responsibility of exobiologists and geologists on a panel that will ultimately determine the future endeavors of NASA and the search for life in the solar system and, potentially, the universe.
responsibility of exobiologists and geologists on a panel that will ultimately determine the future endeavors of NASA and the search for life in the solar system and, potentially, the universe. You will choose a potential target in our solar system (Europa, Saturn, Titan, Venus, Mars) for the search for life forms, conditions conducive to the emergence of life, or evidence of past life. Your task is to become the specialist consultant on this target.
After you choose a site, read Section 3 Planet Habitability Index (PHI) from the paper “A Two-Tiered Approach to Assessing the Habitability of Exoplanets”. (Link to this paper: https://learn.illinois.edu/pluginfile.php/1884697/mod_resource/content/1/Planet%20Habitability%20Index%20PDF.pdf). You may need to log on to the university system to access the paper. The user name is hzeng6 and password is Dan515520. Carefully consider Table 3 to compile data on your particular site, and take your own personal notes. You may also need Table 2 from Section 2, though you do not need to read the rest of Section 2.
First, you need to decide what conditions you consider tantamount to the presence of life. Next, consider what data is in favor and what data is against the habitability of the planet or satellite. Finally, you will give your recommendation to the panel regarding the exploration of your site.
As you are reading, answer the following guiding questions about your site:
What is the surface temperature?
Consider the data and significance of the parameters included in Table 3. Is liquid water possible?
If no, what phase is possible? Solid (ice)? Gas (called vapor)?
Is there tectonic activity on the planet? Can you deduce this information from the images?
Is there a metabolically useful energy source (as per the Kieffer papers from Week 5)?
Is there a presence of organic building blocks such as P, S, N, Corg (= carbon chains like CH4, CO2, CO)?
What is your final recommendation—is it a viable target or is life there unlikely?
Now, make inferences based on what you have learned about your planet or satellite. Consider its location in the solar system and proximity to Earth, its surface conditions, its “hospitability.”
How accessible is this body? Feasible, possible, very challenging, impossible?
Would it be conceivable to sample this surface, via rover or chemical sampling or imaging, like in Mars Rover or Cassini missions?
The essay prompt is as follows:
Report your recommendation to the panel. Begin by stating your recommendation (yes, life is possible; no, life is not likely). To fully develop your argument and justify your findings to the rest of the panel, make sure to address the following points or questions:
Explain thoroughly the data or conditions that caused you to make this decision. Which parameters (if any) seem to be conducive to the formation of life, and which parameters (if any) do not facilitate or may even prohibit life? What is the importance of each condition in the formation of life? Did some conditions outweigh the others? Was one a deal breaker or deal maker in your expert opinion? What ultimately led to your decision?
The last paragraph should be an evaluation of the feasibility of sampling or researching the site further in the future. What are the conditions on the planet that make it a good/bad target for future NASA astrobiology missions?