Celebrating Astrobiology and the NAI on November 14, 2019
Satellites monitor how ‘greenness’ changes with Earth’s seasons. Image source: NASA (via UCR)
The current approach to the search for life on exoplanets involves scanning for biological signs, such as in the chemistry of the atmosphere and the presence of molecules like O2, CO2, and CH4. However, a detected presence, or absence, of a biosignature alone may only give us a partial or inaccurate picture.
Scientists with the NASA Astrobiology Institute Alternative Earths team based at the University of California, Riverside are devising a new strategy, and they are developing the first quantitative framework for investigating dynamic biosignatures based on seasonal changes in the Earth’s atmosphere. Just as the balance of atmospheric gases on Earth shift from season to season, patterns of change in atmospheric conditions over time could also naturally occur on exoplanets.
“Atmospheric Seasonality as an Exoplanet Biosignature” is published in the The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
A press release by Sarah Nightingale is available through UCR Today. The story has been picked up by news outlets including Eureka Alert and Fox News.
Source: [University of California, Riverside]May 24, 2018 • Written by: Miki Huynh • Report issue
Southwest of the Los Angeles coast lies Santa Catalina Island, a 35-kilometer- (22-mile-) long island that runs roughly northwest to southeast, and spans 13 kilometers (8 miles) at its widest point. Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory
Researchers have sequenced the genome of Hydrogenovibrio sp. strain SC-1, a microaerophilic neutrophilic iron-oxidizing bacteria. This bacteria was isolated from pyrrhotite, which was incubated in situ in marine surface sediments off of Catalina Island in southern California, USA. SC-1 is the only known iron-oxidizing bacterium in the family Piscirickettsiaceae, and can use energy from the oxidation of iron to grow. Bacteria with this ability are important to the cycling of iron in marine environments, which is an essential trace element that can limit primary productivity in surface waters. In additon, SC-1 is a member of a group of bacteria known for autotrophic thiosulfate oxidation and obligate chemolithoautotrophy.
The study, “Genome Sequence of Hydrogenovibrio sp. Strain SC-1, a Chemolithoautotrophic Sulfur and Iron Oxidizer ,” was published in the journal Genome Announcements. The work was supported in part by NASA Astrobiology through the Exobiology Program and the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI).
Source: [Astrobiology at NASA]May 22, 2018 • Written by: Aaron Gronstal • Report issue
From the cover of Astrobiology, Discovery, and Societal Impact by Steven J. Dick, the second Baruch S. Blumberg/Library of Congress Chair.
What will happen if we discover life beyond Earth, either microbial or intelligent? Steven Dick, the second Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology, has just published a book on this subject based on his research at the Library of Congress.May 17, 2018 • Posted by: Miki Huynh • Report issue
Artist's conception of the Mars Sample Return mission. Image source: NASA JPL
On April 26, 2018 NASA and European Space Agency signed a Statement of Intent (SOI) to jointly develop a Mars Sample Return plan to be submitted to their respective authorities by the end of 2019.
The joint statement of intent is available as a PDF athttps://mepag.jpl.nasa.gov/announcements/2018-04-26%20NASA-ESA%20SOI%20(Signed).pdf.
For more information on NASA’s Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG) and to view announcements, visit: https://mepag.jpl.nasa.gov/announcements.cfm?expand=hq
Source: [MEPAG]May 11, 2018 • Posted by: Miki Huynh • Report issue
Please join the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) in welcoming three new research teams to the Institute!
Evolution of Nanomachines in Geospheres and Microbial Ancestors (ENIGMA)
Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey
Led by Professor Paul Falkowski, the ENIGMA team will investigate how proteins evolved to become the catalysts of life on Earth by looking at prebiotic molecules and enzymes that are ancestral and common across many types of microbes.
The Astrobiology Center for Isotopologue Research (ACIR)
Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania
ACIR, led by Professor Kate Freeman, will address how the features of elements within molecules reveal the origins and history of organic compounds, from compounds that arrived from planetary environments to those that were derived from metabolic systems, using cutting-edge observational and computational tools.
Habitability of Hydrocarbon Worlds: Titan and Beyond
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)Pasadena, California
Dr. Rosaly Lopes will lead research at JPL focusing on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, to address what habitable environments may exist on the moon and what potential signatures of life would be expected, using data from the Cassini-Huygens mission. These data cover a wide swath of the moon, from beneath its surface all the way up through its thick atmosphere.
Source: [NASA]May 09, 2018 • Written by: NASA • Report issue
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex-3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, carrying NASA's Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) Mars lander. Liftoff was at 4:05 a.m. PDT (7:05 a.m. EDT). Photo Credit: NASA/Cory Huston
NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) spacecraft is on its way to Mars. InSight launched on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 401 rocket at 4:05 a.m. PDT (7:05 a.m. EDT), May 5, from Space Launch Complex-3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
InSight is the first interplanetary mission to launch from the West Coast, and will be the first mission to look deep beneath the Martin surface. It will study the planet’s interior by measuring its heat output and listening for marsquakes. InSight will use the seismic waves generated by marsquakes to develop a map of the planet’s deep interior. The resulting insight into Mars’ formation will provide a better understanding of how other rocky planets, including Earth were created.
The full press release, as well as up to date information, is available at the NASA Insight Mission website.
Source: [NASA]May 07, 2018 • Written by: NASA • Report issue
Dr. Victoria Meadows received SETI's Drake Award in June 2018. Image Source: University of Washington.
Victoria Meadows wants to know what life beyond Earth looks like. How can we tell whether a neighboring exoplanet located 4 or 20 or 100 lightyears away from Earth is able to sustain life? At the NASA Astrobiology Institute Virtual Planetary Laboratory, Victoria and her team are developing computer models to understand how stars and planets interact to enable a planet to support life, and how even primitive life might impact its planetary environment in ways we could detect and interpret over interstellar distances.
On June 14, 2018, the SETI Institute will recognize Victoria S. Meadows with the 2018 Drake Award in celebration of her contributions to the field of astrobiology and her work as a researcher, leader and inspiration for everyone working in her field.
Read the full press release from the SETI Institute.
Source: [SETI]May 04, 2018 • Written by: SETI • Report issue
Selections for the April 2018 Early Career Collaboration Award (ECCA) have been made! Congratulations to this year’s recipients of the spring awards for research dedicated to astrobiology.
Source: [ECCA]May 03, 2018 • Posted by: Miki Huynh • Report issue
Image source: ACA
The NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) has selected six early career astrobiologists to participate in a 10-day trip to astrobiology-relevant field sites in Western Australia. The 2018 Australian Astrobiology Tour is organized by the Australian Centre for Astrobiology (ACA) and led by Professor Martin Van Kranendonk, a leading expert in Precambrian geobiology. The field trip will include visits to remote sites of fossilized stromatolites from the c. 1.8 Ga Duck Creek Dolomite and c. 2.4 Ga Turee Creek Group, and a walk through the transition across the rise of atmospheric oxygen (the GOE).May 02, 2018 • Written by: Melissa Kirven-Brooks • Report issue
An artist’s impression of a "Snowball Earth". Image credit: NASA.
Tidally-locked planets in the habitable zone of stars may be able to avoid global ice ages, according to a study that models the interplay of where ice forms and how it reflects sunlight. Meanwhile, a second study has found that planets that are strongly tilted are more likely to experience sudden ice ages.
The “habitable zone” around stars, where it’s warm enough for liquid water to exist on an Earth-like world’s surface, has long been the gold standard in assessing the potential for life on other worlds, but as our understanding of astrobiology deepens, scientists are looking for other clues to habitability.
Read more at Astrobiology Magazine.
Source: [Astrobiology Magazine (astrobio.net)]April 26, 2018 • Written by: Charles Q. Choi • Report issue
Jim Bridenstine, right, is sworn in as the 13th NASA Administrator by Vice President Mike Pence as Bridenstine's family watches, Monday, April 23, 2018 at NASA Headquarters in Washington. Source: Photo Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky
Jim Bridenstine was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Thursday, April 19, 2018 to serve as the agency’s 13th administrator and sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence on April 23. Vice President Pence and newly sworn-in NASA Administrator Bridenstine spoke live with three NASA astronauts on the International Space Station.
Source: [NASA]April 23, 2018 • Written by: NASA • Report issue
Video Source: SciNews
The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), aboard the SpaceX Falcon 9, successfully launched into space from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on April 18, 2018.
TESS will spend two years surveying the sky, initially around 200,000 stars, monitoring for drops in brightness from transiting planets, to track down candidates for follow-up investigation. TESS PI George Ricker, Senior Research Scientist at MIT Kavli Institute, estimates that somewhere between 500 to 1,000 Earth-sized and super-Earth-sized exoplanets could be detected out of an overall excess of 20,000 exoplanets.
The information TESS provides could then be further analyzed by current instruments and future missions like the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), to shed more light on the characteristics of the discovered planets. Eventually, combined with additional surveys from upcoming exoplanet missions, we will have a greater understanding of what lies beyond our solar system and how much of it is potentially habitable.
The Astrobiology Magazine Guide to TESS provides a detailed overview of the mission and its trajectory.
Further information on TESS and its relationship to astrobiology, along with links to TESS resources, is available at the Astrobiology at NASA website.April 19, 2018 • Written by: Miki Huynh • Report issue
The ARIEL (Atmospheric Remote-sensing Exoplanet Large-survey) space mission has been selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) as the next medium-class science mission. Image source: ARIEL Space Mission / ESA.
In March of 2018, ARIEL (Atmospheric Remote-sensing Exoplanet Large-survey), developed by a consortium of more than 50 institutes from 12 European countries, was selected as the European Space Agency’s next medium-class mission, the first dedicated to exoplanet atmospheres. The four-year mission, planned for launch in 2028, will observe 1000 planets orbiting distant stars and make the first large-scale survey of the chemistry of the atmospheres.
“ARIEL will study a statistically large sample of exoplanets to give us a truly representative picture of what these planets are like. This will enable us to answer questions about how the chemistry of a planet links to the environment in which it forms, and how its birth and evolution are affected by its parent star,” said Giovanna Tinetti, PI for the ARIEL mission and Professor of Astrophysics at University College London. She is also a former NASA Astrobiology Postdoctoral Fellow at JPL and a past member of the NASA Astrobiology Institute.
More information on ARIEL, including facts, figures, and press release, are available at the ARIEL Space Mission website.
Source: [ESA]April 13, 2018 • Written by: Miki Huynh • Report issue
Dr. Jim Green will serve as NASA Chief Scientist beginning May 1, 2018. Credit: NASA
Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot has named the Science Mission Directorate’s Planetary Science Division Director Jim Green as the agency’s new chief scientist, effective May 1. He succeeds Gale Allen, who has served in an acting capacity since 2016 and will retire after more than 30 years of government service.
Source: [NASA]April 10, 2018 • Written by: NASA • Report issue
An icy lake in Svalbard, Norway, taken by an unmanned aerial vehicle. Life on Earth may have begun in an environment with both water and ice, and modern analogs may help the scientific community understand how. Image credit: Marjorie D. Cantine. (via Astrobiology Magazine)
Marjorie Cantine, graduate student with the Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences department at MIT, and Greg Fournier, professor of Geobiology at MIT and a member of the Foundations of Complex Life team of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, have co-authored a paper tracing possible evidence for the beginnings of life under very different environmental conditions than those currently assumed for the last universal common ancestor (LUCA). Cantine and Fournier suggest how that separate evolution might shift our thinking about LUCA and provide a different take on how we assume life emerged within extreme environments such as Mars.
A feature story is available at Astrobiology Magazine.
“Environmental Adaptation from the Origin of Life to the Last Universal Common Ancestor” is published in Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres.
Source: [Astrobiology Magazine]April 09, 2018 • Written by: Miki Huynh • Report issue