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  1. How Scientists Are Searching for Life on Titan


    A false color, infrared view of Saturn's largest moon Titan, captured by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/University of Idaho Image credit: None
    A false color, infrared view of Saturn's largest moon Titan, captured by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/University of Idaho

    At the dawn of the new millennium, Titan was a mystery to the scientific community. The alien moon was known as the largest of Saturn’s 62 natural satellites, a Mercury-sized behemoth hidden beneath dense, nitrogen-rich smog. However, the arrival of the Cassini spacecraft in 2004 marked the beginning of an exponential increase in scientists’ limited knowledge of Titan.

    Thanks to the data compiled by Cassini, scientists have now identified Titan as one of the most Earth-like worlds in our solar system. It’s the only place besides Earth to feature liquid rivers and lakes on its surface, and the ...

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  1. AbSciCon 2019 Student Poster Competition


    First place winner, Andrew Gangidine (left), and third place winner, Lavontria Aaron (right), stand with NASA Astrobiology Program Director, Mary Voytek, as they receive the AbSciCon 2019 student poster competition awards. Credit: Michael L. Wong Image credit: None
    First place winner, Andrew Gangidine (left), and third place winner, Lavontria Aaron (right), stand with NASA Astrobiology Program Director, Mary Voytek, as they receive the AbSciCon 2019 student poster competition awards. Credit: Michael L. Wong

    For over 15 years, the NASA Astrobiology Institute has been pleased to host the Student Poster Competition at the Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon), an event which spotlights future astrobiologists and their promising contributions to the field. This year, we are excited to report that seventy-one graduate and undergraduate students participated in the contest.

    1st place was awarded to Andrew Gangidine of the University of Cincinnati for his poster “A Trace Element Biosignature for Life on Early Earth and Mars.”

    Second-place went to Jayme Feyhl-Buska of the University of Southern California for the research “Targeted Enrichments Reveal Potential Metabolisms, Novel Taxa ...

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  1. Key Early Steps for Origin of Life Occur Under a Variety of Conditions


    Scientists conducted a series of test meant to capture complex chemical mixtures like those that lightning strikes may have created before life on Earth. The resulting chemistry may reveal an important step toward the origin of life. Image: Pixabay / AbelEscobar Image credit: None
    Scientists conducted a series of test meant to capture complex chemical mixtures like those that lightning strikes may have created before life on Earth. The resulting chemistry may reveal an important step toward the origin of life. Image: Pixabay / AbelEscobar

    UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Potential precursors to life on Earth form from a variety of complex mixtures, according to a team of scientists who say this could point to the development of building blocks crucial to forming genetic molecules for the origins of life on Earth.

    Genetic molecules provide the ability to store and replicate information and may have been critical for the origin of life, but it is unclear how they arose from complex chemical environments that existed on early Earth. New findings, published this week in the journal Scientific Reports, suggest the answer may start with nitrogen heterocycles, ringed ...

    Source: [PENN State News]

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  1. NASA Scientists, Engineers Honored with Presidential Early Career Awards


    Credit: Executive office of the president of the united states Image credit: None
    Credit: Executive office of the president of the united states

    Recipients of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) have been announced, and include a number of astrobiologists who have been involved with research at the NASA Astrobiology Program. The list includes eighteen NASA researchers in total, as well as 296 additional federal researchers. The awards will be presented later this year at a ceremony in Washington DC.

    Included among the recipients are:

    - Giada Arney, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland – for far-reaching influence in predicting, observing, and communicating about habitability and the potential for life beyond Earth
    - Laura Barge, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory ...

    Source: [The White House]

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  1. Researchers Cook Up Chemical Reactions in Primordial Soup


    Left: Spark in Miller-Urey apparatus. Right: Reaction involving the complex organics from a Miller-Urey experiment with a nitrogen heterocycle. Credit: Karen Smith / <a href="https://www.newswise.com/articles/researchers-cook-up-chemical-reactions-in-primordial-soup" target="_blank">Boise State University</a> Image credit: None
    Left: Spark in Miller-Urey apparatus. Right: Reaction involving the complex organics from a Miller-Urey experiment with a nitrogen heterocycle. Credit: Karen Smith / Boise State University

    Newswise — In the 1950s, when chemist Stanley Miller created the experiment that would eventually bear his name – the Miller-Urey experiment – he was trying to simulate conditions of early Earth. In a glass sphere filled with methane, water vapor, ammonia and hydrogen (representing Earth’s early atmosphere), electrodes sparked to simulate lightening and the apparatus alternately heated and cooled its contents. After one week, a jet black solution formed. From this complex primordial soup, Miller made an incredible discovery: the solution that he collected contained multiple amino acids – the building blocks of proteins.

    While there has been significant progress made towards ...

    Source: [Boise State University]

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  1. NASA's Dragonfly Will Look for Origins, Signs of Life on Titan


    NASA has announced that our next destination in the solar system is the unique, richly organic world Titan. Advancing our search for the building blocks of life, the Dragonfly mission will fly multiple sorties to sample and examine sites around Saturn’s icy moon.

    Dragonfly will launch in 2026 and arrive in 2034. The rotorcraft will fly to dozens of promising locations on Titan looking for prebiotic chemical processes common on both Titan and Earth. Dragonfly marks the first time NASA will fly a multi-rotor vehicle for science on another planet; it has eight rotors and flies like a large ...

    This illustration shows NASA’s Dragonfly rotorcraft-lander approaching a site on Saturn’s exotic moon, Titan. Taking advantage of Titan’s dense atmosphere and low gravity, Dragonfly will explore dozens of locations across the icy world, sampling and measuring the compositions of Titan's organic surface materials to characterize the habitability of Titan’s environment and investigate the progression of prebiotic chemistry. Credits: NASA/JHU-APL Image credit: None
    This illustration shows NASA’s Dragonfly rotorcraft-lander approaching a site on Saturn’s exotic moon, Titan. Taking advantage of Titan’s dense atmosphere and low gravity, Dragonfly will explore dozens of locations across the icy world, sampling and measuring the compositions of Titan's organic surface materials to characterize the habitability of Titan’s environment and investigate the progression of prebiotic chemistry. Credits: NASA/JHU-APL

    Source: [NASA]

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  1. Cyanide Compounds Discovered in Meteorites May Hold Clues to the Origin of Life


    Artist’s concept of meteors impacting ancient Earth. Some scientists think such impacts may have delivered water and other molecules useful to emerging life on Earth. Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab Image credit: None
    Artist’s concept of meteors impacting ancient Earth. Some scientists think such impacts may have delivered water and other molecules useful to emerging life on Earth. Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab

    Cyanide and carbon monoxide are both deadly poisons to humans, but compounds containing iron, cyanide, and carbon monoxide discovered in carbon-rich meteorites by a team of scientists at Boise State University and NASA may have helped power life on early Earth. The extraterrestrial compounds found in meteorites resemble the active site of hydrogenases, which are enzymes that provide energy to bacteria and archaea by breaking down hydrogen gas (H2). Their results suggest that these compounds were also present on early Earth, before life began, during a period of time when Earth was constantly bombarded by meteorites and the atmosphere ...

    Source: [NASA]

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  1. AbSciCon 2019 Streaming Live


    Image credit: None

    AbSciCon 2019 will be webcast live from Seattle, WA, from June 24th to June 28th. Throughout the week there will be two concurrent streams that you can watch. These include all plenary sessions in the Grand Ballroom, and all sessions in the Regency EFG and Grand IJ rooms.

    You can watch both streams on the official AbSciCon 2019 homepage, or the NASA Astrobiology Facebook page.

    Please check the official AbSciCon 2019 program or download the mobile app to find sessions in the above rooms that will be webcast.

    Want to be social? Follow along on Twitter for updates using #AbSciCon2019.

    Source: [AbSciCon]

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  1. Curiosity Detects Unusually High Methane Levels


    Image taken by the left Navcam on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover on June 18, 2019, the 2,440th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. It shows part of "Teal Ridge," which the rover has been studying within a region called the "clay-bearing unit."Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech Image credit: None
    Image taken by the left Navcam on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover on June 18, 2019, the 2,440th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. It shows part of "Teal Ridge," which the rover has been studying within a region called the "clay-bearing unit."Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    This week, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover found a surprising result: the largest amount of methane ever measured during the mission — about 21 parts per billion units by volume (ppbv). One ppbv means that if you take a volume of air on Mars, one billionth of the volume of air is methane.

    The finding came from the rover’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) tunable laser spectrometer. It’s exciting because microbial life is an important source of methane on Earth, but methane can also be created through interactions between rocks and water.

    Curiosity doesn’t have instruments that can definitively say what ...

    Source: [NASA]

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  1. The NASA Astrobiology Institute at AbSciCon 2019


    Image credit: None

    The first Astrobiology Workshop was held at Ames Research Center (Moffett Field, CA) on September 9-11, 1996. It was by all accounts a resounding success, bringing together life scientists and space scientists for a truly interdisciplinary sharing of ideas related to life in the universe. Soon afterward, NASA’s vision for its new Astrobiology Institute (the NAI) was celebrated at the Institute’s first meeting Nov. 5-7, 1998 also at NASA Ames Research Center. Dr. Edward Weiler, Acting Associate Administrator for the NASA Office of Space Science, Scott Hubbard, interim manager of the NASA Astrobiology Institute and a host of prominent ...

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  1. New Study Dramatically Narrows the Search for Advanced Life in the Universe


    Three planets orbiting TRAPPIST-1 fall within that star’s habitable zone. Credit: R. Hurt/ NASA/JPL-Caltech/ Image credit: None
    Three planets orbiting TRAPPIST-1 fall within that star’s habitable zone. Credit: R. Hurt/ NASA/JPL-Caltech/

    Toxic gases limit the types of life we could find on habitable worlds.

    RIVERSIDE, CA – Scientists may need to rethink their estimates for how many planets outside our solar system could host a rich diversity of life.

    In a new study, a UC Riverside–led team discovered that a buildup of toxic gases in the atmospheres of most planets makes them unfit for complex life as we know it.

    Traditionally, much of the search for extraterrestrial life has focused on what scientists call the “habitable zone,” defined as the range of distances from a star warm enough that liquid ...

    Source: [UC Riverside]

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  1. Aomawa Shields on the Importance of Women in STEM


    Aomawa Shields. Credit: NASA Image credit: None
    Aomawa Shields. Credit: NASA

    A recent article in Teen Vogue urges us to celebrate the Apollo 11 Moon landing anniversary through the lens of the contributions of women to that success, and to STEM in general.

    The article features 12 female STEM advocates from different fields, each with her own perspective and approach to helping young girls get into, and climb the ladder of success, in STEM.

    One of those mentioned is Aomawa Shields, astrobiologist and founder of Rising Stargirls.

    Shields is an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at the University of California Irvine. She is a member of the NAI CAN 4 ...

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  1. ROSES-19 Amendment 8: Interdisciplinary Consortia for Astrobiology Research (ICAR)


    Image credit: NSPIRES Image credit: None
    Image credit: NSPIRES

    ROSES-19 Amendment 8: This amendment releases a new TBD program element in C.23 Interdisciplinary Consortia for Astrobiology Research

    The Planetary Science Division intends to solicit Interdisciplinary Consortia for Astrobiology Research (ICAR) to support the goal of the NASA’s Astrobiology program in the study of the origins, evolution, and distribution of life in the universe. It is anticipated that research areas in this cycle will include: prebiotic chemistry and early Earth environments, early life and increasing complexity, and the habitability and biosignatures on exoplanets. PIs selected as a result of proposals to this program element will become members ...

    Source: [NSPIRES]

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  1. How Salts on the Surface Could Aid in Modeling Europa's Ocean


    Europa
Image credit: NASA Image credit: None
    Europa Image credit: NASA

    Excerpted from Astrobiology Web:

    Europa is one of Jupiter’s 79 moons, and one of the largest moons in the Solar System. Inside Europa, beneath sheets of ice, liquid water rests on top of a rocky core, similar to Earth, and the chemical interaction between the water and the rock could make Europa one of the best known candidates for other life in our Solar System.

    The global ocean believed to exist beneath Europa’s thick ice shell is often cited as one of the most likely places in the solar system to find evidence of extraterrestrial habitable environments or even extant ...

    Source: [Astrobiology Web]

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  1. The Habitability of Titan and its Ocean


    Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, hides a subsurface ocean that potentially could support life.
Image credit: NASA/JPL–Caltech/Space Science Institute. Image credit: None
    Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, hides a subsurface ocean that potentially could support life. Image credit: NASA/JPL–Caltech/Space Science Institute.

    Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, is a hotbed of organic molecules, harboring a soup of complex hydrocarbons similar to that thought to have existed over four billion years ago on the primordial Earth. Titan’s surface, however, is in a deep freeze at –179 degrees Celsius (–290 degrees Fahrenheit, or 94 kelvin). Life as we know it cannot exist on the moon’s frigid surface.

    Deep underground, however, is a different matter. Gravity measurements made during fly-bys by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft revealed that Titan contains an ocean beneath its ice shell, and within this ocean, conditions are potentially suitable ...

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