NAI

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  1. Geoelectrodes and Fuel Cells for Simulating Hydrothermal Vent Environments


    Left: Example of a black smoker hydrothermal vent in the Atlantic Ocean (Source: Wikimedia Commons). Right A-D: Photos showing how hydrothermal mineral samples are turned into electrode ink that can be painted onto a fuel cell electrode assembly. Image credit: None
    Left: Example of a black smoker hydrothermal vent in the Atlantic Ocean (Source: Wikimedia Commons). Right A-D: Photos showing how hydrothermal mineral samples are turned into electrode ink that can be painted onto a fuel cell electrode assembly.

    Seafloor hydrothermal vents are natural geo-electro-chemical systems that behave in some ways like fuel cells. They produce redox gradients that can help to support life with geochemical energy. Such vents are also thought to exist on other worlds such as Europa or Enceladus, and may provide habitable environments where life could emerge even in the absence of sunlight.

    A research team led by Dr. Laurie Barge at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in collaboration with the SETI Institute node of the NASA Astrobiology Institute have used fuel cell experimental techniques to simulate the redox chemistry of a type of hydrothermal ...

    Source: [Astrobiology (via SETI and JPL)]

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  1. Astrobiology Science Strategy: Public Briefing Webcast


    Image credit: None

    On October 10, 2018, the committee appointed by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine presented recommendations for a research strategy and direction in the study of astrobiology to NASA and the scientific community.

    A recording of the livestream can be viewed at: https://livestream.com/NASEM/AstrobioScience.

    The report can be downloaded at https://www.nap.edu/astrobioscience.

    Source: [NASEM]

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  1. Laughing Gas Could Have Helped Warm Early Earth


    Left: Dr. Jennifer Glass holds a piece of stromatolitic ironstone. Research conducted in her lab at Georgia Tech point to the way in which nitrous oxide may have helped warm early Earth. Photo credit: Georgia Tech / A. Carter. Right: Banded iron formations in Karijini National Park, Australia. These sediments, once ancient seafloor, are red because iron rusted out of solution as oxygen built up in the water. The same dissolved iron facilitated production of nitrous oxide. Photo credit: Georgia Tech / J. Glass Image credit: None
    Left: Dr. Jennifer Glass holds a piece of stromatolitic ironstone. Research conducted in her lab at Georgia Tech point to the way in which nitrous oxide may have helped warm early Earth. Photo credit: Georgia Tech / A. Carter. Right: Banded iron formations in Karijini National Park, Australia. These sediments, once ancient seafloor, are red because iron rusted out of solution as oxygen built up in the water. The same dissolved iron facilitated production of nitrous oxide. Photo credit: Georgia Tech / J. Glass

    Carbon dioxide and methane get partial credit for keeping the early Earth ice-free, but established research suggests that those gases were not always sufficiently abundant to warm the globe on their own. A new view on ocean chemistry during Earth’s Proterozoic Eon, about 2.5-0.5 billion years ago, point to a possible way that nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, could have filled the “greenhouse gap.” Results published by scientists at Georgia Tech who are members of the Alternative Earths team, the NASA Astrobiology Institute team based at the University of California, Riverside, demonstrate a potential mechanism ...

    Source: [Geobiology (via UC Riverside and Georgia Tech)]

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  1. Reassessing Exoplanet Meteorology from the Thermal Phase Variations


    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. Image credit: None
    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.

    Source: [The Astronomical Journal (via NASA Ames Research Center)]

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  1. Astrobiology on Netflix


    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.


    Image source: Vox/Netflix

    Source: [Netflix]

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  1. The Momentous Transition to Multicellular Life is Not So Hard Afterall


    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]

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  1. Rethinking Planetary Climate Controls


    Terry Isson and Noah Planavsky provide a new framework for global climate regulation to explain Earth's warmer past climate. Image source: NASA Image credit: None
    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)]

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  1. Oman Drilling Project: An Ancient Seabed Holds Secrets in the Search for Life on Other Planets


    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]

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  1. Seminar: GSFC Summer Research Associate 2018 Presentations


    Image credit: None

    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]

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  1. NASA Statement on Possible Subsurface Lake near Martian South Pole


    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 Image credit: None
    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]

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  1. From Habitability to Life on Mars


    Source: Elsevier Image credit: None
    Source: Elsevier

    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 ...

    Source: [Elsevier (via SETI / NASA Ames Research Center)]

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  1. Life Underground - Available to Play


    Image source: Gene Innovation Lab / USC Image credit: None
    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.

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  1. Electron Acceptors and Carbon Sources for a Thermoacidophilic Archaea


    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 Image credit: None
    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]

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  1. Yosemite Granite Tells New Story About Earth's Geologic History


    Quartz analysis image. Source: Michael Ackerson / <a href="https://carnegiescience.edu/news/yosemite-granite-%E2%80%9Ctells-different-story%E2%80%9D-story-about-earths-geologic-history" target="_blank">Carnegia Science</a> Image credit: None
    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)]

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  1. Supporting SHERLOC in the Detection of Kerogen as a Biosignature


    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. Image credit: None
    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)]

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