An Ancient Seabed Holds Secrets in the Search for Life on Other Planets
A sample of a thermal map of an exoplanet (left) and the corresponding position on an orbital diagram (right). Source: A.D.Adams/NASA Ames Research Center.
Members of the NASA Astrobiology Institute based at NASA Ames Research Center team have published a paper describing a thermal model applied to light curves of planet-bearing stars. The model accurately reproduces much of the large-scale data of existing full-orbit photometry captured by the Spitzer Space Telescope, including the timescale of heating/cooling, the time positions of minimum and maximum flux, and depths of transits and secondary eclipses.
“Reassessing Exoplanet Light Curves with a Thermal Model” is published in the Astronomical Journal.September 07, 2018 • Posted by: Miki Huynh • Report issue
NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) Georgia Tech team postdoctoral fellow Kennda Lynch and several astrobiologists are featured in the Netflix series Explained episode 9, “Extraterrestrial Life,” which digs into the probabilities of finding life in the universe. The episode was released on July 4, 2018.
A preview with clips of interviews was tweeted by Vox.
Source: [Netflix]August 31, 2018 • Posted by: Miki Huynh • Report issue
An article in Science describes the research of evolutionary biologists, including Matt Herron and Will Ratcliff, members of the NASA Astrobiology Institute’s Georgia Tech team, in examining the mechanisms that enabled the transition from single cells to multicellular life. Across a variety of organisms, the researchers found that a series of small genetic steps may have been responsible for the shift to multicellularity.
The story includes this video highlighting the work happening at their lab.
Source: [Science]August 27, 2018 • Posted by: Miki Huynh • Report issue
Terry Isson and Noah Planavsky provide a new framework for global climate regulation to explain Earth's warmer past climate. Image source: NASA
Scientists with the NASA Astrobiology Institute team based at UC Riverside have published a new paper providing explanation for why Earth’s early climate was more stable and warmer than it is today.
Excerpted from the story by Jim Shelton at YaleNews:
When life first evolved more than 3.5 billion years ago, Earth’s surface environment looked very different. The sun was much weaker, but Earth remained warm enough to keep liquid water at the surface. The researchers said this suggests that much higher carbon dioxide levels would have been needed to keep early Earth warm enough. But how ...
Source: [Nature (via UC Riverside)]August 17, 2018 • Written by: YaleNews • Report issue
The Oman Drilling Project is a multi-national investigation into the Samail Ophiolite, the world’s largest, best-exposed, and most-studied subaerial block of oceanic crust and upper mantle. Scientists are extracting and examining borehole samples from key locations within the ancient seabed to follow the journey of carbon from atmosphere to beneath the earth.
The Oman Drilling Project video, produced by the Deep Carbon Observatory, provides a view of the landscape, the science, and the exciting potential discoveries that will increase our understanding of microbial ecosystems within extreme environments and the origins of life in the universe. Scientists Peter Kelemen (a member of the NASA Astrobiology Institute Rock-Powered Life team) and Alexis Templeton (PI of Rock-Powered Life) provide narration.
Source: [Deep Carbon Observatory]August 03, 2018 • Posted by: Miki Huynh • Report issue
Goddard Center for Astrobiology (GCA) – NASA Astrobiology Institute
Undergraduate Research Associates in Astrobiology: End-of Term Research Presentations
The GCA sponsors a summer program (URAA) in which talented undergraduate students conduct cutting-edge research under the direction of GCA scientist-mentors. The students present summaries of their research objectives and findings during an end-of-term session delivered both locally and over the internet to the NAI as a whole.
The Class of 2018 will present on Thursday, August 2nd at 1-2 PM EDT in Building 34, Room W130. You are invited to attend, either locally or remotely.
Source: [NAI Seminars and Workshop]August 01, 2018 • Posted by: Miki Huynh • Report issue
The view of Mars shown here was assembled from MOC daily global images obtained on May 12, 2003. Credits: NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems
A new paper published in Science this week suggests that liquid water may be sitting under a layer of ice at Mars’ south pole.
The finding is based on data from the European Mars Express spacecraft, obtained by a radar instrument called MARSIS (Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding). The Italian Space Agency (ASI) led the development of the MARSIS radar. NASA provided half of the instrument, with management of the U.S. portion led by the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
The paper, authored by the Italian MARSIS team, outlines how a “bright spot” was ...
Source: [NASA]July 26, 2018 • Written by: NASA • Report issue
From Habitability to Life on Mars, a new book edited by SETI Institute scientists Nathalie A. Cabrol and Edmond A. Grin, with content by authors directly involved in past, current, and upcoming Mars missions, is now available!
From the publisher, Elsevier:
From Habitability to Life on Mars explores the current state of knowledge and questions on the past habitability of Mars and the role that rapid environmental changes may have played in the ability of prebiotic chemistry to transition to life. It investigates the role that such changes may have played in the preservation of biosignatures in the geological record ...July 23, 2018 • Posted by: Miki Huynh • Report issue
Image source: Gene Innovation Lab / USC
Life Underground, a game developed by the Game Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California, takes players on a journey into the depths and extremes of the Earth, and it’s available to download!
From Game Innovation Lab:
“The Life Underground game is an interactive outreach experience for 7th and 8th grade classrooms. The goal is for students to visualize microscopic life at a range of terrestrial and extraterrestrial subsurface conditions. Students take the role of a young scientist investigating extreme subsurface environments for microbial life. They will navigate through extreme conditions, including those of temperature, pressure, acidity, and energy limitations, and they will begin to recognize what characterizes life in this context.”
Free copies are available to students, educators, and reviewers. For more information and to download the game, visit the Game Innovation Lab website.July 19, 2018 • Posted by: Miki Huynh • Report issue
The thin line of Earth's atmosphere and the setting sun are featured in this image photographed by the crew of the International Space Station while space shuttle Atlantis on the STS-129 mission was docked with the station. Source: NASA
Researchers have uncovered details about the versatile energy metabolism of the thermoacidophilic archaea, Acidianus strain DS80. This organism grows both autotrophically and heterotrophically with a range of electron acceptors. The new study examines the growth response of strain DS80 to varying electron acceptors (sulfur, ferric iron, or oxygen), and the amount of CO2 assimilated into biomass under each set of conditions. The study ties carbon sources used by DS80 to electron acceptor availability.
Microbial metabolism is essential in global biogeochemical cycles that affect the habitability of Earth. Studying the activities of microorganisms and their role in the environment is useful for understanding our planet, and provides insight into more general principles of habitability that could be applicable to other worlds.
The study, “Electron Acceptor Availability Alters Carbon and Energy Metabolism in a Thermoacidophile,” was published in the journal Environmental Microbiology. The work was supported by NASA Astrobiology through the Exobiology Program and NASA Astrobiology Institute.
Source: [Astrobiology at NASA]July 13, 2018 • Written by: Aaron Gronstal • Report issue
Quartz analysis image. Source: Michael Ackerson / Carnegia Science
Granite is a record keeper of the history of continental movement, volcanic activity, and thermal properties of Earth’s upper crust, going back as far as 4.4 billion years ago.
Michael Ackerson and his team have analyzed granite rock samples found in Yosemite National Park, and their study reveals evidence of mineral crystallization occurring at a much lower temperature than previously thought possible—around 100-200 degrees cooler than currently assumed. This discovery has the potential to change the larger picture in our understanding of the geology of Earth’s past, including crust and magma formation, and the link between volcanoes, ores deposits, and granite.
The paper, “Low-temperature crystallization of granites and the implications for crustal magmatism,” is published in Nature.
A full press release is available through Carnegie Science.
Source: [Nature (via Carnegie Science)]July 11, 2018 • Posted by: Miki Huynh • Report issue
Left: SHERLOC will be mounted on the arm of the Mars 2020 rover. Image source: NASA. Right: Stromatolitic limestone as a Mars analog sample containing kerogen (dark regions) as a complex fossil biosignature, hosted by carbonate (light regions), which was successfully detected by UV Raman and fluorescence spectroscopy in this study. Image source: S. Shkolyar / J. Farmer.
The upcoming Mars 2020 rover mission will hunt for signs of past microbial life and indications of habitable conditions on Mars. A device mounted on the rover’s arm, called SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals), will aid in the detection of kerogens, fossilized organic materials in sedimentary rocks.
To inform NASA’s planning strategies for SHERLOC, Svetlana Shkolyar, a 2014 recipient of the NASA Astrobiology Early Career Collaboration Award, and her research team analyzed the capabilities of co-located time-gated Raman and fluorescent spectroscopy in detecting and distinguishing kerogen when scanning Mars analogue samples.
The team’s findings, published in Astrobiology reveal promising results and highlight the value of combining co-located Raman and fluorescence spectroscopies, similar to those obtainable by SHERLOC, to strengthen the confidence of kerogen detection as a potential biosignature in complex samples.
Source: [Astrobiology (via SETI Institute)]July 06, 2018 • Posted by: Miki Huynh • Report issue
Artist concept of the early Earth. Source: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab
A recent study provides new constraints on the environmental conditions that were present on the ancient Earth. Previous approximations of early Earth’s climate and ocean pH vary dramatically, but the new study aims to provide more accurate estimates. This is important because these conditions could have profoundly influenced the origins and early evolution of life.
In the study, researchers applied a self-consistent geological carbon cycle model to the last 4 billion years of Earth’s history. The results predict that the climate was temperate, and that the ocean pH was nearly neutral throughout the Precambrian (4.6 billion years ...
Source: [Astrobiology at NASA]June 28, 2018 • Written by: Aaron Gronstal • Report issue
In the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility, workers prepare to lift the Mars Exploration Rover-1 (MER-B) onto a spin table during preflight processing of the spacecraft. Researchers at Cal Poly offer the first biochemical evidence explaining the reason why contamination persist after use of the cleaning facility. Image source: NASA/JPL/KSC
Dr. Rakesh Mogul, professor of biological chemistry at Cal Poly Pomona and a 2016 Minority Institute Research Support (MIRS) Program (now the Astrobiology Faculty Diversity Program) Fellow and his team have discovered a reason why, even after thorough cleaning, certain microbes from spacecrafts can still survive in the clean rooms at NASA.
Excerpted from the press release from Cal Poly Pomona:
The research team analyzed several Acinetobacter strains that were originally isolated from the Mars Odyssey and Phoenix spacecraft facilities. They found that under very nutrient-restricted conditions, most of the tested strains grew on and biodegraded the cleaning agents used ...
Source: [Astrobiology]June 25, 2018 • Posted by: Miki Huynh • Report issue
Scientists develop a new molecular timeline for the production of reactive oxygen species in the evolution of life. Source: Y. J. Taverne et al. / Wiley Online Library
Complex animal life appeared in the earth’s record soon after the second major rise in atmospheric oxygen roughly 800 million years ago. The evolution of enzymatic reduction of oxygen yielded a several-fold increase in energy production by life on Earth, enabling this progression to multicellular animal life. However, higher atmospheric oxygen concentrations would also have been expected to result in increased levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS) – derivatives of oxygen that are harmful to life and that, for humans, can accelerate aging and cardiovascular disease.
Yannick Taverne and his team, with support from Alternative Earths, the NASA Astriobiology Institute Team based at UC Riverside, have developed a molecular timeline for the production of ROS in the evolution of life. The paper is published in BioEssays.
Source: [BioEssays (via UC Riverside)]June 22, 2018 • Posted by: Miki Huynh • Report issue
- September 25 - Seminar: "Ask an Astrobiologist Featuring Dr. Amanda Stockton"
- September 30 - Application Deadline: HST Observations to Detect Plumes/Outgassing from Europa
- September 30 - Application Deadline: Research Scientist: Jet Propulsion Laboratory
- October 1 - Abstract Submission and Registration Opens for Mars Extant Life: What's Next?
- October 1 - Application Deadline: ESA Research Fellowships in Space Science
- October 1 - Application Deadline: Postdoctoral Research Scholar (JOB# 12520) - Arizona State University
- October 2 - Registration Deadline for Europa Deep Dive 2: Chemical Composition of Europa and State of Laboratory Data
- October 8 - Application Deadline: T.C. Chamberlin Postdoctoral Fellowship
- October 30 - Application Deadline: Postdoctoral Researcher at Southwest Research Institute (OSIRIS-REx)
- November 1 - Application Deadline: National Air and Space Museum Postdoctoral Earth and Planetary Sciences Fellowship
- November 1 - Application Deadline: Tenure-track Faculty Position in Geochemistry
- November 1 - Application Deadline: Ph.D. Position in Astrochemistry, Star and Planet Formation
- November 15 - Abstract Submission Deadline for Mars Extant Life: What's Next?
- November 15 - Abstract Submissio Deadline for Kepler and K2 Science Conference V
- December 31 - Early Registration Deadline for Mars Extant Life: What's Next?
- January 18 - Late Registration Deadline for Mars Extant Life: What's Next?
- February 10 - Registration Deadline for Kepler and K2 Science Conference V
- March 6 - Indication of Interest Deadline for Ninth International Conference on Mars