Center for Research and Exploration in
Space Science &Technology II (CRESST II)
Overview of CRESST II
The Center for Research and Exploration in Space Science and Technology II (CRESST II) is a collaboration between NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) and the University of Maryland, College Park; University of Maryland, Baltimore County; Catholic University of America; Howard University; and Southeastern Universities Research Association. The overall goal of CRESST II is to support and enhance research and technology in the space sciences in support of NASA's strategic science mission objectives. CRESST II also seeks to encourage the engagement of a diverse population of students and Ph.D. scientists in NASA's space science programs.
CRESST II employs, through its partner institutions, approximately one hundred scientists who work on a wide range of space science projects in the GSFC Divisions of Astrophysics Science and Solar System Exploration. CRESST II scientists work directly with NASA scientists to support of operating missions, conduct scientific research, develop instruments, and design future missions. CRESST II provides the unique opportunity to be university research faculty working at a major NASA Center.
CRESST II also provides opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to become involved in scientific research and instrument development at GSFC. Undergraduate and Graduate students at the partner institutions can have research opportunities during the academic year. CRESST II operates a summer program that brings in students for 10-week research internships. Research opportunities Graduate students at the partner institutions can work on their Ph.D. research at GSFC.
CRESST II Scientist of the month
A CRESST II scientist will be featured here every month
CRESST II Scientist of the month, September 2021 - Danielle Simkus is a postdoctoral researcher in the Astrobiology Analytical Laboratory working for Catholic University of America. You can learn more about Danielle Simkus and her work here.
Please check CRESST II Scientist of the Month Archive for CRESST II scientists featured in previous months.
CRESST II Research Highlights
Salts Could Be Important Piece of Martian Organic Puzzle
In our efforts to characterize indigenous Martian organic matter, we must contend with a near-surface record that has been substantially
altered by radiation and oxidation. Under such conditions, much of the surficial organic record on Mars may have decomposed into organic
salts, which are challenging for flight instruments to conclusively identify. If organic salts are widespread on the Martian surface,
their composition and distribution could offer insight into the less-altered organic record at depth and they may play an important
role in near-surface carbon cycling and habitability. The organic detection techniques employed by the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity
rover include thermal extraction in combination with mass spectrometry. In this work, we used laboratory thermal extraction techniques
analogous to those of the rover to examine organic salts as pure standards, as minor phases in a silica matrix, and in mixtures with
O2-evolving perchlorate salts. When we compared our results with flight data, we found that many of the CO2 profiles produced by our
organic salt samples were similar to the CO2 evolutions observed by the rover. The best fits with our laboratory data included Martian
materials acquired from modern eolian deposits and sedimentary rocks that had evidence for low-temperature alteration.
For more information, check the
press release here and read the research paper here .
A dusty veil shading Betelgeuse during its Great Dimming
Betelgeuse is a red supergiant, i.e., a star more massive than our Sun and thousands of times shorter lived than
the Sun; as such, its demise will be an explosion as a supernova. Such an event is predicted to happen for
Betelgeuse in the next ~100,000 years. From the end of 2019 until ~March 2020, Betelgeuse dimmed its brightness,
plummeting to about 35% of its typical brightness; this event has been called 'the Great Dimming'. Many had
speculated an imminent supernova explosion of Betelgeuse, and to understand the causes of this dimming, we
have used the Very Large Telescope in the Atacama Desert, Chile, obtaining a series of high-resolution images
observations of Betelgeuse in: January 2019, December 2019, January 2020, and March 2020. Modeling these observations,
we unraveled the causes of Betelgeuse's dimming: its Great Dimming resulted from a localized cooling of the photosphere,
which triggered dust nucleation in a gas cloud ejected by the star months to years before. Monitoring stellar brightness
over time with the next-generation facilities, and investigating the signature of dust in stars' infrared spectra,
astronomers will be able to understand if this behaviour is common in other red supergiants.
The details can be found at - Watch a video on YouTube or on ESO Website
and check the press release
A dusty veil shading Betelgeuse during its Great Dimming (Montarges et al, Nature, 594, pages 365–368 (2021)Learn More
A Supernova’s ‘Fizzled’ Gamma-ray Burst
The traditional classification between long and short gamma-ray bursts indicate that the short GRB population
is linked to compact binary mergers, however this particular burst GRB200826A was found in association
with a late optical excess, only explained by a supernova. This makes this burst the shortest GRB powered
by a collapsar ever found, and its short duration suggest it almost failed to produce ultra-relativistic
jets. GRB200826A serves as a proof that most collapsars fail to produce a GRB.
University of Maryland Graduate Student and CRESST II scientist, Mr. Tomas Ahumada discovered the first optical
afterglow of a Fermi short gamma-ray burst using the Zwicky Transient Facility. The Zwicky Transient Facility
is an optical telescope system which monitors the night sky for transient astronomical event; University of
Maryland became a partner with Caltech in this facility in the hopes of making this exact type of discovery.
The discovery paper was published in Nature Astronomy on July 26th 2021. See NASA press release and NOIRLab News.
Origin of the Iron-Rich Knot in Tycho's Supernova Remnant
(Ahumada et al. Nat Astron 2021).
CRESST II scientist Dr. Jose Aponte received Robert H. Goddard Honor Award
Dr. Aponte’s creativity and persistence enabled his development of multiple new methods for the analysis of soluble organic
compounds in extraterrestrial materials, more than tripling the number of compound classes that the Goddard lab can study.
He explored and tested new reagents and reactions, optimized laboratory conditions and verified the accuracy and precision of
each new method. He then applied these methods to the analysis of meteorites and to specially curated lunar samples (through
the Apollo Next Generation Sample Analysis program). These methods will also be applied to the asteroid material returned by
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx and JAXA’s Hayabusa2 missions, allowing deeper analysis of the organic content of these precious samples.
Dr. Aponte’s research and discoveries have led to 17 published peer-reviewed papers since 2017, including six as first author.
These publications significantly advanced scientific knowledge of extraterrestrial soluble organic compounds and provided insight
into the chemistry of the early solar system. Dr. Aponte’s work also resulted in two NASA New Technology Reports describing the
novel methods he developed. Dr. Aponte is dedicated to training new scientists, and has worked with a series of visiting undergraduate
researchers. He is a patient and committed teacher, allowing students to have meaningful research opportunities that have led to
publications and conference presentations. During the summer of 2020, he converted a planned student research experience into a virtual
opportunity. The student created a database of meteoritic soluble organic analyses; this database project was not only beneficial to the
student, but will aid the community by allowing researchers to correlate and explore data across different types of compounds and different
meteorites. Dr. Aponte is also a skilled science communicator, showcasing his work and NASA planetary science through press releases,
outreach events, and media interviews in both English and Spanish. Dr. Aponte’s scientific contributions have been significant to Goddard
and to the external community. Through his dedication and curiosity, collaborative nature, and scientific expertise, he has advanced
capabilities and knowledge, allowing for current and future explorations of extraterrestrial organic matter. He is an asset to scientific
achievement at both Goddard and the Agency.
Click here and
here for more information
The Titan Laboratory
Saturn's moon Titan receives volatiles into the top of its atmosphere - including atomic oxygen - sourced from cryovolcanoes on Enceladus. Similar types of material exchange amongst exoplanets could cause the abiotic formation of biogenic gases such as molecular oxygen and ozone that might otherwise be considered potential biosignatures. And the simultaneous presence of detectable amounts of methane and oxygen or ozone in an atmosphere is considered historically strong evidence for the presence of life. This work simulated the potential false positive for life on TRAPPIST-1 e, using a 1-D photochemical model by treating it as an abiotic, Archean Earth-like planet that receives water and oxygen from space. In these simulations, atmospheric compositions as a function of different rates of infalling material were generated. Synthetic spectral observations were also produced using the Planetary Spectrum Generator to simulate observations using the James Webb Space Telescope, Origins Space Telescope, Habitable Exoplanet Observatory and Large UV/Optical/IR Surveyor to test the detectability of abiotic-generated molecular oxygen and ozone. It was determined that the incoming flux of material needed to trigger a false-positive reading by any of these observatories, in the presence of methane, is at least two orders of magnitude (1e12 molecules/cm^2/s) above what is physically plausible given atmospheric escape considerations.
Please explore our website to learn more about CRESST II, our partner institutions, and the opportunities available through CRESST II.