The Astrophysics & Astrochemistry Laboratory
The Astrophysics and Astrochemistry Laboratory 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. 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.
From these experiments we have built up a database that has been used (in conjunction with astronomical data) to search for and identify molecules in space.
The scientists in the Astrophysics and Astrochemistry Laboratory have been actively involved in space missions and have done astronomical observations from space-, airborne-, and ground-based telescopes such as the Hubble and Spitzer Space Telescopes, Kuiper Airborne Observatory (KAO) and the NASA IRTF and NOAO Kitt Peak Telescopes.
Highlights of the Laboratory's work and associated science topics can be found here and highlights from the branch as a whole can be found here.