 detected bacteria, archaea, and other biological material (DNA, exopolysaccharides, some peptides) from the analysis of less than 0.5 g of ground core sample. The results were supported by oligonucleotide microarray hybridization in the field and finally confirmed by molecular phylogenetic analysis and direct visualization of microbial cells bound to halite crystals in the laboratory. Geochemical analyses revealed a habitat with abundant hygroscopic salts like halite (up to 260 g kg−1) and perchlorate (41.13 μg g−1 maximum), which allow deliquescence events at low relative humidity. Thin liquid water films would permit microbes to proliferate by using detected organic acids like acetate (19.14 μg g−1) or formate (76.06 μg g−1) as electron donors, and sulfate (15875 μg g−1), nitrate (13490 μg g−1), or perchlorate as acceptors. Our results correlate with the discovery of similar hygroscopic salts and possible deliquescence processes on Mars, and open new search strategies for subsurface martian biota. The performance demonstrated by our LDChip300 validates this technology for planetary exploration, particularly for the search for life on Mars. Key Words: Atacama Desert—Life detection—Biosensor—Biopolymers—In situ measurement. Astrobiology 11, 969–996.
In plants, sensitive and selective mechanisms have evolved to perceive and respond to light and gravity. We investigated the effects of microgravity on the growth and development of Arabidopsis thaliana (ecotype Landsberg) in a spaceflight experiment. These studies were performed with the Biological Research in Canisters (BRIC) hardware system in the middeck region of the space shuttle during mission STS-131 in April 2010. Seedlings were grown on nutrient agar in Petri dishes in BRIC hardware under dark conditions and then fixed in flight with paraformaldehyde, glutaraldehyde, or RNAlater. Although the long-term objective was to study the role of the actin cytoskeleton in gravity perception, in this article we focus on the analysis of morphology of seedlings that developed in microgravity. While previous spaceflight studies noted deleterious morphological effects due to the accumulation of ethylene gas, no such effects were observed in seedlings grown with the BRIC system. Seed germination was 89% in the spaceflight experiment and 91% in the ground control, and seedlings grew equally well in both conditions. However, roots of space-grown seedlings exhibited a significant difference (compared to the ground controls) in overall growth patterns in that they skewed to one direction. In addition, a greater number of adventitious roots formed from the axis of the hypocotyls in the flight-grown plants. Our hypothesis is that an endogenous response in plants causes the roots to skew and that this default growth response is largely masked by the normal 1 g conditions on Earth. Key Words: Gravity—Multicellular life—Spacecraft experiments—Spaceflight. Astrobiology 11, 787–797.
This paper reports recent efforts to gather experts from the humanities and social sciences along with astrobiologists to consider the cultural, societal, and psychological implications of astrobiology research and exploration. We began by convening a workshop to draft a research roadmap on astrobiology's societal implications and later formed a Focus Group on Astrobiology and Society under the auspices of the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI). Just as the Astrobiology Science Roadmap and various astrobiology science focus groups have helped researchers orient and understand their work across disciplinary contexts, our intent was to apply the same approach to examine areas beyond the physical and life sciences and expand interdisciplinary interaction and scholarly understanding. These efforts continue as an experiment in progress, with an open invitation to interested researchers—astrobiologists as well as scholars in the humanities and social sciences—to become involved in research, analysis, and proactive discussions concerning the potential impacts of astrobiology on society as well as the possible impacts of society on progress in astrobiology. Key Words: Astrobiology—Extraterrestrial life—Life detection. Astrobiology 12, 958–965.
Lava caves contain a wealth of yellow, white, pink, tan, and gold-colored microbial mats; but in addition to these clearly biological mats, there are many secondary mineral deposits that are nonbiological in appearance. Secondary mineral deposits examined include an amorphous copper-silicate deposit (Hawai‘i) that is blue-green in color and contains reticulated and fuzzy filament morphologies. In the Azores, lava tubes contain iron-oxide formations, a soft ooze-like coating, and pink hexagons on basaltic glass, while gold-colored deposits are found in lava caves in New Mexico and Hawai‘i. A combination of scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and molecular techniques was used to analyze these communities. Molecular analyses of the microbial mats and secondary mineral deposits revealed a community that contains 14 phyla of bacteria across three locations: the Azores, New Mexico, and Hawai‘i. Similarities exist between bacterial phyla found in microbial mats and secondary minerals, but marked differences also occur, such as the lack of Actinobacteria in two-thirds of the secondary mineral deposits. The discovery that such deposits contain abundant life can help guide our detection of life on extraterrestrial bodies. Key Words: Biosignatures—Astrobiology—Bacteria—Caves—Life detection—Microbial mats. Astrobiology 11, 601–618.
A testable, explicit origin for Darwinian behavior, feasible on a chaotic early Earth, would aid origins discussion. Here I show that a pool receiving unreliable supplies of unstable ribonucleotide precursors can recurrently fill this role. By using numerical integration, the differential equations governing a sporadically fed pool are solved, yielding quantitative constraints for the proliferation of molecules that also have a chemical phenotype. For example, templated triphosphate nucleotide joining is >104 too slow, suggesting that a group more reactive than pyrophosphate activated primordial nucleotides. However, measured literature rates are sufficient if the Initial Darwinian Ancestor (IDA) resembles a 5′-5′ cofactor-like dinucleotide RNA, synthesized via activation with a phosphorimidazolide-like group. A sporadically fed pool offers unforeseen advantages; for example, the pool hosts a novel replicator which is predominantly unpaired, even though it replicates. Such free template is optimized for effective selection during its replication. Pool nucleotides are also subject to a broadly based selection that impels the population toward replication, effective selection, and Darwinian behavior. Such a primordial pool may have left detectable modern traces. A sporadically fed ribonucleotide pool also fits a recognizable early Earth environment, has recognizable modern descendants, and suits the early shape of the phylogenetic tree of Earthly life. Finally, analysis points to particular data now needed to refine the hypothesis. Accordingly, a kinetically explicit chemical hypothesis for a terran IDA can be justified, and informative experiments seem readily accessible. Key Words: Cofactor—RNA—Origin of life—Replication—Initial Darwinian Ancestor (IDA). Astrobiology 12, 870–883.
Periodic episodes of increased sunspot activity (solar electromagnetic storms) occur with 10–11 and 5–6 year periodicities and may be associated with measurable biological events. We investigated whether this sunspot periodicity characterized the incidence of Pap smear-determined cervical epithelial histopathologies and human physiologic functions. From January 1983 through December 2003, monthly averages were obtained for solar flux and sunspot numbers; six infectious, premalignant and malignant changes in the cervical epithelium from 1,182,421 consecutive, serially independent, screening Pap smears (59°9″N, 4°29″E); and six human physiologic functions of a healthy man (oral temperature, pulse, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, respiration, and peak expiratory flow), which were measured ∼5 times daily during ∼34,500 self-measurement sessions (44°56″N, 93°8″W). After determining that sunspot numbers and solar flux, which were not annually rhythmic, occurred with a prominent 10-year and a less-prominent 5.75-year periodicity during this 21-year study span, each biological data set was analyzed with the same curve-fitting procedures. All six annually rhythmic Pap smear-detected infectious, premalignant and malignant cervical epithelial pathologies showed strong 10-year and weaker 5.75-year cycles, as did all six self-measured, annually rhythmic, physiologic functions. The phases (maxima) for the six histopathologic findings and five of six physiologic measurements were very near, or within, the first two quarters following the 10-year solar maxima. These findings add to the growing evidence that solar magnetic storm periodicities are mirrored by cyclic phase-locked rhythms of similar period length or lengths in human physiology and pathophysiology. Key Words: Cervical infections—Cervical premalignancy—Geo-solar magnetic interactions—Pap smear—Schwabe cycle—10-year rhythm. Astrobiology 11, 93–103.
The isolation of viable extremely halophilic archaea from 250-million-year-old rock salt suggests the possibility of their long-term survival under desiccation. Since halite has been found on Mars and in meteorites, haloarchaeal survival of martian surface conditions is being explored. Halococcus dombrowskii H4 DSM 14522T was exposed to UV doses over a wavelength range of 200–400 nm to simulate martian UV flux. Cells embedded in a thin layer of laboratory-grown halite were found to accumulate preferentially within fluid inclusions. Survival was assessed by staining with the LIVE/DEAD kit dyes, determining colony-forming units, and using growth tests. Halite-embedded cells showed no loss of viability after exposure to about 21 kJ/m2, and they resumed growth in liquid medium with lag phases of 12 days or more after exposure up to 148 kJ/m2. The estimated D37 (dose of 37 % survival) for Hcc. dombrowskii was ≥ 400 kJ/m2. However, exposure of cells to UV flux while in liquid culture reduced D37 by 2 orders of magnitude (to about 1 kJ/m2); similar results were obtained with Halobacterium salinarum NRC-1 and Haloarcula japonica. The absorption of incoming light of shorter wavelength by color centers resulting from defects in the halite crystal structure likely contributed to these results. Under natural conditions, haloarchaeal cells become embedded in salt upon evaporation; therefore, dispersal of potential microscopic life within small crystals, perhaps in dust, on the surface of Mars could resist damage by UV radiation.
Halococcus dombrowskii; Simulated martian UV radiation; LIVE/DEAD staining; Halite fluid inclusions; UV transmittance and reflectance; Desiccation
The clay mineral montmorillonite is a member of the phyllosilicate group of minerals, which has been detected on martian soil. Montmorillonite catalyzes the condensation of activated monomers to form RNA-like oligomers. Extent of catalysis, that is, the yield of oligomers, and the length of the longest oligomer formed in these reactions widely varies with the source of montmorillonite (i.e., the locality where the mineral is mined). This study was undertaken to establish whether there exists a correlation between the extent of catalytic property and the charge density of montmorillonites. Charge density was determined by saturating the montmorillonites with alkyl ammonium cations that contained increasing lengths of alkyl chains, [CH3-(CH2)n-NH3]+, where n = 3–16 and 18, and then measuring d(001), interlayer spacing of the resulting montmorillonite-alkyl ammonium-montmorillonite complex by X-ray diffractometry (XRD).
Results demonstrate that catalytic activity of montmorillonites with lower charge density is superior to that of higher charge density montmorillonite. They produce longer oligomers that contain 9 to 10 monomer units, while montmorillonite with high charge density catalyzes the formation of oligomers that contain only 4 monomer units.
The charge density of montmorillonites can also be calculated from the chemical composition if elemental analysis data of the pure mineral are available. In the next mission to Mars, CheMin (Chemistry and Mineralogy), a combined X-ray diffraction/X-ray fluorescence instrument, will provide information on the mineralogical and elemental analysis of the samples. Possible significance of these results for planning the future missions to Mars for the search of organic compounds and extinct or extant life is discussed. Key Words: Mars—Origin of life—Montmorillonite—Mineral catalysis—Layer charge density—X–ray diffractometry. Astrobiology 10, 743–749.
The release and oxidation of ferrous iron during aqueous alteration of the mineral olivine is known to reduce aqueous solutions to such extent that molecular hydrogen, H2, forms. H2 is an efficient energy carrier and is considered basal to the deep subsurface biosphere. Knowledge of the potential for H2 generation is therefore vital to understanding the deep biosphere on Earth and on extraterrestrial bodies.
Here, we provide a review of factors that may reduce the potential for H2 generation with a focus on systems in the core temperature region for thermophilic to hyperthermophilic microbial life. We show that aqueous sulfate may inhibit the formation of H2, whereas redox-sensitive compounds of carbon and nitrogen are unlikely to have significant effect at low temperatures. In addition, we suggest that the rate of H2 generation is proportional to the dissolution rate of olivine and, hence, limited by factors such as reactive surface areas and the access of water to fresh surfaces. We furthermore suggest that the availability of water and pore/fracture space are the most important factors that limit the generation of H2. Our study implies that, because of large heat flows, abundant olivine-bearing rocks, large thermodynamic gradients, and reduced atmospheres, young Earth and Mars probably offered abundant systems where microbial life could possibly have emerged. Key Words: Serpentinization—Olivine—Hydrogen—Deep biosphere—Water—Mars. Astrobiology 11, 711–724.
We used one-dimensional photochemical and radiative transfer models to study the potential of organic sulfur compounds (CS2, OCS, CH3SH, CH3SCH3, and CH3S2CH3) to act as remotely detectable biosignatures in anoxic exoplanetary atmospheres. Concentrations of organic sulfur gases were predicted for various biogenic sulfur fluxes into anoxic atmospheres and were found to increase with decreasing UV fluxes. Dimethyl sulfide (CH3SCH3, or DMS) and dimethyl disulfide (CH3S2CH3, or DMDS) concentrations could increase to remotely detectable levels, but only in cases of extremely low UV fluxes, which may occur in the habitable zone of an inactive M dwarf. The most detectable feature of organic sulfur gases is an indirect one that results from an increase in ethane (C2H6) over that which would be predicted based on the planet's methane (CH4) concentration. Thus, a characterization mission could detect these organic sulfur gases—and therefore the life that produces them—if it could sufficiently quantify the ethane and methane in the exoplanet's atmosphere. Key Words: Exoplanets—Biosignatures—Anoxic atmospheres—Planetary atmospheres—Remote life detection—Photochemistry. Astrobiology 11, 419–441.
The EPOXI Discovery Mission of Opportunity reused the Deep Impact flyby spacecraft to obtain spatially and temporally resolved visible photometric and moderate resolution near-infrared (NIR) spectroscopic observations of Earth. These remote observations provide a rigorous validation of whole-disk Earth model simulations used to better understand remotely detectable extrasolar planet characteristics. We have used these data to upgrade, correct, and validate the NASA Astrobiology Institute's Virtual Planetary Laboratory three-dimensional line-by-line, multiple-scattering spectral Earth model. This comprehensive model now includes specular reflectance from the ocean and explicitly includes atmospheric effects such as Rayleigh scattering, gas absorption, and temperature structure. We have used this model to generate spatially and temporally resolved synthetic spectra and images of Earth for the dates of EPOXI observation. Model parameters were varied to yield an optimum fit to the data. We found that a minimum spatial resolution of ∼100 pixels on the visible disk, and four categories of water clouds, which were defined by using observed cloud positions and optical thicknesses, were needed to yield acceptable fits. The validated model provides a simultaneous fit to Earth's lightcurve, absolute brightness, and spectral data, with a root-mean-square (RMS) error of typically less than 3% for the multiwavelength lightcurves and residuals of ∼10% for the absolute brightness throughout the visible and NIR spectral range. We have extended our validation into the mid-infrared by comparing the model to high spectral resolution observations of Earth from the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder, obtaining a fit with residuals of ∼7% and brightness temperature errors of less than 1 K in the atmospheric window. For the purpose of understanding the observable characteristics of the distant Earth at arbitrary viewing geometry and observing cadence, our validated forward model can be used to simulate Earth's time-dependent brightness and spectral properties for wavelengths from the far ultraviolet to the far infrared. Key Words: Astrobiology—Extrasolar terrestrial planets—Habitability—Planetary science—Radiative transfer. Astrobiology 11, 393–408.
Old arguments that free O2 must have been available at Earth's surface prior to the origin of photosynthesis have been revived by a new study that shows that aerobic respiration can occur at dissolved oxygen concentrations much lower than had previously been thought, perhaps as low as 0.05 nM, which corresponds to a partial pressure for O2 of about 4 × 10−8 bar. We used numerical models to study whether such O2 concentrations might have been provided by atmospheric photochemistry. Results show that disproportionation of H2O2 near the surface might have yielded enough O2 to satisfy this constraint. Alternatively, poleward transport of O2 from the equatorial stratosphere into the polar night region, followed by downward transport in the polar vortex, may have brought O2 directly to the surface. Thus, our calculations indicate that this “early respiration” hypothesis might be physically reasonable. Key Words: Early Earth—Oxygen—Respiration—Tracer transport—General circulation. Astrobiology 11, 293–302.
Various effects of microgravity on prokaryotes have been recognized in recent years, with the focus on studies of pathogenic bacteria. No archaea have been investigated yet with respect to their responses to microgravity. For exposure experiments on spacecrafts or on the International Space Station, halophilic archaea (haloarchaea) are usually embedded in halite, where they accumulate in fluid inclusions. In a liquid environment, these cells will experience microgravity in space, which might influence their viability and survival. Two haloarchaeal strains, Haloferax mediterranei and Halococcus dombrowskii, were grown in simulated microgravity (SMG) with the rotary cell culture system (RCCS, Synthecon). Initially, salt precipitation and detachment of the porous aeration membranes in the RCCS were observed, but they were avoided in the remainder of the experiment by using disposable instead of reusable vessels. Several effects were detected, which were ascribed to growth in SMG: Hfx. mediterranei's resistance to the antibiotics bacitracin, erythromycin, and rifampicin increased markedly; differences in pigmentation and whole cell protein composition (proteome) of both strains were noted; cell aggregation of Hcc. dombrowskii was notably reduced. The results suggest profound effects of SMG on haloarchaeal physiology and cellular processes, some of which were easily observable and measurable. This is the first report of archaeal responses to SMG. The molecular mechanisms of the effects induced by SMG on prokaryotes are largely unknown; haloarchaea could be used as nonpathogenic model systems for their elucidation and in addition could provide information about survival during lithopanspermia (interplanetary transport of microbes inside meteorites). Key Words: Haloferax mediterranei—Halococcus dombrowskii—Simulated microgravity—Rotary cell culture system—Antibiotic resistance—Lithopanspermia. Astrobiology 11, 199–205.
Orbital neutron spectroscopy has become a standard technique for measuring planetary surface compositions from orbit. While this technique has led to important discoveries, such as the deposits of hydrogen at the Moon and Mars, a limitation is its poor spatial resolution. For omni-directional neutron sensors, spatial resolutions are 1–1.5 times the spacecraft's altitude above the planetary surface (or 40–600 km for typical orbital altitudes). Neutron sensors with enhanced spatial resolution have been proposed, and one with a collimated field of view is scheduled to fly on a mission to measure lunar polar hydrogen. No quantitative studies or analyses have been published that evaluate in detail the detection and sensitivity limits of spatially resolved neutron measurements. Here, we describe two complementary techniques for evaluating the hydrogen sensitivity of spatially resolved neutron sensors: an analytic, closed-form expression that has been validated with Lunar Prospector neutron data, and a three-dimensional modeling technique. The analytic technique, called the Spatially resolved Neutron Analytic Sensitivity Approximation (SNASA), provides a straightforward method to evaluate spatially resolved neutron data from existing instruments as well as to plan for future mission scenarios. We conclude that the existing detector—the Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector (LEND)—scheduled to launch on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will have hydrogen sensitivities that are over an order of magnitude poorer than previously estimated. We further conclude that a sensor with a geometric factor of ∼ 100 cm2 Sr (compared to the LEND geometric factor of ∼ 10.9 cm2 Sr) could make substantially improved measurements of the lunar polar hydrogen spatial distribution. Key Words: Planetary instrumentation—Planetary science—Moon—Spacecraft experiments—Hydrogen. Astrobiology 10, 183–200.
Any definition is intricately connected to a theory that gives it meaning. Accordingly, this article discusses various definitions of life held in the astrobiology community by considering their connected “theories of life.” These include certain “list” definitions and a popular definition that holds that life is a “self-sustaining chemical system capable of Darwinian evolution.” We then act as “anthropologists,” studying what scientists do to determine which definition-theories of life they constructively hold as they design missions to seek non-terran life. We also look at how constructive beliefs about biosignatures change as observational data accumulate. And we consider how a definition centered on Darwinian evolution might itself be forced to change as supra-Darwinian species emerge, including in our descendents, and consider the chances of our encountering supra-Darwinian species in our exploration of the Cosmos. Last, we ask what chemical structures might support Darwinian evolution universally; these structures might be universal biosignatures. Key Words: Evolution—Life—Life detection—Biosignatures. Astrobiology 10, 1021–1030.
Main sequence M stars pose an interesting problem for astrobiology: their abundance in our galaxy makes them likely targets in the hunt for habitable planets, but their strong chromospheric activity produces high-energy radiation and charged particles that may be detrimental to life. We studied the impact of the 1985 April 12 flare from the M dwarf AD Leonis (AD Leo), simulating the effects from both UV radiation and protons on the atmospheric chemistry of a hypothetical, Earth-like planet located within its habitable zone. Based on observations of solar proton events and the Neupert effect, we estimated a proton flux associated with the flare of 5.9 × 108 protons cm−2 sr−1 s−1 for particles with energies >10 MeV. Then we calculated the abundance of nitrogen oxides produced by the flare by scaling the production of these compounds during a large solar proton event called the Carrington event. The simulations were performed with a 1-D photochemical model coupled to a 1-D radiative/convective model. Our results indicate that the UV radiation emitted during the flare does not produce a significant change in the ozone column depth of the planet. When the action of protons is included, the ozone depletion reaches a maximum of 94% two years after the flare for a planet with no magnetic field. At the peak of the flare, the calculated UV fluxes that reach the surface, in the wavelength ranges that are damaging for life, exceed those received on Earth during less than 100 s. Therefore, flares may not present a direct hazard for life on the surface of an orbiting habitable planet. Given that AD Leo is one of the most magnetically active M dwarfs known, this conclusion should apply to planets around other M dwarfs with lower levels of chromospheric activity. Key Words: M dwarf—Flare—Habitable zone—Planetary atmospheres. Astrobiology 10, 751–771.