Astrophysics Branch (Code SSA)


Acting Branch Chief: Mark Fonda

Assistant Chief: Christine Martinez

Branch Office: 650.604.5528

Observations, Instrument Development, and Experiments

We perform observations from ground-based and space-born telescopes to better understand the origin of stars and planetary systems and support space missions. We had more successful Spitzer space telescope proposals than any other organization, we have performed observations from the Hubble space telescope and space mission spectrometers such as Cassini VIMS, and our scientists are so well respected that they chair and sit on observatory time allocation committees.

The SOFIA water vapor monitor

We develop instruments and detectors to improve the capabilities of ground based and airborn telescopes. This is possible thanks to our scientists expertise in IR observations and our highly specialized instrument development shop tailored to producing scientific equipment and rapid prototyping which has produced flight hardware for airborne and space use. The team of technicians has extensive expertise with high vacuum systems, cryogenics, and optics. But that’s not all…

Lab Facilities

Instrumentation for transmission and reflection spectroscopy from the Vacuum UV through the Far IR.

Ice Spectroscopy and photo-chemistry:

Facilities include High-vacuum cryogenic equipment to simulate space ices, from interstellar grains at 10 K to icy surfaces of planets, comets, and satellites in the outer Solar System.

Alexandrite, Nd/YAG, and dye lasers and associated optical instrumentation for the vaporization, and photo-luminescence, and spectroscopic analysis of materials.

Chromatography for the analysis of organic molecules from meteorites and simulation experiments.

Gas-phase spectroscopy: A Pulsed slit discharge nozzle that produces ultracold, very low density gas and plasmas combined with a high sensitivity cavity ringdown spectrometer.











Code SSA Highlights

Scott Sandford on Comet Coma Rendezvous and Sample Return

Dr. Scott Sandford made a presentation on the final Comet Coma Rendezvous and Sample Return (CCRSR) concept mission at NASA Headquarters on Friday, February 27. The CCRSR is one of the missions being studied under the Discovery and Scout Mission Capabilities Expansion (DSMCE) program, which is investigating the possible use and testing of the new […]

Read More…

Tom Greene on Protostars and Exoplanets

Tom Greene attended a meeting of the joint US – European Mid-Infrared Science Team of the James Webb Space Telescope in Chicago. The team started planning guaranteed time observations with the mid-infrared instrument (MIRI). Greene made presentations on the protostar and exoplanet programs that he is leading. Collaboration discussions were started with the European guaranteed […]

Read More…

Airborne Instrument Development Laboratory July 2009
Spherical Mounts being machined

The Code S AIDL (Airborne Instrument Development Laboratory) has had an exciting past few weeks. Here are some highlights of our activities. Emmett Quigley (AIDL) and Fred Witteborn (Ames Chronograph) have worked together to design the Kinematics Support for the optical table to be used in the next phase of ACE. The components of the […]

Read More…

Web Feature on the Abiotic Poduction of Uracil

A web feature on the abiotic production of the nucleobase uracil was posted at on November 6. This web feature summarizes work done at that Astrochemistry Laboratory at NASA-Ames that was reported in a recent issue of the journal Astrobiology. Since its appearance, the web story has been picked up by a multitude of […]

Read More…

Farid Salama Invited to Serve at IAU’s Astrochemistry Working Group

Farid Salama (SSA) was invited to serve on the Organizing Committee of the Astrochemistry Working Group of the International Astronomical Union (IAU). The Working Group advises the IAU on all areas of Astrochemistry from Solar System to high redshift Galaxies and acts as the Scientific Organizing Committee (SOC) for the IAU Symposia in the field. […]

Read More…

Discovery of HCN ice on Triton

Dale Cruikshank and Cristina Dalle Ore are collaborating with Martin Burgdorf (SOFIA group at Ames) and Tomohiko Sekiguchi (Tokyo) in the interpretation of a spectrum of Triton obtained with the Japanese AKARI telescope in space. They have submitted a paper to Astronomy and Astrophysics, and will present some preliminary results of the work at the […]

Read More…

Peeking at the youngest stars

Tom Greene attended the 3rd and final meeting of the Electromagnetic observations from space program prioritization panel of the Astro 2010 decadal survey in Washington, DC 23 – 25 September. Tom Greene gave an invited colloquium titled “Peeking at the youngest stars” at Sonoma State University on September 28. […]

Read More…

UV Abiotic Production of the Molecule Uracil

A scientific paper has just appeared in the journal Astrobiology in which it is shown that UV irradiation of astrophysical ices containing pyrimidine can result in the abiotic production of the molecule uracil. Uracil is one of the nucleobases that are the building blocks of DNA and RNA. The work was done by Michel Nuevo, […]

Read More…