Planetary Exploration

Topics of Research:

Astrobiology
Polar Processes
Terrestrial Analogs
Spaceflight Missions (MRO/Scouts)

Astrobiology

Remote Detection of Habitable Zones and Biosignatures Collaborators: Chris Fritsen, Giles Marion, DRI, Wendy Calvin Alicia Fallacaro, UNR; Alice Baldridge, ASU. Funded by NASA EPSCOR.

Summary of Research: This is a consortium project to build expertise and infrastructure related to Astrobiology reseach. Our element of the research focuses on remote detection of mineral signatures that may function as indicators of biological or prebiotic chemical evolution on other planets. The intent is to focus on terrestrial analog sites and materials and to characterize their mineral and remotely sensed signatures, and transfer this information to actual mission data from Galileo, the Mars Exploration Program (Mars Global Surveyor, Odyssey, Mars Exploration Rovers) and Cassini. This element builds provides links between the more biological elements of the EPSCOR consortium to the planetary science community.

Polar Processes

Spectral Properties of the North Polar Regions of Mars Collaborators: Calvin W., UNR, Tim Titus, USGS. Funded by NASA Mars Data Analysis Program

Summary of Research: The polar regions of Mars show fine scale layering in both the residual ice caps and the surrounding layered terrains. Understanding the detailed composition of these deposits will provide fundamental information on the present and past climate and its evolution. This research involves an analysis of data from the TES and MOC instruments on Mars Global Surveyor, presently in orbit around Mars. We will provide a map of relative abundance of water ice and dust, ice grain size variations and compositional links between the troughs, layered terrains, and dunes surrounding the residual north ice cap.

Terrestrial Analogs

Mars Alteration Analogs: Acid Weathering of Basaltic Andesites and Iron Formation Collaborators: Calvin, Vaughan, Fallacaro, UNR; Janice Bishop SETI/NASA-Ames; Phil Christensen, ASU; Funded by NASA Planetary Geology and Geophysics Program

Summary of Research: This work studies high priority terrestrial analogs which may mimic some aspects of Martian surface alteration. Alteration minerals are of high interest for the role they play in current and past sequestration of volatiles elements such as water, sulfate and carbonate. We emphasize understanding mineral associations as expressed in naturally occurring mixtures at both short wave and thermal infrared spectral regions. The project uses two terrestrial analog regions, one related to the high sulfur content of Martian soils and the potential for acid sulfate alteration, and the other is linked to the identification of the bulk oxide hematite in a low albedo region of the Martian surface.

Spaceflight Missions (MRO/Scouts)

Mini-TES Investigation for Surface Mineralogy and Surface/Orbit Constraints on TES Collaborators: Calvin with the MER Science Team. Funded by Mars Exploration Rover Mission.

Summary of Research: As a Participating Scientist in the mission, Dr. Calvin will be working primarily with data from the mini-TES instrument to identify mineralogy and rock type at the landing sites. This involves comparisons with both field and lab data of terrestrial analog materials, as well as defining methods to accurately remove the atmospheric contribution to the spectra. She will work as a Payload Downlink Lead (PDL) for the mini-TES instrument as well as Science Theme Group (STG) member and occasional Chair of the Geochemistry/Mineralogy STG. She has also agreed to be an Athena Student Intern Mentor. This program allows a teacher and two local high school students to become involved in mission related activities as well as participate for one week during surface operations.