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  1. The Case of the Over-Tilting Exoplanets


    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) Image credit: None
    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]

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  1. Clues to the Early Rise of Oxygen on Earth Found in Sedimentary Rock


    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 Image credit: None
    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)]

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  1. NASA Study Reproduces Origins of Life on Ocean Floor


    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 Image credit: None
    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]

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  1. NASA Roadmap to Ocean Worlds


    The NASA Outer Planets Assessment Group (OPAG) Roadmaps to Ocean Worlds (ROW) group has published a guide with recommendations on how to develop an initiative for the research of Ocean Worlds. This includes confirmed ocean worlds Enceladus, Titan, and Europa and candidate worlds such as Triton. Development of the roadmap began in 2016.

    The overarching goal of an Ocean Worlds exploration program as defined by ROW is to “identify ocean worlds, characterize their oceans, evaluate their habitability, search for life, and ultimately understand any life we find.”

    The NASA Roadmap to Ocean Worlds is published in Astrobiology.

    Source: [Astrobiology / OPAG]

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  1. Deep Sea Microbes Hold Clues to Early Life


    Study author Stephanie Carr works with a student to process deep-sea samples aboard the R/V Atlantis. A recent study found that a group of unusual microbes living below the seafloor provides clues to the evolution of life on Earth, and potentially other planets. Source: R. Kaplan / Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences Image credit: None
    Study author Stephanie Carr works with a student to process deep-sea samples aboard the R/V Atlantis. A recent study found that a group of unusual microbes living below the seafloor provides clues to the evolution of life on Earth, and potentially other planets. Source: R. Kaplan / Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences

    A new study conducted by a team of researchers from Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, and the Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute, supported in part by the NASA Astrobiology Institute, reveals how a group of deep-sea microbes, Hydrothermarchaeota, could provide clues to the evolution of life on Earth. Instead of cultivating the Hydrothermarchaeota cells in the lab, the researchers were able to use novel genetic sequencing methods (genomics) to learn more about how they evolved strategies to survive life in an extreme environment.

    The paper, “Carboxydotrophy potential of uncultivated Hydrothermarchaeota from the ...

    Source: [ISME Journal (via Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences)]

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  1. Non-Biological Formation of Tubules in Subsurface Volcanic Glass


    Image of basalt glass shards before being put through an experiment to test whether microtubules will form after exposure to seawater and whether the glass will be altered by fluid-rock interactions. Source: T. McCollom / C. Donaldson / Astrobiology. Image credit: None
    Image of basalt glass shards before being put through an experiment to test whether microtubules will form after exposure to seawater and whether the glass will be altered by fluid-rock interactions. Source: T. McCollom / C. Donaldson / Astrobiology.

    A connection between microbial activity and the appearance of microtubules in basalt glass has been proposed in the past​, but direct evidence for biological processes being in their formation is still lacking and non-biological origins are possible. Thomas McCollom and Christopher Donaldson, supported in part by the NASA Astrobiology Institute team based at the University of Colorado, have conducted an experiment simulating a process where subsurface glass would be exposed to seawater and altered by fluid-rocks interaction, a process that might also lead to the formation of microtubules. Their results did not produce evidence for non-biological tubule formation, but did ...

    Source: [Astrobiology]

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  1. Scientists Discover DNA "Damage-Up" Proteins


    Taking on a new approach to understanding the connections between cellular growth and cancer, a collaborative research group led by researchers at the Baylor College of Medicine have identified proteins in the bacteria E. Coli that, when overproduced, can cause DNA mutation and damage to E. coli cells. These “damage-up” proteins (or DDPs) are a wide and varied network of proteins with a stronger link to cancer than other observed sets of proteins. The researchers have also found 284 DDP relatives among human proteins.

    The paper, “Bacteria-to-Human Protein Networks Reveal Origins of Endogenous DNA Damage” is published in Cell ...

    Source: [Cell (via UIUC)]

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  1. AbSciCon 2019


    Image source: AbSciCon / Astrobiology at NASA Image credit: None
    Image source: AbSciCon / Astrobiology at NASA

    The Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon) 2019 takes place June 24-28, 2019 in Seattle, WA. Don’t miss your chance to attend!

    Abstract Submissions Deadline: March 6, 2019
    Registration Deadline: May 30, 2019

    The theme for AbSciCon 2019 is “Understanding and Enabling the Search for Life on Worlds Near and Far.” Within our solar system, icy worlds and Mars have generated excitement, and exoplanets offer numerous and diverse environments where life may exist in other planetary systems. Near future missions and observations will scrutinize many of these targets to understand their environments and search for signs of life. Meanwhile, fundamental research on ...

    Source: [AbSciCon]

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  1. Astrobiology, Discovery, and Societal Impact Wins 2019 PROSE Award


    Second Baruch S. Blumberg/Library of Congress Chair Steven J. Dick's book, <i>Professional and Astrobiology, Discovery, and Societal Impact</i> wins the 2019 Professional Scholarly Excellence Award. Image source: Steven J. Dick / Cambridge University Press Image credit: None
    Second Baruch S. Blumberg/Library of Congress Chair Steven J. Dick's book, Professional and Astrobiology, Discovery, and Societal Impact wins the 2019 Professional Scholarly Excellence Award. Image source: Steven J. Dick / Cambridge University Press

    The Association of American Publishers has named Steven J. Dick’s book Astrobiology, Discovery, and Societal Impact (Cambridge University Press, 2018) the PROSE winner for 2019 in the category of Cosmology and Astronomy. The PROSE (Professional and Scholarly Excellence) Awards are considered the Oscars of academic publishing. The book uses history, discovery, and analogy to analyze the possible impacts to humanity of discovering life beyond Earth.

    The announcement is available at the Assocation of American Publishers website.

    ___

    Related story: New Book Published on the Societal Impact of Astrobiology

    Source: [Association of American Publishers]

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  1. Extremophiles That Love Water Heaters


    Scientists, with the help of citizen scientists, have discovered heat-loving microbes living in water heaters in homes across the United States. Image source: Zhidan Zhang / Penn State Image credit: None
    Scientists, with the help of citizen scientists, have discovered heat-loving microbes living in water heaters in homes across the United States. Image source: Zhidan Zhang / Penn State

    With the help of citizen scientists, researchers have discovered that hardy microorganisms able to live in hot springs and thermal vents are also thriving in water heaters in various homes across the US. The strain T. scotoductus, a strain that has been discovered in environments such as hot springs and gold mines throughout the world, dominates even in locations near the hot springs of Yellowstone National Park where other thermophiles might be expected to predominate.

    The research is published in Extremophile.

    Excerpted from the press release from Penn State News:

    “Water heaters are unique because they are isolated from each ...

    Source: [Extremophile (via Penn State)]

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  1. Abiotic Formation of the Sugar of DNA


    In the Astrophysics and Astrochemistry Lab at NASA's Ames Research Center, researchers Michel Nuevo, Christopher Materese, and Scott Sandford study the cosmic origins of molecules that are important to life. Credits: NASA/Ames Research Center/Dominic Hart Image credit: None
    In the Astrophysics and Astrochemistry Lab at NASA's Ames Research Center, researchers Michel Nuevo, Christopher Materese, and Scott Sandford study the cosmic origins of molecules that are important to life. Credits: NASA/Ames Research Center/Dominic Hart

    The NASA Astrobiology Institute team based at the NASA Ames Research Center have successfully produced 2-Deoxyribose—the sugar component of DNA—from ultraviolet irradiation of water and methanol mixtures under simulated astrophysical conditions. These experiments were conducted in the Astrochemistry Laboratory at Ames and suggest that the compounds to start life could have been delivered via asteroids and comets.

    “Deoxyribose and deoxysugar derivatives from photoprocessed astrophysical ice analogues and comparison to meteorites” is published in Nature Communications.

    A feature story is published at the NASA Ames Research Center website.

    Source: [Nature Communications (via NASA Ames Research Center)]

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  1. SAGANet: Ask an Expert


    Image source: SAGANet Image credit: None
    Image source: SAGANet

    For those curious about the field of astrobiology and don’t know where to start, the Social Action for a Grassroots Astrobiology Network (SAGANet) has created a new “Ask” page for inquiring minds to send questions directly to an astrobiology expert.

    To sign up and submit questions, visit: http://saganet.org/ask

    For more information about the organization, including upcoming events and broadcasts, visit the SAGANet.org website.

    Source: [SAGANet]

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  1. Watch the Landing of NASA's Mars InSight


    This illustration shows a simulated view of NASA's Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander firing retrorockets to slow down as it descends toward the surface of Mars. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech Image credit: None
    This illustration shows a simulated view of NASA's Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander firing retrorockets to slow down as it descends toward the surface of Mars. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    NASA’s Mars Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander is scheduled to touch down on the Red Planet at approximately 3 p.m. EST Nov. 26, and viewers everywhere can watch coverage of the event live on NASA Television, the agency’s website and social media platforms.

    Launched on May 5, InSight marks NASA’s first Mars landing since the Curiosity rover in 2012. The landing will kick off a two-year mission in which InSight will become the first spacecraft to study Mars’ deep interior. Its data also will help scientists understand the formation of all rocky worlds, including our own.

    Read the press release from NASA.

    For more on InSight and its connection to astrobiology, visit the Astrobiology at NASA website.

    Source: [NASA]

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  1. Updates from the SETI Institute NAI Team 2018 Expedition to the Andes


    The Andes field expedition team's camp at night. Right in the center of the star trail, the two Magellanic Clouds give visions of alien worlds. Photo credit: Victor Robles, Campoalto and the SETI Institute NAI Team. Image credit: None
    The Andes field expedition team's camp at night. Right in the center of the star trail, the two Magellanic Clouds give visions of alien worlds. Photo credit: Victor Robles, Campoalto and the SETI Institute NAI Team.

    Nathalie Cabrol, Director of the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe, led the SETI Institute NAI team on its 2018 field expedition to the Andes:

    “This year, between October 17-November 20, 2018, my team and I are returning to the Chilean High Andes,” said Nathalie. “There we will continue the development of new planetary exploration strategies, instruments, and systems, that in the near future will dramatically change the way we search for life beyond Earth. Our project is supported by the NASA Astrobiology Institute and helps prepare missions such as Mars 2020 and ExoMars that will soon seek traces of ancient biosignatures on the Red Planet.”

    While the team is in Chile, Nathalie has posted updates when she is able to be in an area with an Internet connection. The photos are amazing!

    Follow along the expedition (with more updates to come):
    Field Update 1
    Field Update 2, November 7-16, 2018

    Source: [SETI Institute]

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  1. NASA’s Astrobiology Program Evolving to Meet the Future


    To better support the broad, interdisciplinary field of astrobiology – the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe – NASA is announcing a new programmatic infrastructure for the Astrobiology Program. Source: NASA Astrobiology Image credit: None
    To better support the broad, interdisciplinary field of astrobiology – the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe – NASA is announcing a new programmatic infrastructure for the Astrobiology Program. Source: NASA Astrobiology

    To better support the broad, interdisciplinary field of astrobiology – the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe – NASA is announcing a new programmatic infrastructure for the Astrobiology Program.

    By the end of 2019, the Astrobiology Program will establish several virtual collaboration structures called “research coordination networks” (RCNs) that will replace the Program’s virtual institute, the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI). With this shift, NASA’s overall investment in the Astrobiology Program is not changing. Astrobiology is an important part of NASA’s portfolio and Congress formally added Astrobiology as one of NASA’s ...

    Source: [NASA Astrobiology Program]

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