Dr. Mike Gaffey Receives 3-year, $450,000 NASA Research Grant
Mike Gaffey received a 3-year, $450,000 research grant from the NASA Planetary Geology and Geophysics program to investigate the early history of the inner solar system and the processes and conditions that were present during the transition period from the late solar nebula to the earliest solar system. Telescopic spectra of selected asteroids obtained at the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility at Mauna Kea, Hawai’i will be analyzed to determine surface mineralogy to determine the original compositions of their parent bodies and the geochemical processes that operated within those bodies during the first few million years of solar system history. The research will also focus on developing and upgrading spectral calibrations used to interpret asteroid spectra data. The PGG funding will provide support for two post-docs and a graduate student involved in the research effort.
Asteroids are remnants of the population of planetesimals that filled the early inner solar system and from which the terrestrial planets formed. Asteroids also played a major role in the origin and evolution of life on Earth. Asteroids delivered large amounts of nonbiological organic molecules (e.g., amino acids, etc.) to the early Earth and may have provided the prebiotic molecules from which the first life on Earth arose. Asteroids were certainly a major source of impacts onto the early Earth, a process that may have frustrated early attempts of life to become established on the planet. At least one mass extinction, which redirected the evolution of life on Earth, appears to have been caused by an asteroid impact 65 million years ago. An asteroid impact is currently the only potentially preventable natural disaster that could disrupt human society or even make the human race extinct.