Skip Navigation (press 2)
NASA Logo National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Goddard Space Flight Center
- NASA Portal
- SSED
 

GCA Banner

Methane Viewer

 

Theme I - “From Icy Planetesimals to Planets: Organics as a Key Window into Early Planetary Systems”

Introduction Theme I Theme II Theme III Theme IV


Investigators:
  A’Hearn, Charnley, DiSanti, Kuchner, Levison, Mumma, Walker

Theme I of GCA research is focused on determining the chemical composition of icy bodies (comets and asteroids) and establishing their potential for delivering pre-biotic organic materials and water to the young Earth and other planets.

Characterizing the Organic Composition of Comets

GCA scientists obtain high-resolution spectra of comets using some of the world’s largest ground-based telescopes and space-based telescopes, then establish a classification scheme of these comets based on the composition and abundance ratios of the volatile organics measured from these spectra.  High-resolution IR spectral observations are necessary because organic molecules and their ions emit their characteristic spectral signatures in the near infrared to radio wavelengths.  

They also perform theoretical studies of the proto-planetary disk and model the chemical and dynamical processes of the early Solar System.  These will help to determine if the delivery of exogenous organics and water by comet and asteroid impacts enable the emergence and evolution of life on Earth.

For more info see: Dr. M. Mumma’s Keck Public Lecture on Comets (58 MB)

Also see: Ph.D. Thesis of Dr. Boncho Bonev:
Towards a Chemical Taxonomy of Comets: Infrared Spectroscopic Methods for Quantitative Measurements of Cometary Water (33 MB)

 

Spectral Observation

CSHELL long slit, high dispersion (λ/δλ~24,000) spectra of comet C/1996 B2
Credit: Dr. Mumma


Spectral Observation

Processes affecting ices and dust
in Proto-planetary Disks.
Credit: Dr. Mumma

 

Mumma 15Clear detection of methane and water on Mars.  Credit: Drs. Mumma & Villanueva
methane three regionsAreas where methane was detected on Mars.

 

Search for Organics on Mars

GCA researchers also study organics in other Solar System bodies, especially biomarkers on Mars.  The recent observations of methane on Mars suggest the possibility of life beyond Earth. This hypothesis is strengthened by the presence of vigorous biocommunities (e.g., methanogens and methanotrophs) found in terrestrial analogue sites such as sub-permafrost zones.  An alternative explanation is that geochemical processes produce methane.

See ScienceWatch interview of Dr. Michael Mumma: http://sciencewatch.com/dr/fbp/2010/10augfbp/10augfbpMumm/

Press on enigma of methane on Mars:
- http://planck.esa.int/science-e/www/object/index.cfm?fobjectid=46038
- http://arstechnica.com/science/news/2009/01/mars-makes-methane-sign-of-life-or-geology-at-work.ars

 

  Methane Image
Destabilization of clathrate hydrates as a consequence of glacial deposit retreat at middle latitudes.
Credit: Prieto-Ballasteros et al. 06
  Methane Image
Three primary areas of methane abundance side-by-side comparisons with geological provinces.
Credit: Mumma, Villanueva, Novak, et al. (Science 2009)
 
         
  Methane Image
Methane and water on Mars.  Volcanic and hydrothermal processes and biological activity. 
Credit: Methane Workshop, Frascati Italy, Villanueva et al. 2009
  Methane Image
Methane and water on Mars.  Volcanic and hydrothermal processes and biological activity. 
Credit: Methane Workshop, Frascati Italy, Villanueva et al. 2009
 

 

 
Introduction Theme I Theme II Theme III Theme IV

 

 

 

usa.gov + Freedom of Information Act
+ The President's Management Agenda
+ NASA Privacy Statement, Disclaimer, and Accessibility Certification   
NASA Meatball NASA Official: Dr. Michael.J.Mumma
Website Manager: Corinne Eby