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NASA Ames Research Center Astrobiology

The Evolution of Prebiotic Chemical Complexity and the Organic Inventory of Protoplanetary Disks and Primordial Planets

Principal Investigator: Scott A. Sandford

Image of three intersecting hexagons to form the Ames Astrobiology team logo representing the three project modules. The NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) Ames CAN-7 team is located in the Space Sciences and Astrophysics Branch (SSA) of the Space Science and Astrobiology Division (SS) at NASA's Ames Research Center (ARC), in Mountain View, California.
This laboratory supports NASA’s space science missions and programs. We study the physical and chemical properties of interstellar, cometary, asteroidal, planetary and lunar materials. Among the materials studied are interstellar polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs, the largest carbon molecules in space), aerosols in planetary atmospheres, ice mantles on interstellar grains and surface ices on comets and on solar system planets, and laboratory samples of actual extraterrestrial materials (meteorites and cosmic dust). Extraterrestrial material analogs are produced in our laboratory under conditions realistically close to space environments and range from molecules and ions in gas-phase interstellar clouds and planetary atmospheres to interstellar, cometary, and planetary ices and dust. The materials are studied using analytical techniques such as photonic spectroscopy, time-of-flight mass spectrometry and gas chromatography.

We also investigate the effects of interstellar, planetary and lunar processes (ultraviolet irradiation, heating and cooling) on the structure, composition and the evolution of these materials.

team photo taken in our last monthly meeting.

Our goals are to provide

- Quantitative information for interpreting observations from ground-, air-, and space-based observatories

- To guide instrument development for future missions, including small-satellite missions

- To understand the connections between extraterrestrial materials and the processes that form and modify them and

- To help improve existing astrophysical models.

The CAN-7 team seeks a greater understanding of chemical processes at every stage in the evolution of organic chemical complexity, from quiescent regions of dense molecular clouds, through all stages of disk and planet formation, and ultimately to the materials that rain down on planets. The team is structured as an integrated, coherent program consisting of three well-integrated research Modules:

Team Bullet   Modeling and Observations of Disks and Exoplanets Module

Team Bullet   Laboratory Studies Module

Team Bullet   Computational Quantum Chemistry Module