1. The NASA Astrobiology Program Announces Selections From Two Funding Opportunities

    The NASA Astrobiology Program and the NASA Astrobiology Institute are pleased to announce the selections from two funding opportunities.

    The NASA Postdoctoral Fellowship Program selected two Fellows from the November 2015 opportunity:

    • Barbara Lafuente Valverde
      Advisor: Thomas Bristow, NASA Ames Research Center (Habitable Worlds)
      Topic: Use of clay minerals as paleoenvironmental indicators of the origin of Ediacaran multicellular life in the Doushantuo Formation
    • Kazumi Ozaki
      Advisor: Chris Reinhard, Georgia Institute of Technology (NAI, University of California, Riverside team)
      Topic: New Quantitative Approaches Toward Understanding The Life History Of An Inhabited Planet

    From the April 2016 NASA Astrobiology Institute Early Career ...

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  1. Ancient Volcanoes Could Be Key to Predicting Impact of Climate Change

    Researchers think emissions from volcanos, such as the one seen here, may have led to a dramatic rise in CO2 leading to a mass extinction 200 million years ago. (Photo/NASA Earth Observatory) Researchers think emissions from volcanos, such as the one seen here, may have led to a dramatic rise in CO2 leading to a mass extinction 200 million years ago. (Photo/NASA Earth Observatory)

    Just over 200 million years ago, long before the demise of the dinosaurs, a cataclysm killed off a significant chunk of the planet’s animal life. The leading theory implicates massive volcanic eruptions, triggered when the supercontinent of Pangea was ripped apart into separate continents.

    A new study co-authored by USC researchers, including Yadira Ibarra, NAI/APS Lewis and Clark Fund for Exploration and Field Research in ...

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  1. Death Valley Celestial Centennial – MarsFest Symposium

    Astrobiology booth staffed by Jack Farmer and Sheri Klug both from ASU. Image Credit: Barbara Vance Astrobiology booth staffed by Jack Farmer and Sheri Klug both from ASU. Image Credit: Barbara Vance

    Few places in the United States have night skies that are as dark and inviting as Death Valley. There are also very few places in the world where the extremes of our planet can offer a look into what may be possible in our Solar System and beyond. In conjunction with the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary, scientists and the public met in Death Valley for an opportunity to learn more about our planet, solar system, and learn how that knowledge helps plan ...

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  1. Identifying Planetary Biosignature Impostors

    In order to identify inhabited worlds beyond the Solar System, scientists are exploring the possibility of detecting gases that could serve as biosignatures in the atmospheres of extrasolar planets. Molecular oxygen (O2) and ozone (O3) have been suggested as the most robust individual biosignatures gases. However, it has been shown that these gases can also be produced without life through multiple abiotic mechanisms.

    A new study discusses how other gases (CO and O4) in spectra from extrasolar planets could be used to discriminate between biotic and abiotic O2 and O3. The team of researchers produced ...

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  1. Life in the Universe – the Science of Astrobiology

    NAI Interim Director, Carl Pilcher, presented an overview of astrobiology to a public audience on the Big Island of Hawaii at the invitation of the Keck Observatory. This was one of a series of talks he presented to both the public and supporters of the Observatory as part of a week-long visit in late March 2016. In it, Carl discusses how astrobiology embraces and integrates five interconnected areas of science to provide a perspective on life as a cosmic phenomenon.

    CLICK HERE to view the presentation.

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  1. Hot on the Trail of Alien Moons

    (Top row, left to right) Titan, Earth's moon, Europa and Enceladus. (Bottom row, left to right) Callisto, Charon, Ariel and lo. Image credit: NASA (Top row, left to right) Titan, Earth's moon, Europa and Enceladus. (Bottom row, left to right) Callisto, Charon, Ariel and lo. Image credit: NASA

    Yesterday, April 13, on NPR’s Morning Edition, Rory Barnes, member of the NAI University of Washington, VPL Team, talked about looking for life on alien moons.

    “Finding a new planet that orbits a distant star isn’t such a big deal anymore — astronomers have discovered around 2,000. But no one knows if any of these planets has a moon.”

    CLICK HERE to listen to the podcast or to read the transcript.

    Source: [NPR]

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  1. A Fast PCA-Based Radiative Transfer Model

    Earth’s thin atmosphere is all that stands between life on Earth and the cold, dark void of space. Image credit: NASA.

    Radiative transfer (RT) calculations are used in many applications for studying interactions between the Earth and its atmosphere, including remote sensing and climate modelling. One method, known as Principal Component Analysis (PCA), has been shown to increase computational speed while maintaining the accuracy of calculations over narrow spectral bands.

    A new study has extended the PCA method for RT calculations over the entire shortwave region of the spectrum. The region from 0.3 to 3 microns is divided into 33 spectral fields, and covers all major gas absorption regimes.

    The study, “A fast and accurate PCA based radiative transfer model ...

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  1. Geomicrobiology of Yellowstone Lake

    Astronaut photograph (ISS011-E-10575) of Yellowstone Lake from orbit. Geothermal features such as geysers and hot springs are located in the West Thumb area. This is thought to be due to a relatively shallow, local magma source. Image credit: NASA.

    A new interdisciplinary study evaluates microbial populations that inhabit thermal vents in Yellowstone Lake. Yellowstone lake is a fresh-water system straddling a caldera, and experiences significant geothermal activity. Using a metagenome sequencing approach, researchers were able to study how waters from vents affected the distribution of specific microorganisms. Samples from the vents were obtained with a remotely operated vehicle.

    Microorganisms with a range of metabolisms were studied in conditions that varied by the composition, temperature, and pH range of thermal waters. Novel groups of methanogens were also identified in the study. The research shows that the thermal vents in Yellowstone ...

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  1. A View Into the Complexity of Microbial Communities

    An example of a mixed biofilm under a microscope. Image credit: Cooper Lab, Vaughn Cooper, University of New Hampshire.

    Microorganisms exist in nature as complex mixed communities that contain a wide range of individual species, each of which can play a different role in the community as a whole. The activity of microbial communities can have global implications for Earth’s biosphere and habitability, but the complexity of these communities has made it difficult to understand how they respond to changes in their environment.

    A new study uses a combination of metagenomic, genome binning, and stimulus-induced metatranscriptomic approaches to provide insight into how a microbial biofilm responds to two environmental stimuli. Using the systematic meta-omics approach, a team of researchers ...

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  1. Clues to Ocean Composition on Europa

    Jupiter’s moon Europa has an ocean hidden beneath a crust of ice and is a leading candidate in the search for other life in the Solar System. Image credit: NASA/JPL–Caltech/SETI Institute..

    Determining the habitability of Europa’s subsurface ocean is one of the key priorities for astrobiology in our Solar System. Understanding life’s potential on Europa comes down to determining the composition of the moon’s ocean. Scientists are delving into this question by simulating some of the conditions that are likely to exist when fluids are emplaced on Europa’s icy surface.

    A team of researchers recently experimented with mixed solutions of sodium, magnesium, sulphate and chloride that were frozen to 100 Kelvin (-173°C). The work provides clues about how these solutions crystalize and the resulting minerals that ...

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  1. US Planetary Scientists, Are Your Laboratories Adequately Supported?

    The planetary community perceives that a significant proportion of Planetary Science Directorate (PSD) PI-led laboratories may be underfunded to the point at which the science they support is put at risk. Laboratory instruments and facilities are critical for analyzing extraterrestrial materials, terrestrial materials that inform planetary exploration and data analysis, constraining the interpretations of planetary remote sensing data, and developing future flight instrumentation.

    The Planetary Science Subcommittee (PSS) is conducting a survey of laboratories that will be used to inform discussions with PSD about the planetary community’s capabilities and challenges, and to help formulate potential solutions.

    Please take the ...

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  1. Excited States of PAHs

    An image of an interstellar nebula with some polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) molecular structures superimposed. Image credit: NASA.

    New research is providing insight into the chemistry of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), molecules of high interest in astrochemistry. PAHs are complex molecules and studying them could help scientists discover and understand new physical and chemical phenomena.

    PAHs are diverse in their structure, and are found in a wide variety of environments on Earth and beyond, including the interstellar medium and in comets. It has been suggested that PAHs could have played a role in the origins of life due to their availability in the Universe and their high stability.

    The paper, “Electronically Excited States of ...

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  1. Mary Voytek Profiled for Women’s History Month

    For Women’s History Month, Ideas Club is profiling D.C. based women you should know, and on Friday they featured our very own Mary Voytek. Read the Brightest Young Things post to find out what Mary works on at NASA, the women who inspire her, and how you can get involved.

    Source: [Brightest Young Things]

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  1. Penny Boston Spelunking for Alien Life on Earth

    Penny Boston (left). Image credit: NASA

    Penny Boston has a few more months to enjoy kicking around the caves in her current post as Director of Cave and Karst Science at New Mexico Tech before beginning her new job as the Director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute on May 31. She took time out of her spelunking to chat with WIRED about her new job, the globetrotting job of a cave scientist, and what life might look like on other worlds.

    Read the Wired article here.

    Source: [Wired]

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  1. AstRoMap – European Astrobiology Roadmap

    The European AstRoMap project (supported by the European Commission Seventh Framework Program) surveyed the state of the art of astrobiology in Europe and beyond and produced the first European roadmap for astrobiology research. In the context of this roadmap, astrobiology is understood as the study of the origin, evolution, and distribution of life in the context of cosmic evolution; this includes habitability in the Solar System and beyond. The AstRoMap Roadmap identifies five research topics, specifies several key scientific objectives for each topic, and suggests ways to achieve all the objectives. The five AstRoMap Research Topics are:

    • Research Topic 1 ...

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