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Microbiological activities can be detected in various extreme environments on Earth, which suggest that extraterrestrial environments, such as on Mars, could host life. There have been proposed a number of biomarkers to detect extant life mostly based on specific molecules. Because terrestrial organisms have catalytic proteins (enzymes), enzymatic activity may also be a good indicator to evaluate biological activities in extreme environments. Phosphatases are essential for all terrestrial organisms because phosphate esters are ubiquitously used in genetic molecules (DNA/RNA) and membranes. In this study, we evaluated microbial activity in soils of the Atacama Desert, Chile, by analysing several biomarkers, including phosphatase activity. Phosphatases extracted with Tris buffer were assayed fluorometrically using 4-methylumbelliferyl phosphate as a substrate. The horizontal distribution of phosphatase activity and other parameters in soils from the Atacama Desert showed that phosphatase activity was positively correlated with amino acid concentration and colony-forming units and negatively correlated with precipitation amount. We found consistent that biochemical indicators including phosphatase significantly decreased in the extreme hyper-arid zone where rainfall of <25 mm year−1. The results were compared with phosphatase activities detected in extreme environments, such as submarine hydrothermal systems and Antarctic soils, as well as soils from ordinary environments. Overall, our results suggested that phosphatase activity could be a good indicator for evaluating biological activities in extreme environments.
Characterization of exoplanet atmospheres with space-based infrared telescopes is important to detect biomarkers. A promising method is temporary differential observation. For this method, designs of a wideband infrared spectral disperser are presented. A design using a CdTe prism simultaneously covers λ=1–30 μm. Designing binary pupil masks for segmented pupils to be used in spatially resolved observations are also shown for another observational method.
SPICA is a cooled, single large-mirror space-telescope, which is under discussion as an succsesor of the ASTRO-F mission. One of the most ambitious challenges of the SPICA mission is the direct observations of exoplanets with a coronagraph instrument. We report cryogenic infrared optics to realize high quality wavefronts for the SPICA coronagraph.
The SPICA satellite will be launched by an H-IIA rocket to Sun-Earth L2 Halo orbit early in the 2010s. The SPICA telescope is a Ritchey-Chretien optics with 3.5m diameter primary mirror, and cooled down to 4.5 K in orbit by radiation cooling and mechanical cryo-coolers. Main working wavelengths are 5–200 micron. Advantages of the SPICA coronagraph are the infrared wavelenths where the contrast between planets and central stars are smaller than the optical wavelengths, and that the cooled space telescope consists of monolithic mirrors.
Development of light-weight cooled telescope is one of the most important tasks to realize SPICA. At the present, sintered SiC and carbon fiber reinforced SiC (C/SiC) composite are candidate materials for the mirrors, truss, and optical bench. For these materials, estimations and improvements of basic property and surface roughness in cryogenic temperatures have been carried out. Deformation of trial product mirrors by cooling is also examined.
We are developing cryogenic deformable mirrors (DMs) because wave front accuracy of the SPICA telescope is 0.35 micron RMS, which is not enough for our coronagraphic instrument. For MEMS (Micro Electro Mechanical System) DM and some others, measurements of thermal deformation by cooling, electrical response, and heat generation are undergoing. Developments of a tip-tilt system for cryogenic usage started to cancel vibration caused by the cryo-coolers and other components and to realize a diffraction limit resolution. The first result of our binary mask coronagraph experiment is also shown.
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