MGGD Research Areas


Astrobiology in MGGD

In 2003 the University of Hawai‘i received a $5M grant from NASA to establish a NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI), joining nearly a dozen other universities that have such Institutes. Ours is headed by Dr. Karen Meech in the UH Institute for Astronomy (IfA). The UH-IfA is one of the premier astronomy institutes in the world, and most of the 13 NAI PIs reside there. Several, however, are within SOEST, and two (Cowen and Mottl) are in our department, in MGGD. Dr. Brian Glazer came to UH as an NAI post-doctoral fellow in 2004, then joined our department as a new faculty member last year. The theme of the UH-NAI is water in all of its manifestations in the galaxy. Water is recognized as essential for life as we know it, and “follow the water” is a mantra for astrobiologists. MGGD members emphasize oceanographic aspects of astrobiology; we strive to answer questions such as where Earth’s oceans came from, where else might we find oceans, and what life on Earth thriving in extreme aqueous environments (e.g., hydrothermal vents; deep subseafloor basement; serpentinite mud volcanoes; glacier ices) tells us about life in extraterrestrial settings?

Deep Impact comit thumbnail photo.

Deep Impact encounter with comet P/Tempel-1. Deep Impact, a NASA Discovery Mission was launched 2004 and arrived at comet P/Tempel-1 on July 3, 2005. A larger “flyby” spacecraft released the smaller impacter spacecraft that was directed to crash into P/Tempel-1. Mission fact sheet. The mission goals were to create an impact crater utilizing the 372-kg impactor, to watch the formation of the crater and to dig below the evolved surface materials of a comet and study the pristine interior. [NASA image, provided by UH-NAI PI Karen Meech, a coI on the Deep Impact mission]

Hale Bopp comet thumbnail photo.

False color image of comet Hale Bopp taken at the Lowell Observatory with a blue filter (allows wavelengths that carbon monoxide emits to pass through it), showing glowing gas in the comet tail. Comet ices preserve a chemical record of this precursor interstellar material, and detailed remote measurements of the hydrogen isotopes in these icy bodies has shown that comets contributed some, though not all, of the water to Earth”s oceans. Comets are also rich in the organic materials that are essential for life on Earth [Image collected by former UH IfA grad student]

Subaru telescope thumbnail photo.

High resolution image taken with the Subaru 8m telescope, in the hunt for the EPOXI mission target: comet 85P/Boethin. This single image gets down to about magnitude 25 — ~10 million times fainter than the naked eye can see, but shows remarkable detail of stars and galaxies. This image covers only 1/20th of a degree. Galazies are seen as bright spots surrounded by fuzz; when imaged face on, the structure often looks like a pinwheel. [Image collected by Karen Meech, Principal Investigator of the University of Hawai‘i NASA Astrobiology Instititute.]

Click on the thumbnail images to open a larger version in a new window.

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