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  1. Tandem Evolution


    Several kilometers beneath the ocean surface a fascinating evolutionary synchrony is occurring.

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  1. Found It! Ice on Mars


    Instruments on board NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft have revealed more underground ice on the Red Planet than scientists expected.

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  1. Uranus and Neptune - and the Origin of Life on Earth


    Constraints on the giant planets and birth aggregates of the solar system.

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  1. NAI Members Elected Into the National Academy of Sciences


    The NASA Astrobiology Institute extends congratulations to two new members of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). Dr. John P. Grotzinger of the NAI Harvard Lead Team and Dr. Gerald Schubert of the NAI University of California Los Angeles Lead Team join 13 other NAI researchers as members of the National Academy of Sciences. Only 72 new members of the NAS were selected this year. Election to membership in the Academy is considered one of the highest honors that can be accorded a U.S. scientist or engineer. Those elected this year bring the total number of active NAS members ...

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  1. A Pothole in the Road of Life


    We’re all familiar with potholes – those nasty ruts in the road that produce an uncomfortable bump when we drive over them. But there is another kind of pothole that can be found in the desert, far away from human traffic. Instead of being a nuisance, these potholes provide shelter for life in a hostile environment. These potholes also may provide clues to the evolution of life on Earth and the possibility for life on other worlds.

    In the high desert of the Colorado Plateau, wind and rain carve out hollows in the desert sandstone, creating potholes over time. These ...

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  1. The Driest Place on Earth


    In Northern Chile, a pick-up truck bumps along dusty old mining roads toward the Atacama Desert. A team of scientists is driving from the coastal town of Antofagasta, and they occasionally pass other vehicles on the road -mostly prospectors searching for metals and minerals. After an hour, they arrive at a lonely meteorological station situated in the driest part of a very dry desert.

    The scientists have come to the Atacama to investigate how much water life needs to survive. Water is necessary for life, but water is so scarce in the Atacama that it is a wonder anything can ...

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  1. Unfamiliar Life


    Step outside and look around you. Chances are, your eye will light upon something made from polymers. Even your own body is composed of polymers – your bones, muscle fibers, your very DNA – polymers all. While polymers can be found everywhere, scientists also have learned to manipulate polymers to create things not found in nature, such as plastic and nylon.

    Polymers are composed of molecules called monomers. Monomers are defined by their ability to link up and form chains, lining up like beads on a string to form the polymers.

    This is the hidden structure of life on Earth ...

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  1. Planetary Embryos Hatch in the Southern Constellation Centaurus


    It was a particularly clear night atop a Chilean mountain, as University of Arizona astronomers gazed 430 light-years away. What they imaged was a mysteriously hot, infrared glow of stardust. Could it be that in the Southern constellations between Scorpio and Centaurus, what they saw were precursors to Earth-like planets?

    At the 199th National Meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, D.C., Michael Meyer of the University of Arizona and his colleagues announced indeed, that in the direction of the constellation Centaurus, the star classified as HD 113766A, is likely hatching planetary embryos. To make matters more intriguing ...

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  1. Odyssey Finds Large Concentrations of Water on Mars


    The first results from the Mars Odyssey are in, and they reveal that the Southern Hemisphere of the Red Planet has a lot of water ice just below the surface.

    “The signal that we’ve been getting – loud and clear – is that there’s a lot of ice on Mars,” says William Boynton of the University of Arizona. Boynton is the Principle Investigator for the Gamma Ray Spectrometer Suite on the Mars Odyssey. “Once we turned on the instrument, some of the signals were much stronger than we expected, and it really just blew us away.” ...

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  1. Earth From Afar: A Tiny Flickering Dot


    With over 70 planets identified around distant stars, astronomers are now looking for ways to classify which ones are most like Earth – that is to say, the ones most likely with biological potential. Some initial qualifications are already known: Earth-like planets are likely relatively small, or under the limit of 12 Jupiter-masses. Larger planets would qualify as more of a companion star capable of burning heavy hydrogen and radiating their own nuclear fusion heat. So key entries, like the following, must be made more specific for each new planet candidate found: what are its size, temperature and reflectance (or albedo ...

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  1. Clues to the Last Common Ancestor


    Molecular detectives have traced human ancestry back to the so-called Mitochondrial Eve, the last female common ancestor. More recent research has posited a Y-chromosome Adam, the last male common ancestor.

    Monica Riley, a microbiologist specializing in molecular evolution, is aiming farther back. She and her colleagues at The Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, are looking for molecular traces of precursors to the last common ancestor of all modern cells.

    Riley seeks to estimate how many proteins, and what kinds of proteins, developed into the set of proteins that the first primitive cell may have used to carry out ...

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  1. Genetic Alchemy: Turning Lobsters Into Fruit Flies


    How were body plans able to undergo large-scale changes during the course of evolution? For instance, how did something that looked like a centipede evolve into something as different as a fruit fly? This is a question that has long concerned biologists that study evolutionary history. Genetic mutations that would dramatically alter body structures could potentially kill an organism before it even had a chance to live.

    Biologists at the University of California, San Diego, now have genetic evidence that explains how such drastic alterations to body plans were able to occur during the early evolution of animals.

    In a ...

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  1. Warm-Nosed Robot Breaks the Ice


    An adventurous science team recently returned from the deep Norwegian glacial fields, having tested an instrument which may one day be used to explore areas beneath the frozen surfaces of other worlds. As demonstrated by the Jet Propulsion Lab and Caltech, their robotic ice-pick, dubbed Cryobot, sports a heated nose-cone especially designed to melt frozen ground and drill cryogenically. Their most recent depths broke through the equivalent of an ice sheet the size of an eight-story building, or 23 meters (75 feet) into a glacier.

    Glacier cutting combines an extreme operating environment with new technology to navigate and image the ...

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  1. From Lightbulbs to Life


    We all know that metals like copper, iron and zinc are needed to maintain human health. Molybdenum is also an essential nutritional requirement, used by several enzymes in the body to help metabolize carbon, nitrogen and sulfur compounds. Most other life forms use molybdenum in similar ways. But a one-celled organism that lives in deep-sea volcanic vents has developed an alternative metabolism that uses tungsten instead of molybdenum.

    Called Pyrococcus furiosus, the name means “rushing fireball” and refers to the microorganism’s quick rate of reproduction – P. furiosus can double its numbers in just 37 minutes – and its preferred ...

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  1. Interview With Michael Meyer


    KATHLEEN – Michael, please give me your official title and tell me a little bit about your background and how you got involved with Astrobiology.

    MICHAEL – I’m the Astrobiology discipline scientist at Headquarters; I also am the program scientist for the Mars 2001 Odyssey Mission. It’s kind of interesting, actually…I mean, how do you end up working in an area that’s as fun as Astrobiology? I was told that I should be an engineer since I was good at math, so I went to RPI as an engineer.

    I just decided one year that I ...

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