Celebrating Astrobiology and the NAI on November 14, 2019
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 ...May 09, 2019 • Written by: Keith Cooper • Report issue
Drs. Christopher Materese and Gustavo Cruz-Diaz pose with Chickasaw students at the Chickasaw Nation Aviation and Space Academy (CNASA). NASA Ames NAI team participation in the STEM camp is provided through funding from NASA’s Astrobiology Institute CAN 7 grants program. Image credit: ARC NAI CAN7 Team
In 2018, Drs. Gustavo Cruz-Diaz and Christopher Materese of the NAI Ames CAN 7 Team participated in the Chickasaw Nation Aviation and Space Academy (CNASA) held in Ada, Oklahoma. The Chickasaw Nation has been conducting this week-long camp over the past four summers, in order to encourage their Native American youth to consider careers in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields.
Their presentation included hands-on science demonstrations, teaching them about molecular properties, chromatography, spectroscopy, refractive properties of light, and electromagnetism. The students were very interested in the presentation, in particular, those related to the search for life on ...
Source: [ARC NAI CAN7 Team]April 29, 2019 • Written by: Yael Kovo • Report issue
Image credit: Jacob Boswell
The transition from unicellular to multicellular life was one of a few major events in the history of life that created new opportunities for more complex biological systems to evolve. Predation is hypothesized as one selective pressure that may have driven the evolution of multicellularity, as most predators can only consume prey within a narrow range of sizes.
A team of scientist from University of Montana and Georgia Institute of Technology show that de novo origins of simple multicellularity can evolve in response to predation. They subjected outcrossed populations of the unicellular green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii to selection by the ...
Source: [Scientific Reports]April 25, 2019 • Written by: Matthew Herron et al. • Report issue
Image credit: L. Barge / NASA JPL
Researchers from the NAI JPL Icy Worlds team report that gradients of redox and pH in iron minerals can drive the formation of prebiotic organic molecules.
The early Earth had no atmospheric O2 – which resulted in an ocean where iron could remain dissolved in the ocean and precipitate as highly reactive minerals. These iron hydroxides in seafloor sediments and hydrothermal chimneys range from more oxidized (red rust) to more reduced (green rust) – each having different ability to catalyze organic prebiotic reactions, and form amino acids.
Amino acids only form when the mineral contains both oxidized and reduced iron, and ...
Source: [PNAS]April 18, 2019 • Written by: Laura Barge et al. • Report issue
Dr Nathalie Cabrol. Illustration: Mark Weaver
Excerpted from the story by Adam Mann:
Our first encounter with extraterrestrial life won’t be with little green men—it’ll likely be with little green microbes, says astrobiologist Nathalie Cabrol.
Dr. Cabrol is at the forefront of the hunt for life off Earth. She works at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI, Institute, a nonprofit based in Mountain View, Calif. SETI scientists have worked with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Science Foundation and universities to develop instruments for probes to Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and Pluto.
Dr. Cabrol spoke with The Future of Everything about ...
Source: [The Wall Streer Journal]April 16, 2019 • Posted by: Yael Kovo • Report issue
The first episode, premiering April 4th, follows the Field Exploration and Life Detection Sampling for Planetary and Astrobiology Research (FELDSPAR) scientific expedition team as they travel to Iceland.
Read the full story by Mike Toillion at the Astrobiology at NASA website.
Astrobiology in the Field, Episode 1: Iceland Trailer
Source: [Astrobiology at NASA]April 02, 2019 • Posted by: Miki Huynh • Report issue
NPP fellows at Georgia Tech. Top row, left to right: Peter Conlin, Moran Frenkel-Pinter, Andrew Mullen. Bottom row, left to right: Micah Schaible, Nicholas Speller, Nadia Szeinbaum. More information about each postdoc and their research focus is available at the Georgia Tech website.
Excerpted from Georgia Tech:
Among the most coveted postdoctoral appointments are those from the NASA Postdoctoral Program (NPP). These fellowships offer early-career researchers “the opportunity to share in NASA’s mission, to reach for new heights, and to reveal the unknown so that what we do and learn will benefit all humankind,” NPP says.
The Georgia Institute of Technology College of Sciences is the proud host of six NPP fellows advancing NASA’s mission in astrobiology and solar system exploration. The concentration of talent testifies to Georgia Tech’s vibrant astrobiology and space science research communities.
Source: [Georgia Tech]April 01, 2019 • Posted by: Miki Huynh • Report issue
Dan Coleman, assistant research professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Montana State University, takes samples of microbial cultures. His recent study examines the relationship between microbial diversity and the chemical conditions found in a hot spring in Yellowstone National Park. Image source: MSU / Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez
Scientist Dan Coleman and his team at Montana State University, supported in part by the NASA Astrobiology Institute team based at the University of Colorado Boulder, have found an impressive abundance of microbial diversity in a hot spring in Yellowstone National Park. This hot spring, Smoke Jumper 3 (SJ3), exhibits extreme chemical disequilibrium due to a mixing of reduced volcanic gases with oxidized surface water.
The research, published in Nature Communications, digs into how and why the fluid mixing allows SJ3 to generate and support a more diverse range of microbial life than other hot springs. The discovery could help ...
Source: [Nature Communications (via MSU)]March 29, 2019 • Posted by: Miki Huynh • Report issue
Origins of Life, Artificial Life, & Astrobiology (OoLALA) Research Showcase: Searching for the Laws of Life
The Origins of Life, Artificial Life, & Astrobiology (OoLALA) Research Showcase highlights advances in research into life’s origins, distribution, and future in the universe. The lectures can be streamed live.
Coming up: Sara Walker: “Search for the Laws of Life,” Thursday, March 28, 2:30-3:30pm PST
Currently we do not know what life is, or whether there exist universal laws – in the same sense the laws of physics and chemistry are universal – that describe life. While this may not matter so much for the study of life as it exists at present or in the past on Earth, it is critically important in the field of astrobiology, which seeks to understand life not just on Earth but anywhere in the universe. In this talk I discuss new approaches to ...March 25, 2019 • Posted by: Miki Huynh • Report issue
A rocky planet orbiting Proxima Centauri might sustain liquid water (artist’s depiction). Credit: NASA, ESA, G. Bacon (STSc)
For some distant worlds, carbon monoxide may actually be compatible with a robust microbial biosphere.
Carbon monoxide detectors in our homes warn of a dangerous buildup of that colorless, odorless gas we normally associate with death. Astronomers, too, have generally assumed that a build-up of carbon monoxide in a planet’s atmosphere would be a sure sign of lifelessness. Now, a UC Riverside-led research team is arguing the opposite: celestial carbon monoxide detectors may actually alert us to a distant world teeming with simple life forms.
“With the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope two years from now, astronomers ...
Source: [UC Riverside]March 19, 2019 • Written by: Sarah Simpson • Report issue
Application Deadline EXTENDED: April 1, 2019
AbGradCon 2019 will be hosted by the University of Utah in Salt Lake City from July 22nd – 26th, 2019. This year’s theme will be Science Communication.
The Proposal Writing Retreat (PWR), formerly known as the Research Focus Group (RFG), will take place at from July 19th – 22nd, 2019. Applicants for AbGradCon will be able to apply for PWR at the same time as they submit their AbGradCon application. AbGradCon has funds to support a limited number of participants, although the event can accommodate participants able to provide some or all of their ...
Source: [AbGradCon]March 14, 2019 • Posted by: Miki Huynh • Report issue
11 December 1972 -- Scientist-astronaut Harrison H. Schmitt collects lunar rake samples at Station 1 during the first Apollo 17 extravehicular activity (EVA) at the Taurus-Littrow landing site. Schmitt is the lunar module pilot. The Lunar Rake, an Apollo Lunar Geology Hand Tool, is used to collect discrete samples of rocks and rock chips ranging in size from one-half inch (1.3 cm) to one inch (2.5 cm). Credits: Eugene A. Cernan, Apollo 17 Commander
NASA has selected nine teams to continue the science legacy of the Apollo missions by studying pieces of the Moon that have been carefully stored and untouched for nearly 50 years. A total of $8 million has been awarded to the teams.
“By studying these precious lunar samples for the first time, a new generation of scientists will help advance our understanding of our lunar neighbor and prepare for the next era of exploration of the Moon and beyond, “ said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, DC. “This exploration will bring with it new ...
Source: [NASA]March 11, 2019 • Written by: NASA • Report issue
Yale researchers have discovered a surprising link between the tilting of exoplanets and their orbit in space. The discovery may help explain a long-standing puzzle about exoplanetary orbital architectures. (Illustration: NASA/JPL-Caltech, Sarah Millholland)
For almost a decade, astronomers have tried to explain why so many pairs of planets outside our solar system have an odd configuration — their orbits seem to have been pushed apart by a powerful unknown mechanism. Yale researchers say they’ve found a possible answer, and it implies that the planets’ poles are majorly tilted.
The finding could have a big impact on how researchers estimate the structure, climate, and habitability of exoplanets as they try to identify planets that are similar to Earth. The research appears in the March 4 online edition of the journal Nature Astronomy.
The press release is available through Yale News.
Source: [Yale News]March 06, 2019 • Written by: Jim Shelton • Report issue
Photo of stromatolites in Shark Bay, Western Australia. Scientists have found evidence for ocean oxygenation happening at an earlier date than the Great Oxygenation Event in Mt. McRae Shale in Western Australia. Source: A. Anbar / ASU
The Great Oxidation Event (GOE), an event marking the rise of oxygen in the early Earth’s atmosphere, is estimated to have happened between 2.5 and 2.3 billion years ago. In a study led by researchers at Arizona State University, and supported in part by the NASA Astrobiology Institute, scientists analyzing ancient shale samples found in Western Australia have discovered evidence for significant ocean oxygenation occurring before the GOE, and as far down as the sea floor. This opens up new questions about the GOE and how and why oceanic build-up of O2 happened.
The paper, “Fully oxygenated ...
Source: [Nature Geosciences (via ASU)]March 05, 2019 • Posted by: Miki Huynh • Report issue
An image of Saturn's moon Enceladus backlit by the Sun, taken by the Cassini mission. The false color tail shows jets of icy particles and water that spray into space from an ocean that lies deep below the moon's icy surface. Future missions could search for the ingredients for life in an ocean on an icy moon like Enceladus.Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
Scientists have reproduced in the lab how the ingredients for life could have formed deep in the ocean 4 billion years ago. The results of the new study offer clues to how life started on Earth and where else in the cosmos we might find it.
Astrobiologist Laurie Barge and her team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, are working to recognize life on other planets by studying the origins of life here on Earth. Their research focuses on how the building blocks of life form in hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor.
The full press release is available at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The research, “Redox and pH gradients drive amino acid synthesis in iron oxyhydroxide mineral systems,” is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Source: [NASA JPL]February 26, 2019 • Written by: NASA • Report issue