Andrew Steele uses traditional and biotechnological approaches for the detection of microbial life in the field of astrobiology and Solar System exploration. Astrobiology is the search for the origin and distribution of life in the universe. A microbiologist by training, his principle interest is in developing protocols, instrumentation, and procedures for life detection in samples from the early Earth and elsewhere in the Solar System.

Steele has developed several instrument and mission concepts for future Mars missions and became involved in the 2011 Mars Science Laboratory mission as a member of the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) team. For  a number of years he journeyed to the arctic every summer to test instruments on board the Arctic Mars Analogue Svalbard Expedition (AMASE).

As an active member of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, Steele works with a technique called high-resolution confocal Raman imaging. His work has led to exciting work in planetary science including the NASA Stardust sample return mission, the discovery of new forms of carbon in meteorites and Lunar rocks, and the discovery of a previously uncharacterized mechanisms of organic synthesis in the absence of living organisms within the Earth’s mantle and on Mars.

Steele also studies meteorites. Molecules containing large chains of carbon and hydrogen—the building blocks of life—have been the tantalizing targets of many Mars missions. Theories about the origin of the large chains of carbon and hydrogen  macromolecules in Martian meteorites are particularly interesting. They could come from contamination from Earth or other meteorites, chemical reactions on Mars, or remnants of ancient Martian life. Steele and team have been studying meteorites to determine the sources and processing of this carbon.

Using sophisticated techniques, his team showed that some of the carbon was from meteorites and not from contamination, but that the carbon was not biological in origin. They then looked at the carbon molecules in relation to other minerals to understand the chemical processing. They found that the carbon was created during volcanism on Mars, showing that the planet has undergone organic chemistry for most of its history.

Recently Steele’s team helped colleagues study a new class of Martian meteorite that likely originated from the Martian crust. The meteorite, NWA 7034, has an order of magnitude of more water than any other Martian meteorite and its texture is different. It has cemented fragments of basalt, which forms from rapidly cooled lava, with feldspar and pyroxene, most likely from volcanism. This composition is common for lunar samples but not for other Martian meteorites. Steele and his team studied organic carbon within the feldspar. Although the carbon is similar to other Martian meteorites, a different non-biological process was at work.

Steele received his B. Sc. in biochemistry and microbiology from the University of Central Lancashire and his Ph. D. from the Universtiy of Portsmouth. Before joining Carnegie he was a postdoctoral fellow at NASA Johnson Space Center and he was a  researcher at Oxford University, a lecturer at the University of Portsmouth and an assistant professor at  Montana State University. For more see here

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Louis and Lore Brown at an annual Carnegie celebration
September 22, 2022

Washington, DC—The estate of the late Carnegie physicist and historian Louis Brown, who died in 2004, and his wife Lore, who died late last year, included a bequest of $4.5 million to support research about the Solar System’s formation and evolution, as well as the planet’s dynamic interior processes.

Lou Brown joined Carnegie in 1961 and, for the next 15 years, headed up the nuclear physics program at the Institution’s former Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, which is now part of our Earth and Planets Laboratory.

Eventually, his work shifted to instrumentation for isotope geology. He was involved with designing and constructing several

Michael Walter
September 7, 2022

Washington, DC—Earth and Planets Laboratory Director Michael Walter, an experimental petrologist who studies deep-Earth minerals and melts to elucidate the formation and evolution of our planet’s dynamic interior, will be honored with the American Geophysical Union’s Normal L. Bowen Award at the organization’s annual Fall Meeting in December.

The Bowen prize is the top recognition for a scientist in AGU’s Volcanology, Geochemistry and Petrology section. It presented each year to an individual who has made “outstanding contributions” to the field, either in the form of a single, groundbreaking paper, or a cumulative set of advancements over

An artist’s conception of WASP-39 b, courtesy of NASA, ESA, CSA, and J. Olmsted
August 24, 2022

Washington, DC—The James Webb Space Telescope has captured the first clear, detailed, indisputable evidence for atmospheric carbon dioxide ever detected on a planet outside the Solar System. The discovery was announced by the mission’s Transiting Exoplanet Community Early Release Science Team, which includes four Carnegie astronomers—Munazza Alam, Anjali Piette, Peter Gao, and Johanna Teske. It will be published next week in Nature and can be found online here.

As part of the team’s efforts in July and August, JWST observed a gas giant planet, called WASP-39 b, which orbits a Sun-like star 700 light-years from Earth. Their finding offers thrilling

Protoplanetary Disk. M.Weiss/Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian
August 22, 2022

Washington, DC— A team of astronomers including Carnegie’s Peter Gao has solved one of the biggest outstanding mysteries about the environment in which baby planets are born. Their findings are published by Nature Astronomy.

In their youth, stars are surrounded by a rotating disk of gas and dust—the raw material from which planets and other celestial objects are born. Over time, this material aggregates to form planets, as well as the parent bodies of asteroids and many meteorites.

In studying these planetary nurseries, astronomers frequently observe carbon monoxide, which is ultra-bright on their instruments, making it a prime target for observers.

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Established in June of 2016 with a generous gift of $50,000 from Marilyn Fogel and Christopher Swarth, the Marilyn Fogel Endowed Fund for Internships will provide support for “very young budding scientists” who wish to “spend a summer getting their feet wet in research for the very first time.”  The income from this endowed fund will enable high school students and undergraduates to conduct mentored internships at Carnegie’s Geophysical Laboratory and Department of Terrestrial Magnetism in Washington, DC starting in the summer of 2017.

Marilyn Fogel’s thirty-three year career at Carnegie’s Geophysical Laboratory (1977-2013), followed

CALL FOR PROPOSALS

Following Andrew Carnegie’s founding encouragement of liberal discovery-driven research, the Carnegie Institution for Science offers its scientists a new resource for pursuing bold ideas.

Carnegie Science Venture grants are internal awards of up to $100,000 that are intended to foster entirely new directions of research by teams of scientists that ignore departmental boundaries. Up to six adventurous investigations may be funded each year. The period of the award is two

Andrew Steele joins the Rosetta team as a co-investigator working on the COSAC instrument aboard the Philae lander (Fred Goesmann Max Planck Institute - PI). On 12 November 2014 the Philae system will be deployed to land on the comet and begin operations. Before this, several analyses of the comet environment are scheduled from an approximate orbit of 10 km from the comet. The COSAC instrument is a Gas Chromatograph Mass Spectrometer that will measure the abundance of volatile gases and organic carbon compounds in the coma and solid samples of the comet.

The Anglo-Australian Planet Search (AAPS) is a long-term program being carried out on the 3.9-meter Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT) to search for giant planets around more than 240 nearby Sun-like stars. The team, including Carnegie scientists,  uses the "Doppler wobble" technique to search for these otherwise invisible extra-solar planets, and achieve the highest long-term precision demonstrated by any Southern Hemisphere planet search.

Ana Bonaca is Staff Member at Carnegie Observatories. Her specialty is stellar dynamics and her research aims to uncover the structure and evolution of our galaxy, the Milky Way, especially the dark matter halo that surrounds it. In her research, she uses space- and ground-based telescopes to measure the motions of stars, and constructs numerical experiments to discover how dark matter affected them.

She arrived in September 2021 from Harvard University where she held a prestigious Institute for Theory and Computation Fellowship. 

Bonaca studies how the uneven pull of our galaxy’s gravity affects objects called globular clusters—spheres made up of a million

Peter Gao's research interests include planetary atmospheres; exoplanet characterization; planet formation and evolution; atmosphere-surface-interior interactions; astrobiology; habitability; biosignatures; numerical modeling.

His arrival in September 2021 continued Carnegie's longstanding tradition excellence in exoplanet discovery and research, which is crucial as the field prepares for an onslaught of new data about exoplanetary atmospheres when the next generation of telescopes come online.

Gao has been a part of several exploratory teams that investigated sulfuric acid clouds on Venus, methane on Mars, and the atmospheric hazes of Pluto. He also

Anne Pommier's research is dedicated to understanding how terrestrial planets work, especially the role of silicate and metallic melts in planetary interiors, from the scale of volcanic magma reservoirs to core-scale and planetary-scale processes.

She joined Carnegie in July 2021 from U.C. San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, where she investigated the evolution and structure of planetary interiors, including our own Earth and its Moon, as well as Mars, Mercury, and the moon Ganymede.

Pommier’s experimental petrology and mineral physics work are an excellent addition to Carnegie’s longstanding leadership in lab-based mimicry of the

Johanna Teske became the first new staff member to join Carnegie’s newly named Earth and Planets Laboratory (EPL) in Washington, D.C., on September 1, 2020. She has been a NASA Hubble Fellow at the Carnegie Observatories in Pasadena, CA, since 2018. From 2014 to 2017 she was the Carnegie Origins Postdoctoral Fellow—a joint position between Carnegie’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (now part of EPL) and the Carnegie Observatories.

Teske is interested in the diversity in exoplanet compositions and the origins of that diversity. She uses observations to estimate exoplanet interior and atmospheric compositions, and the chemical environments of their formation