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Cosmochemistry and VFX


I thought it might be fun to cover another space topic. Space and aircraft technology has helped develop a-lot of tools and items in our everyday life. However, there are a few fields of spatial science that scientists base around the developments of life and chemistry on Earth. So let's talk about Cosmochemistry, and how that exo-science is being developed and visualized.

What is Cosmochemistry?

Cosmochemistry is the chemical analysis of extraterrestrial materials. It is a field of study that is highly based around Earth sciences. It also involves a lot of laboratory analysis as any data or samples from space must be contained in a controlled environment. Scientists in the field of Cosmochemistry will also use data from telescopic tools and spacecraft instruments. They analyze anything from meteorites, stardust, ice, planet images, and other infrared scans.

The term Cosmochemistry originated about 200 years ago. When the first astronomers started to realize that meteors and comets in the night sky were not from Earth, a new form of science started to be created around cataloging rocks that fell from the sky. Some of the greatest advancements in this science happened in the 1960s when the United States traveled to the moon.

The biggest area of Cosmochemistry is the study of impact craters and their processes. Simply because they are the most observable, and contain the most available materials to study. Meteor impacts also are important to study as Earth has had a variety of close calls, collisions, and samples scattered about its surface. The chemical characterization used to categorize these impacts involves studying target rocks, impact breccias, and melt rocks. As well as identifying extraterrestrial components in impact ejecta, determining of the impactor composition, and the determination of the causes of environmental changes from the impact.

When scientists also look at extraterrestrial rocks, they try and categorize them by their geochemistry. For example, lunar rocks are divided into five types. First by their initial crystallization: In the original magma model for the Moon, the Moon first crystallized and formed silicates. How much Ferroan anorthosite (FAN) (Lunar crust) the sample has. It's type of Mafic cumulates (the amount of accumulation of crystals from magma). It's crystallization of KREEP. KREEP is an acronym for K (the atomic symbol for potassium), REE (rare-earth elements) and P (for phosphorus). Then finally, what type of Magnesium-suite cumulate rocks the sample contains. This type of rock can help pinprick where on the moon's surface the rock came from, and how old it is.

Cosmochemistry can also help us find and analyze future life in the universe. As well as search for extraterrestrial life.

Visualization of Cosmochemistry

Scientists use a bunch of different tools and equipment to analyze molecules of samples. In this field they can use a huge range of tools such as mass spectrometry imaging (MSI), thin layer chromatography (TLC) separations, molecular imaging, and other visualization systems.


Sometimes these systems are combined to obtain the best analysis of specimens. Mass spectrometry imaging, and thin layer chromatography are now starting to be combined into a new system called DetectTLC. With this system, samples can be viewed on a molecular scale, and have complete pictures of their structure taken. Images can even be taken of a rock of debris nucleus. 

When cosmochemists aren't looking at rocks they are studying amino acids, and the processes of biosynthesis. biosynthesis pathways are built from a lifeform producing enzymes from amino acids. So the two are very important. Amino acids are organic compounds that combine to form proteins. Amino acids and proteins are also the building blocks of life. Visualizing how these acids form life and bacteria is key to understanding how they could possibly be formed on other worlds. 

Some chemists have already been able to produce biosynthetic enzymes for controlled reproduction in a lab environment. By doing this they can have complete control on how they grow, and see how they develop under different conditions. There is a popular theory that the first amino acids were transported to Earth by comets and asteroids. Then these acids started to grow and develop terrestrially over the geochemical events of the Earth. 

One of the greatest comet discoveries that was made through cosmochemistry was through the Stardust Spacecraft. The stardust craft was able to do a flyby of comet 81P/Wild 2, and complete its mission on sending comet dust back to Earth on 15 January 2006. On 14 August 2014, scientists announced they had identified important compounds of interstellar dust particles. These particles were shown to contain complex organic compounds, hydrocarbons, silicon carbide, graphite, aluminium oxides, as well as insight into how they scatter light nonuniformly.

Scientists also use bioinformatics to show how biochemistry has changed over time. Part of studying the current chemistry of the Earth and other planets involves observing how ancient chemistry worked millions of years ago. Bioinformatics helps us to understand how specific classes of RNAs and proteins evolved and the impact this had on cellular processes. Structural bioinformatics also help to investigate the evolutionary history of RNAs that preceded the last universal common ancestor of all life on Earth.

Visual Development and Continued Study

Let's talk a bit more about some 3D visualization techniques that are taking place in the feild of Cosmochemistry.

Unlike bioinformatics, there is something called biological computation. This uses bioengineering and biology to build biological computers. Biological computation also proposes that living organisms can perform computations. For example, Logical circuits can be built with slime molds. Whereas, bioinformatics uses 2D computation to better understand biology. These two visualization strategies can work together and produce some interesting results. Bioinformatics is the older technology of the two, as it was first developed in the mid-1990s. This started with the need to display data from the Human Genome Project, and by rapid advances in DNA sequencing technology.

The data generated from these tools are then run through software that uses algorithms from graph theory, artificial intelligence, soft computing, data mining, image processing, and computer simulation.

Some models and simulations that are being built are ones that are attempting to reconstruct the tree of life in the Universe. As well as tracking and sharing information on species and organisms. Some are even complex enough to build population genetics models, to see how species might evolve or die over time.

Another field that is helping this extraterrestrial study is biomedical imaging. Scientists are using tools from this field to complete diagnostics and research in cosmochemistry. Some things our cosmo-scientists are using from this science are: clinical image analysis and visualization, video recordings of laboratory animals, cytohistopathology, infrared measurements for metabolic activity, and much more. All of this is being used to encourage documentation and communication of how life might grow on other worlds.

There are also a lot of open source bioinformatics software out on the web. They have existed since the 1980s, and are continuing to grow. The combination of free new algorithms and new types of biological readouts, and the potential to innovate new silico experiments have led to some huge growth in this industry. It's encouraged community supported plugins for software, commercial applications, and for new ideas to be developed. Bioinformatics is truly the blender of the science world. (And I mean that in the most kindest way possible. :) )

Some free open source softwares you can look into are: Bioconductor, BioPerl, Biopython, BioJava, BioJS, BioRuby, Bioclipse, EMBOSS, .NET Bio, Orange with its bioinformatics add-on, Apache Taverna, UGENE and GenoCAD. 


Astrochemistry Laboratory:


Spacecraft instrument technology and cosmochemistry:

The Geochemistry and Cosmochemistry of Impacts:

From Geochemistry to Cosmochemistry: The Origin of a Scientific Discipline, 1915–1955:

Problems of Planetology, Cosmochemistry and Meteoritica:

Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry in Geochemistry and Cosmochemistry: Determination and Distribution of Carbon and Hydrogen in Silicate Samples:

Nuclear data for gamma ray astronomy and the cosmochemistry of isotopic anomalies:


Higher Education Lunar Consortium:

Earth & Planets:

Head, Astronomy & Astrophysics Research Lab and Curator, Meteorites:

X-ray computed tomography of planetary materials: A primer and review of recent studies:



DetectTLC: Automated Reaction Mixture Screening Utilizing Quantitative Mass Spectrometry Image Feature:

Reconstruction of cysteine biosynthesis using engineered cysteine-free enzymes:

Assessment and control of organic and other contaminants associated with the Stardust sample return from comet 81P⁄Wild 2:



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