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Newsletter:
FAR Seminar Archive

 

At a Glance

The 2015 Undergraduate Research Associates in Astrobiology is a ten-week research program held each year at Goddard Space Flight Center and the University of Maryland. During this period, each Research Associate conducts an intensive research project on a state-of-the art question under the direction of an individual mentor. Mentors are members of the Goddard Center for Astrobiology. At the conclusion of the ten-week program, each Research Assoicate presents his or her research in a NAI Forum in Astrobiology Research (FAR).

 


Education & Outreach



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The 2015 URAA Students arriving for their first day at GSFC - Pictured left to right: Maureen Palmer, Beatriz Saldana, and Patrick Tamburo (not pictured: Tiffany Jansen)

_ Tiffany Jansen (University of Washington) worked with Dr. Aki Roberge (NASA/GSFC) on the “Finding the Needles in the Haystacks” project. This project’s goal is to create realistic simulated observations of a diverse range of extrasolar planets in aid of future mission development. Tiffany’s idea was to simulate a warm Jupiter in the habitable zone of a sunlike star, orbited by an Earth-like moon, and see if there is a technique that can separate the spectra of the planet and moon. She wrote a code to model the orbital position of the moon and developed a spectral image cube for the compete system, incorporating an appropriate interplanetary dust structure. She then created and applied a simple telescope model to make simulated images at many wavelengths. She found that with a 12-meter space telescope, one may see a hint that the planet has a moon, but separating the two spectra is will be extremely challenging.
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Maureen Palmer (St. Olaf College) worked with Drs. Martin Cordiner (CUA/NASA/GSFC) and Conor Nixon (NASA/GSFC) Maureen was involved in the retrieval and analysis of interferometric data on Titan's atmosphere from the ALMA science archive. Titan, Saturn's largest moon, is host to a rich organic chemistry, providing us with a window into the understanding of primitive planetary atmospheres throughout the Galaxy. Combining multiple integrations obtained at mm and sub-mm wavelengths, Maureen was able to achieve unprecedented sensitivity at high spatial and spectral resolution, from which new molecular maps of Titan's Earth-facing hemisphere were derived. Major results included the first spectroscopic detection of vinyl cyanide on Titan as well as detections of the rare isotopologues of acetonitrile, providing important new insights into Titan's nitrogen chemistry.

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Beatriz Saldana (Florida Institute of Technology) worked with Drs. Jennifer Stern (NASA/GSFC) and Heather Graham (ORAU/NASA.GSFC) this summer. Beatriz was instrumental in sample prep for a variety of natural and synthetic geomaterials we work with in the lab. She milled, sieved and pre-treated samples from an Australian acid brine playa lake, gypsum crystals from lake cores, products from a synthetic smectite reaction, and a mineralogical analog of the Cumberland sampling site on Mars. Beatriz prepared these samples for both carbon and deuterium isotope analysis. She learned to operate the IRMS (isotope ratio mass spectrometer) and analyzed several sets of samples, corrected the data for various confounding factors, and provided an interpretation of the data. Beatriz also took part in a Raman examination of several geologic samples, a series of isotope measurements to establish an in-house standard and researched organic extraction and DNA isolation methods for acidic sediment samples, providing a very thorough review of the literature.

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Patrick Tamburo (University of Maryland) was mentored by Dr. Avi Mandell (NASA.GSFC). Patrick adapted our existing data reduction tools for HST exoplanet transit spectroscopy observations to handle new types of data sets. The old software was only able to handle a single image size, and a very specific observation methodology. Patrick made the codes more general and able to analyze a wide range of observations. He tested the new software on data for WASP-18b, a Hot Jupiter exoplanet expected to have an unusual upper-atmosphere temperature structure. He was able to demonstrate excellent initial results on the band-integrated transit light curve, and hopes to complete the analysis as a continuation of his project while at University of Maryland.

 

 

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The 2010 Internship is now complete, check back soon for details.

 

 

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