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Environmental simulations and spectroscopic in situ characterization of potential molecular biosignatures for application in space missions

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Maria Fernanda Cerini
Total Authors: 1
Document type: Master's Dissertation
Press: São Carlos.
Institution: Universidade de São Paulo (USP). Instituto de Física de São Carlos (IFSC/BT)
Defense date:
Examining board members:
Douglas Galante; Roberto Dell'Aglio Dias da Costa; Manoel Gustavo Petrucelli Homem
Advisor: Douglas Galante

Astrobiology is a growing research area Brazil, which studies the phenomenon of life in the Universe. One of its sub-themes studies biosignatures: substances which evidence the presence of life, past or present. The detectability of biomolecules, which are potential molecular biosignatures, and the photostability of their spectroscopic signatures in simulated extraterrestrial environments were investigated in laboratory. The experiments were based on irradiations in the ultraviolet, which is the main range of solar radiation responsible for the evolution and degradation of organic molecules in space environments. The research was focused in the biological pigments β-carotene and chlorophyll a, which were irradiated in both pure form and/or mixed with different inorganic substrates, mimicking the surfaces of rocky planets, satellites and asteroids. The facilities of the Brazilian Synchrotron Light Laboratory (LNLS) were used, especially the TGM beamline in the UV, VUV and EUV range, as well as low pressure lamps emitting in the UVC range. In the Space and Planetary Simulation Chamber (AstroCam) of the Astrobiology Research Unit of USP, several environmental parameters were controlled to simulate the surface conditions of Mars. And high-altitude balloons were used to test the response of biomolecules in the stratosphere, where the conditions are similar to those of the Martian surface, in addition to validate experiments which can be sent in space missions. Changes in the biomolecules spectroscopic responses were measured by UV-Vis and IR absorbance and by Raman scattering, either in situ and in real time or ex situ. The techniques proved to be adequate for these studies, since they provided information on the photostability of the biomolecules spectroscopic responses, allowing the testing of their potential as biosignatures on different surfaces of the Solar System. The results can also contribute to space missions, supporting the development and optimization of techniques and procedures, both for the exposure of biomolecules to real space environments – in small and low-cost missions, such as CubeSats –, as well as for the actual detection of biosignatures on extraterrestrial planetary surfaces. (AU)

FAPESP's process: 16/15054-7 - Environmental simulations and in situ spectroscopic characterization of potential molecular biosignatures with applications in space missions
Grantee:Maria Fernanda Cerini
Support Opportunities: Scholarships in Brazil - Master