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  1. Behind the Iron Curtain: How Methane-Making Microbes Kept the Early Earth Warm


    Marcus Bray (left), a biology Ph.D. candidate, and Jennifer Glass, assistant professor in the Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and member of the NASA Astrobiology Institute Alternative Earths team, are shown in the laboratory where tiny incubators simulated early Earth conditions. (Credit: Rob Felt, Georgia Tech) Image credit: None
    Marcus Bray (left), a biology Ph.D. candidate, and Jennifer Glass, assistant professor in the Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and member of the NASA Astrobiology Institute Alternative Earths team, are shown in the laboratory where tiny incubators simulated early Earth conditions. (Credit: Rob Felt, Georgia Tech)

    For much of its first two billion years, Earth was a very different place: oxygen was scarce, microbial life ruled, and the sun was significantly dimmer than it is today. Yet the rock record shows that vast seas covered much of the early Earth under the faint young sun.

    Scientists have long debated what kept those seas from freezing. A popular theory is that potent gases such as methane – with many times more warming power than carbon dioxide – created a thicker greenhouse atmosphere than required to keep water liquid today.

    In the absence of oxygen, iron built up in ancient ...

    Source: [Georgia Tech]

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  1. NASA Missions Provide New Insights into 'Ocean Worlds' in Our Solar System


    We once thought oceans made our planet unique, but we’re now coming to realize that ‘ocean worlds’ are all around us. Video credit: NASA Two veteran NASA missions are providing new details about icy, ocean-bearing moons of Jupiter and Saturn, further heightening the scientific interest of these and other "ocean worlds" in our solar system and beyond. The findings are presented in papers published Thursday by researchers with NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn and Hubble Space Telescope. In the papers, Cassini scientists announce that a form of chemical energy that life can feed on appears to exist on ...

    This illustration shows Cassini diving through the Enceladus plume in 2015. New ocean world discoveries from Cassini and Hubble will help inform future exploration and the broader search for life beyond Earth. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech Image credit:
    This illustration shows Cassini diving through the Enceladus plume in 2015. New ocean world discoveries from Cassini and Hubble will help inform future exploration and the broader search for life beyond Earth. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    Source: [NASA]

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  1. Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon) 2017


    A PDF of the AbSciCon Program is available here.

    The Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon) is happening at the Mesa Convention Center in Mesa, Arizona, April 24–28, 2017.

    The theme is “Diverse Life and its Detection on Different Worlds.” Mars and icy worlds in our solar system are increasingly recognized as habitable, even as increasing numbers of exoplanets in their stars’ habitable zones have been discovered. The focus is shifting from identification of habitable worlds, to detection of life on these worlds.

    For all the conference information, visit: http://www.hou.usra.edu/meetings/abscicon2017/.

    Source: [USRA]

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  1. 3rd AbSciCon Meeting Mentor Program


    The 3rd AbSciCon Meeting Mentor Program takes place Tuesday, April 25, 2017, 7:45AM-1:30PM. Image credit: None
    The 3rd AbSciCon Meeting Mentor Program takes place Tuesday, April 25, 2017, 7:45AM-1:30PM.

    We are thrilled to announce the 3rd AbSciCon Meeting Mentor Program! This is an opportunity for AbSciCon attendees to contribute to inspiring the next generation by providing a safe and guided exposure to a very important and integral part of life as a scientist—participating in a major scientific conference. We will pair you with a local high school or community college student for a 1/2-day during AbSciCon (the morning of Tuesday, April 25th). You and your mentee will do everything you would normally do – attend the plenary, converse with colleagues during coffee breaks, attend session talks, chair sessions ...

    Source: [AbSciCon 2017]

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  1. NAI CAN 8 Preproposal Conference - Friday, March 10, 2017


    The CAN 8 preproposal conference was held March 10, 2017 at 11AM PST / 2PM EST. Image credit: None
    The CAN 8 preproposal conference was held March 10, 2017 at 11AM PST / 2PM EST.

    A preproposal conference for NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) Cooperative Agreement Notice Cycle 8 (CAN 8) was held on March 10, 2017 to provide interested parties the opportunity to better understand the intent, scope, and selection criteria of this CAN.

    For slides from the conference and more information and updates on CAN 8, visit: https://nai.nasa.gov/funding/can-8/.

    ________________________

    Solicitation Number: NNH17ZDA003C
    CAN Release Date: February 27, 2017
    Step-1 Proposal Due: April 12, 2017
    Step-2 Proposals Due: July 6, 2017

    Source: [NASA Astrobiology Institute]

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  1. NASA Study Hints at Possible Change in Water ‘Fingerprint’ of Comet


    Scientists from NASA’s Goddard Center for Astrobiology observed the comet C/2014 Q2 – also called Lovejoy – and made simultaneous measurements of the output of H<sub>2</sub>O and HDO, a variant form of water. This image of Lovejoy was taken on Feb. 4, 2015 – the same day the team made their observations and just a few days after the comet passed its perihelion, or closest point to the sun.
Credits: Courtesy of Damian Peach Image credit: None
    Scientists from NASA’s Goddard Center for Astrobiology observed the comet C/2014 Q2 – also called Lovejoy – and made simultaneous measurements of the output of H2O and HDO, a variant form of water. This image of Lovejoy was taken on Feb. 4, 2015 – the same day the team made their observations and just a few days after the comet passed its perihelion, or closest point to the sun. Credits: Courtesy of Damian Peach

    A trip past the sun may have selectively altered the production of one form of water in a comet – an effect not seen by astronomers before, a new NASA study suggests.

    Astronomers from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, observed the Oort cloud comet C/2014 Q2, also called Lovejoy, when it passed near Earth in early 2015. Through NASA’s partnership in the W. M. Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, the team observed the comet at infrared wavelengths a few days after Lovejoy passed its perihelion – or closest point to the sun.

    The team focused ...

    Source: [NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center]

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  1. Proto-Computation and Proto-Life Workshop


    Researchers with backgrounds in chemistry, biology, cultural anthropology, geology, chemical engineering, and design aesthetics gathered at Harvard University during a two-day workshop titled “Proto-computation and Proto-life”. Attendees explored technical and philosophical approaches to assessing the conditions under which matter may ‘compute’ something about its environment, and whether such conditions offer a clue as to the origins of life in our universe.

    Sophia Roosth, author of the newly released book Synthetic: How Life got Made opened the workshop with a beguilingly simple question: Is life a pattern or a substance? She presented historical cases wherein life was variously considered as form ...

    Sophia Roosth, Associate Professor at Harvard University, presents her talk, “Life Is Not a Natural Kind”. Source: B. Kacar Image credit: None
    Sophia Roosth, Associate Professor at Harvard University, presents her talk, “Life Is Not a Natural Kind”. Source: B. Kacar

    Source: [Harvard Origins of Life Initiative]

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  1. New Findings of Early Life on Earth Date Back 3.77 Billion Years


    A reconstructed image of hematite tubes from microfossils discovered in hydrothermal vent precipitates dating back to at least 3,770 million years ago. Source: M. Dodd Image credit: None
    A reconstructed image of hematite tubes from microfossils discovered in hydrothermal vent precipitates dating back to at least 3,770 million years ago. Source: M. Dodd

    Researchers have determined that fossilized evidence of bacteria from ancient seafloor hydrothermal vent precipitates found in the Nuvvuagittuq belt in Quebec, Canada is at least 3.77 billion years old (or even as much as 4.28 billion years old). The minimum age of the fossils would make them the oldest indication of life on Earth so far.

    Lead authors Matthew Dodd and Dominic Papineau with their team analyzed jasper rock samples, finding microfossils of filaments and tubes filled with hematite, the mineral form of ferric oxide or rust, similar to the remains of modern day microbes living around hydrothermal ...

    Source: [Nature]

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  1. It Takes a Village to Model a Planet


    The Virtual Planetary Laboratory investigates the potential habitability of extrasolar planets. The research will help in predicting the habitability of discovered bodies like the Earth-size planets orbiting TRAPPIST-1. Image source: NASA Image credit: None
    The Virtual Planetary Laboratory investigates the potential habitability of extrasolar planets. The research will help in predicting the habitability of discovered bodies like the Earth-size planets orbiting TRAPPIST-1. Image source: NASA

    With the exciting recent discoveries of planets orbiting TRAPPIST-1 and Proxima Centauri, interest in exoplanets is on the rise, and the Virtual Planetary Laboratory (VPL), the NASA Astrobiology Institute team based at the University of Washington, is poised to help the science community better predict which exoplanets might be able to support life and serve as ideal targets for future missions.

    VPL studies what factors affect habitability and what observable characteristics of a planet point to signs of life (and what might also misdirect us) using field and lab experiments and computational models. An article published at Now.space ...

    Source: [Now.space]

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  1. Does Pluto Have The Ingredients For Life?


    One of the surprises of the New Horizons mission was finding water ice mountains on Pluto, that quite possibly are floating on a subsurface ocean of liquid water. Image credit: None
    One of the surprises of the New Horizons mission was finding water ice mountains on Pluto, that quite possibly are floating on a subsurface ocean of liquid water.

    Pluto has long been viewed as a distant, cold and mostly dead world, but the first spacecraft to pass by it last year revealed many surprises about this distant dwarf planet.

    Data from the New Horizons flyby finished downloading to Earth in October, and while it will take many years for scientists to complete their inventory and model the results, early studies offer intriguing hints of its complex chemistry, perhaps even some form of pre-biological processes below Pluto’s surface. Complex layers of organic haze; water ice mountains from some unknown geologic process; possible organics on the surface; and a ...

    Source: [astrobio.net]

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  1. NASA Astrobiology Institute Cooperative Agreement Notice Cycle 8 Released


    The NASA Astrobiology Institute CAN 8 has been released. Step-1 Proposals are due April 12, 2017. Image credit: None
    The NASA Astrobiology Institute CAN 8 has been released. Step-1 Proposals are due April 12, 2017.

    Solicitation Number: NNH17ZDA003C
    CAN Release Date: February 27, 2017
    Step-1 Proposal Due: April 12, 2017
    Step-2 Proposals Due: July 6, 2017

    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Science Mission Directorate has released a Cooperative Agreement Notice (CAN) soliciting team-based proposals for membership in the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI).

    The goal of CAN Cycle 8 is to maintain a multidisciplinary institute by selecting focused, interdisciplinary teams that complement without replicating the strengths of the continuing teams. The teams selected in Cycle 8 will replace the teams selected in Cycle 6, whose five-year Cooperative Agreements are expiring.

    The CAN for Cycle ...

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  1. Selection of NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellows from the November 2016 Opportunity


    Image credit: None

    The NASA Astrobiology Program is pleased to announce the selection of three new 2016 NASA Postdoctoral Fellows:

    Timothy Bowling
    Advisor: Simone Marchi, U Colorado Boulder (Habitable Worlds)
    Topic: Modeling the Origin and Evolution of Habitable Environments in Post-Impact Hydrothermal Systems Beneath Martian Craters

    Mackenzie Day
    Advisor: David Catling, University of Washington (Habitable Worlds)
    Topic: Habitability of ancient martian dunes

    Moran Frenkel-Pinter
    Advisor: Loren Williams, Georgia Institute of Technology (Exobiology: Prebiotic Evolution)
    Topic: Prebiotic Self-Assembly of plausible proto-depsipeptides

    Congrats to our new Fellows! More information about the NASA Astrobiology Postdoctoral Program is available at: http://nai.nasa.gov/funding/postdoctoral-fellowship-program/.

    Source: [NASA Astrobiology Postdoctoral Program]

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  1. NASA Telescope Reveals Largest Batch of Earth-Size, Habitable-Zone Planets Around a Single Star


    This illustration shows the possible surface of TRAPPIST-1f, one of the newly discovered planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system. Scientists using the Spitzer Space Telescope and ground-based telescopes have discovered that there are seven Earth-size planets in the system. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech Image credit: None
    This illustration shows the possible surface of TRAPPIST-1f, one of the newly discovered planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system. Scientists using the Spitzer Space Telescope and ground-based telescopes have discovered that there are seven Earth-size planets in the system. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has revealed the first known system of seven Earth-size planets around a single star. Three of these planets are firmly located in the habitable zone, the area around the parent star where a rocky planet is most likely to have liquid water.

    The discovery sets a new record for greatest number of habitable-zone planets found around a single star outside our solar system. All of these seven planets could have liquid water – key to life as we know it – under the right atmospheric conditions, but the chances are highest with the three in the habitable ...

    Source: [NASA]

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  1. High-Altitude Water Acts as an Atmospheric Escape Route for Martian Hydrogen


    Hydrogen in Mars’ upper atmosphere comes from water vapor in the lower atmosphere. An atmospheric water molecule can be broken apart by sunlight, releasing the two hydrogen atoms from the oxygen atom that they had been bound to. Several processes at work in Mars’ upper atmosphere may then act on the hydrogen, leading to its escape. Image source: NASA/GSFC; CU/LASP Image credit: None
    Hydrogen in Mars’ upper atmosphere comes from water vapor in the lower atmosphere. An atmospheric water molecule can be broken apart by sunlight, releasing the two hydrogen atoms from the oxygen atom that they had been bound to. Several processes at work in Mars’ upper atmosphere may then act on the hydrogen, leading to its escape. Image source: NASA/GSFC; CU/LASP

    Researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) have discovered an atmospheric escape route for hydrogen on Mars, a mechanism that may have played a significant role in the planet’s loss of liquid water.

    The findings describe a process in which water molecules rise to the middle layers of the planet’s atmosphere during warmer seasons of the year and then break apart, triggering a large increase in the rate of hydrogen escape from the atmosphere to space in a span of just weeks.

    The study, which appears in the journal Nature Geoscience ...

    Source: [University of Colorado, Boulder]

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  1. Extreme Phosphorus Scarcity and Its Grip on Ancient Life


    Scientists assemble data from shale samples worldwide ranging as far back as 3 billion years old to trace the levels (and scarcity) of phosphorus in Earth's ancient oceans. Image source: Wikimedia Commons Image credit: None
    Scientists assemble data from shale samples worldwide ranging as far back as 3 billion years old to trace the levels (and scarcity) of phosphorus in Earth's ancient oceans. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

    Life’s list of essential nutrients is long, but carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus are the big three. Carbon and nitrogen, both easily extracted from the atmosphere, have usually been in ample supply in the ocean over Earth’s history. Carbon dioxide readily dissolves in seawater, and that carbon is then converted to the molecules of life through photosynthesis. Nitrogen is nearly 80 percent of the air we breathe, and diverse microorganisms are able to convert nitrogen to compounds more widely useful to life.

    Phosphorus is much harder to get: it must be delivered to the oceans by rivers fed through ...

    Source: [UC Riverside]

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