Workshop: Targeting Microhabitats for Life Detection

September 19 - 23, 2022
California Institute of Technology - Pasadena, CA 91125

Workshop Overview:

Current missions, such as the Perseverance rover, are currently able to detect microenvironments, but they do not have the capability to follow through with micro-targeting and microanalysis. Similarly, down-borehole ice environment missions do not have instruments available for separable sample analysis. Through this workshop, we propose to develop a roadmap for the technologies and techniques required to detect, image, acquire/sample, and analyze astrobiological microenvironments at a target scale of 100 to 1 microns.

Relevant planetary targets include in situ analysis of permafrost environments (Mars, Ceres, Callisto); the ice/ocean interface and deep ice microenvironments (all Ocean Worlds, possibly Mars ice cap at depth); and ocean sediments, hydrothermal, and host rock environments (all Ocean Worlds, with a special emphasis on Europa and Enceladus). Our objectives closely align with the Planetary Science Decadal Survey’s recommendation that “NASA’s programs and missions should reflect a dedicated focus on research and exploration of subsurface habitability.” In particular, the Survey promotes studies that will inform the astrobiological potential of “low-energy terrestrial biospheres that can only support a low total biomass that may be difficult to detect against the backdrop of abiological physical and chemical processes. Biomass distribution in these settings is highly heterogeneous; key is the use of preserved environmental guideposts, i.e., mineralogic or physical interfaces, to first identify the energetically favorable locales for life and then search for the biosignatures at microscopic scales.”

We will bring together experts from multiple disciplines, including Ocean Worlds, cryosphere, state-of-the-art biological imaging, microbe-environment interactions, robotic acquisition and micro-manipulation, and environmental capture and culture in extreme environments. Among the technological capabilities our study will examine and advance are 1) non-destructive instrumentation to detect biosignatures (agnostic and Earth inspired); 2) sampling techniques to collect and preserve microhabitats while retaining the spatial context; and 3) culturing of acquired microorganisms. While the scale is small, the challenges are immense. Many of these techniques have been recently developed for laboratory use, but not for field use or planetary instrumentation.

The objectives of this first workshop are to understand the physical, biological, and technical opportunities and limitations of non-destructive microhabitat analyses, consider novel approaches to addressing obstacles, and begin to develop a realistic process to incorporate such exploration strategies into future missions. Ultimately, our work will enable the development of integrated tools and systems that can work together to better target astrobiological exploration on the scale of the microenvironment.

Schedule Coming Soon...

List of Workshop Participants Coming Soon...

Lodging for out-of-town attendees

There are a number of hotels that are close to the Caltech campus where we have a negotiated rate. (Please note that this negotiated rate does not guarantee you the lowest rate as there may be internet specials or AAA rates that may be better.)

Please note that with enough notice, you can reserve rooms for attendees at the Athenaeum, which has been recognized as a Platinum Club of America. Newly refurbished, it is conveniently located on the Caltech Campus. Contact Janet Seid if you would like to check the availability of this option.

Visa Requirements

For Visa requirement information and travel to the United States please visit the website of the U.S. Department of State.

Parking (for Visitors and for JPL Personnel)

For Visitors: From the Arroyo Parkway, turn right (east) on Del Mar Avenue. Proceed approximately one and a quarter miles. The Caltech campus will be on your right. Turn right (south) onto Wilson Avenue. Turn right into the North Wilson Structure and park in an unmarked spot. Buy a parking permit from the kiosk located inside the North Wilson Structure or request one ahead of time from KISS.

For JPL Personnel: JPLers may use their JPL hang tag for parking or request a special parking hangtag from the JPL parking office. Employees who do not have on-Lab parking privileges can obtain a hang tag created for this purpose from JPL parking coordinator Robert Kennedy (818-354-4586, Building 310-108B, 9/80 schedule). Please park in an unmarked spot in the North Wilson Structure located on Wilson Avenue.

Maps and General Information on Pasadena