MID-IR SPECTROSCOPY FOR SMALL SATELLITES (MIRSSS)

We propose a feasibility study for a small spaceborne mid-Infrared telescope/spectrometer designed to detect and characterize the delivery and survival of extraterrestrial organic matter to the atmosphere (and hence to the Earth). This instrument would detect the dilute levels of organics present in the upper atmosphere by using astronomical mid-infrared light sources along a viewing path that grazes the Earth atmosphere at an altitude of 80 to 100 km (where meteoritic debris is known to accumulate). This would provide a very long path length and allow, for the first time, the detection and characterization of the material that meteors are delivering by the detection of the mid-IR absorbances in the molecular bands. This would provide the first measurement of the amounts of delivery and the types of compounds being delivered and allow characterization of the amounts/types of prebiotic molecules that would become available for the origin of life. It would also provide a better understanding of the organics being formed in solar nebula.