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  1. Thresholds of Catastrophe in the Earth System


    Image source: NASA Image credit:
    Image source: NASA

    Daniel Rothman, professor of geophysics in the MIT Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, co-director of MIT’s Lorenz Center, and member of the NASA Astrobiology Institute team based at MIT has analyzed significant changes in the carbon cycle over the last 540 million years, including the five mass extinction events. He has identified “thresholds of catastrophe” in the carbon cycle that, if exceeded, would lead to an unstable environment, and ultimately, mass extinction.

    In the paper, “Thresholds of catastrophe in the Earth system,” published in Science Advances, Rothman proposes that mass extinction occurs if one of two thresholds are crossed: For changes in the carbon cycle that occur over long timescales, extinctions will follow if those changes occur at rates faster than global ecosystems can adapt. For carbon perturbations that take place over shorter timescales, the pace of carbon-cycle changes will not matter; instead, the size or magnitude of the change will determine the likelihood of an extinction event.

    Taking this reasoning forward in time, Rothman predicts that, given the recent rise in carbon dioxide emissions over a relatively short timescale, a sixth extinction will depend on whether a critical amount of carbon is added to the oceans. That amount, he calculates, is about 310 gigatons, which he estimates to be roughly equivalent to the amount of carbon that human activities will have added to the world’s oceans by the year 2100.

    The full press release by Jennifer Chu is available at MIT News.

    Source: [Science Advances]

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  1. Astrobiology Science Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe - Call for White Papers


    Image credit:

    In preparation for and as an input to the upcoming decadal surveys in astronomy and astrophysics and planetary science, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has been charged with carrying out a study on the astrobiology science strategy as it relates to the search for life in the solar system and extrasolar planetary systems (http://sites.nationalacademies.org/SSB/CurrentProjects/SSB_180812).

    The committee is requesting community input in the form of white papers. White papers will be accepted from immediately until 8 January, 2018. Papers received earlier will have a higher liklihood of being read and considered.

    Source: [National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine]

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  1. Astrobiology Rising at Georgia Tech


    Some of the researchers of Georgia Tech at AbSciCon 2017. From left: Cesar Menor-Salvan, Nick Hud, Justin Lawrence, Jacob Buffo, Frank Rosenzweig, Amanda Stockton, Britney Schmidt, Kennda Lynch, Gavin Mendez, George Tan, Jennifer Glass, Zachary Duca, Nadia Szeinbaum, Aaron McKee, Chloe Stanton, and Marcus Bray (Courtesy of Jennifer Glass). Source: Georgia Tech Image credit:
    Some of the researchers of Georgia Tech at AbSciCon 2017. From left: Cesar Menor-Salvan, Nick Hud, Justin Lawrence, Jacob Buffo, Frank Rosenzweig, Amanda Stockton, Britney Schmidt, Kennda Lynch, Gavin Mendez, George Tan, Jennifer Glass, Zachary Duca, Nadia Szeinbaum, Aaron McKee, Chloe Stanton, and Marcus Bray (Courtesy of Jennifer Glass). Source: Georgia Tech

    The growing visibility of researchers interested in astrobiology is helping Georgia Tech emerge as a powerhouse in the field.

    “Georgia Tech is clearly recognized as a hub for astrobiology and maybe the one that’s growing the most quickly,” says Edward Goolish, the deputy director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI), one of the six elements of the NASA Astrobiology Program. People at Georgia Tech, Goolish adds, “have been generous with their time and have contributed in important ways when NASA has reached out to the science community for input.”

    Read the full story at the Georgia Tech website.

    Source: [Georgia Tech]

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  1. Heating Enceladus for a Billion Years


    A breakdown of how water may be heated inside Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Image Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute, LPG-CNRS/U, Nantes/U, Angers, ESA (via ESA) Image credit:
    A breakdown of how water may be heated inside Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Image Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute, LPG-CNRS/U, Nantes/U, Angers, ESA (via ESA)

    Building from the revelation of oceans underneath the surface of Saturn’s moon Enceladus by the late Cassini spacecraft, a new study suggests that tidal friction could generate enough heat to power tens of millions to billions of years of hydrothermal activity inside Enceladus if the moon has a highly porous core. The likelihood would increase the moon’s potential as a habitable world.

    The paper, “Powering prolonged hydrothermal activity inside Enceladus” is published in Nature Astronomy and authored by Gaël Choblet, Gabriel Tobie, Christophe Sotin, Marie Běhounková, Ondřej Čadek, Frank Postberg, and Ondřej Souček. Choblet and Tobie are also members of the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) team based at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and Sotin is a Co-I for the NAI team at JPL.

    A press release is available through the European Space Agency.

    Source: [Nature Astronomy]

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  1. Why Does a Yellowstone Microorganism Prefer Meager Rations Over Rich Ones?


    Cover of Nature Geosciences featuring the research of M. Amenabar et al. The image shows overlapping gradients in mineral substrates capable of supporting microbial metabolism in a hot spring outflow channel in Yellowstone National Park, WY. Source: Nature Geosciences (August 2017 Volume 10 No 8) Image credit:
    Cover of Nature Geosciences featuring the research of M. Amenabar et al. The image shows overlapping gradients in mineral substrates capable of supporting microbial metabolism in a hot spring outflow channel in Yellowstone National Park, WY. Source: Nature Geosciences (August 2017 Volume 10 No 8)

    Scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW), Arizona State University (ASU), and Montana State University (MSU) have teamed up to discover a puzzle at the junction of geochemistry and biology: Why would a microorganism thriving in a hot spring draw its energy from low-quality sources instead of rich ones?

    The paper “Microbial substrate preference dictated by energy demand rather than supply” is published in Nature Geoscience, and authored by Maximiliano Amenabar (MSU, also with the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) team at University of Colorado, Boulder (CUB)), Everett L. Shock (ASU and NAI teams at MIT and CUB), Eric Roden (UW and NAI team at UW), John Peters (MSU), and Eric Boyd (MSU and NAI teams at CUB, UW, and the Virtual Planetary Institute).

    The excerpted press release by Robert Burnham is available through the Arizona State University website.

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  1. Microbes Dine (Very Slowly) on Coal and Shale, 2 Km Beneath the Seafloor


    A microbe collected from an incubation of coal amended with methylamine. Source: Trembath-Reichert et al. (via DCO) Image credit:
    A microbe collected from an incubation of coal amended with methylamine. Source: Trembath-Reichert et al. (via DCO)

    Elizabeth Trembath-Reichert. a NASA Postdoctoral Porgram fellow at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and a member of the NASA Astrobiology Institute team based at the University of Southern California, is lead author on a paper that measures the activity level and generation times of microbes living in coal and shale beds up to two kilometers below the seafloor. Despite low cell numbers and slow reproduction, the microbes actively consume carbon and nitrogen compounds from their environment.

    The paper, “Methyl-compound use and slow growth characterize microbial life in 2-km-deep subseafloor coal and shale beds” is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. We excerpt a press release from Deep Carbon Observatory.

    Source: [PNAS]

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  1. Maggie Osburn Honored as 2017 Packard Fellow


    Magdalena Osburn has been selected as a 2017 Packard Fellow. Image source: Osburn Isotope Geobiology Lab Image credit:
    Magdalena Osburn has been selected as a 2017 Packard Fellow. Image source: Osburn Isotope Geobiology Lab

    Geobiologist Magdalena “Maggie” Osburn has received a 2017 David and Lucile Packard Fellowship Award for her work at the geochemistry-microbiology interface.

    Source: [Packard Foundation]

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  1. Ask an Astrobiologist featuring Dr. Carl Pilcher


    Image credit:

    The Ask an Astrobiologist Show returns for its second season, beginning with an interview with Dr. Carl Pilcher, former director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute. The live Q&A has been rescheduled to Thursday, November 2 at 10AM PT.

    Source: [SAGANet]

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  1. Contemporary Water and Habitability of Mars


    Image credit:

    The next live STScI webcast, “Contemporary Water and Habitability of Mars,” presented by Lujendra Ojha of Johns Hopkins University airs November 3 at 12PM ET.

    For more info on the STSci seminar series and to view the calendar of upcoming talks, visit: http://www.stsci.edu/institute/smo/ipl/lecture

    Source: [Space Telescope Science Institute]

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  1. Early Earth, Warm or Cold?


    The early Earth was a hellish place, pummeled by meteors and a choking atmosphere, and yet somehow life got a grip there. Image credit: None
    The early Earth was a hellish place, pummeled by meteors and a choking atmosphere, and yet somehow life got a grip there. Artist concept of the early Earth's surface. Image credit: None
    Artist concept of the early Earth's surface.

    Source: [Earth and Planetary Science Letters]

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  1. Pale Rainbow Dots: The Search for Other Earths


    Source: Carnegie Institute for Science Image credit: Carnegie Science
    Source: Carnegie Institute for Science

    Wednesday, October 25, 2017, 6:30 PM ET

    What does it mean to be a habitable planet? How can we find life if it’s truly “alien” and different from life on Earth? And what techniques can we use to search for life on worlds orbiting distant stars? Drs. Arney and Domagal-Goldman, astrobiologists at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, will discuss the science behind these questions and the future telescopes that may provide the answers.

    The lecture at the Carnegie Institution for Science will be streamed live. For details, visit the event page.

    Source: [Carnegie Institute for Science]

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  1. Middle School Teacher Reviewers Needed - Online Astrobiology "Game"


    The NASA Astrobiology Institute has funded the production of an exciting, new educational game/software called Life Underground. In the game, students take on the role of a young scientist navigating and investigating a subsurface environment, searching for and characterizing microbial life.

    The development team at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts is seeking educator reviewers for the game.

    Screenshot from the Life Underground Game where students take the role of investigators of extreme subsurface environments looking for microbial life. Image credit:
    Screenshot from the Life Underground Game where students take the role of investigators of extreme subsurface environments looking for microbial life.

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  1. Water can be Corrosive to Life, so what about Alternative Solvents?


    Life on early Earth seems to have begun with a paradox: while life needs water as a solvent, the essential chemical backbones of early life-forming molecules fall apart in water. Our universal solvent, it turns out, can be extremely corrosive.

    Some have pointed to this paradox as a sign that life, or the precursor of life, originated elsewhere and was delivered here via comets or meteorites. Others have looked for solvents that could have the necessary qualities of water without that bond-breaking corrosiveness.

    A “fossil” natural nuclear reactor site in the Okio region of Gabon. The large uranium deposit present underwent nuclear fission on and off for hundreds of thousands of years some 2 billion years ago. The yellow rock is uranium oxide. Image credit: Robert D. Loss
    A “fossil” natural nuclear reactor site in the Okio region of Gabon. The large uranium deposit present underwent nuclear fission on and off for hundreds of thousands of years some 2 billion years ago. The yellow rock is uranium oxide.

    Source: [astrobio.net]

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  1. A Summer of Astrobiology


    Image credit:

    Fall is officially upon us, but not too long ago early career astrobiologists were keeping busy throughout the summer season. AbGradCon 2017 and the Proposal Writing Retreat—organized by and for post-docs, graduate students, and select undergrads—met with great success. The 2017 International Summer School in Astrobiology gathered 22 scholars to the Universidad Internacional Menéndez Pelayo (UIMP) in Santander, Spain to learn about exoplanet habitability. And undergraduates collaborating with scientists at Goddard Space Flight Center presented a GSFC Summer Research Associate 2017 Seminar on their innovative research.

    PIs of the NASA Astrobiology Institute teams also report the activities and achievements ...

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  1. Webcast of Astrobiology, Synthetic Biology, and the Future of Life


    You can now watch the Library of Congress symposium “Life As It Could Be: Astrobiology, Synthetic Biology, and the Future of Life” hosted by Luis Campos, the 2016-2017 Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology. The event took place Thursday, September 28, 9AM-6PM ET.

    Summary:
    What is life? How might life have emerged on Earth or on other worlds? And how might we engineer the future of life—what might we make life to be? Astrobiologists and synthetic biologists grapple with these questions every day. To further explore the intersections between these sciences and the humanities, the ...

    Source: [Library of Congress]

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