Where in our solar system can we find organic molecules, which are one of the main components for life as we know it? What is the best search strategy and the best search target to find even just molecular remnants of life beyond Earth? Planetary exploration and space research is currently at a stage where intensified efforts from virtually every space agency worldwide are aimed at reaching either our neighbouring planet Mars or other bodies in our solar system with dedicated missions to find traces of prebiotic molecules, as well as of past or present life.
Of great importance in this context is a thorough understanding of the stability of organic molecules and potential biosignatures, their fate and chemical pathways and hence their detectability, either via robotic exploration or astronomical observation. To support space missions in the solar system, understanding the stability and possible degradation pathways of specific biomolecules and their interaction with mineralogical or inorganic surfaces and solids is paramount. Whether the composition of the planetary surface, the atmospheric parameters as well as the radiation coming from the sun have a detrimental effect on the stability of organics determines the success of robotic exploration missions in finding biomarkers.
With their research, Riccardo Giovanni Urso is studying biomarkers and their stability in specific environmental conditions in planetary simulation chambers, interfaced with spectroscopic and mass spectrometric analytical equipment. The laboratory results are combined with data obtained through photochemistry experiments on board of miniaturized satellites and exposure platforms on the International Space Station.