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  1. Extreme Phosphorus Scarcity and Its Grip on Ancient Life


    Scientists assemble data from shale samples worldwide ranging as far back as 3 billion years old to trace the levels (and scarcity) of phosphorus in Earth's ancient oceans. Image source: Wikimedia Commons Image credit: None
    Scientists assemble data from shale samples worldwide ranging as far back as 3 billion years old to trace the levels (and scarcity) of phosphorus in Earth's ancient oceans. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

    Life’s list of essential nutrients is long, but carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus are the big three. Carbon and nitrogen, both easily extracted from the atmosphere, have usually been in ample supply in the ocean over Earth’s history. Carbon dioxide readily dissolves in seawater, and that carbon is then converted to the molecules of life through photosynthesis. Nitrogen is nearly 80 percent of the air we breathe, and diverse microorganisms are able to convert nitrogen to compounds more widely useful to life.

    Phosphorus is much harder to get: it must be delivered to the oceans by rivers fed through ...

    Source: [UC Riverside]

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  1. Meteorite Points to 2 Billion Years of Volcanic Activity on Mars


    Analysis of Martian meteorite NWA 7635 dates it at 2.4 billion years old. Image source: University of Houston Image credit: None
    Analysis of Martian meteorite NWA 7635 dates it at 2.4 billion years old. Image source: University of Houston

    Scientists have confirmed the long-lived nature of volcanoes on Mars, finding meteoric evidence that a Martian volcano or volcanic system was active for over 2 billion years.

    A Mars meteorite, a shergottite rock called Northwest Africa (NWA) 7635 originally discovered in Algiers in 2012, was analyzed by Tom Lapen, a geology professor at the University of Houston, with members of the NASA Astrobiology Institute team based at the University of Wisconsin. NWA 7635 is one of eleven Martian shergottites that have been discovered on Earth, sharing similar chemical composition which points to a similar location of origin and time of ...

    Source: [University of Houston]

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  1. The Search for Mars Biosignatures Up at High Altitudes


    Summit of the Simba volcano (19,400 ft) – The summit crater lake is shallow and its water column completely transparent. The red color of the lake is from an algae that has developed special pigments in response to extreme levels of short wavelength (UVA and UVB) radiation. Source: SETI Institute/ NAI High Lakes Project Image credit: None
    Summit of the Simba volcano (19,400 ft) – The summit crater lake is shallow and its water column completely transparent. The red color of the lake is from an algae that has developed special pigments in response to extreme levels of short wavelength (UVA and UVB) radiation. Source: SETI Institute/ NAI High Lakes Project

    From October through November 2016, Nathalie Cabrol, director of the Carl Sagan Center at the SETI Institute, with members of the NASA Astrobiology Institute team based at SETI, went on a month-long expedition to Chile, visiting Mars-analogue sites between 8,000 and 20,000 km above sea level to collect samples and test in situ instruments in preparation for the Mars 2020 and ExoMars science payloads.

    Photos and posts from the field sites written by Nathalie Cabrol are available at the SETI institute website, and are linked to below.

    The Search for Biosignatures on Mars Starts High on Earth: http ...

    Source: [SETI]

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  1. UC Riverside Science Lecture Series: Are We Alone?


    UC Riverside 2016-2017 Science Lecture Series, <i>Are We Alone?</i>, presents monthly topics about the search for life in the Universe and what it means for humanity. Source: UC Riverside Image credit: None
    UC Riverside 2016-2017 Science Lecture Series, Are We Alone?, presents monthly topics about the search for life in the Universe and what it means for humanity. Source: UC Riverside

    The University of California, Riverside has a lecture series entitled Are We Alone?, discussing the search for life in the universe—from analyzing our cosmic origins and early Earth analogues, to exploring Mars, icy moons, and other Earth-like planets. Presenters include members of the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) Alternative Earths team.

    The next installment in the series will be Ocean Worlds: Missions to Icy Moons and Dwarf Planets presented by Kevin Hand, Deputy Project Scientist of the Solar System Exploration Directorate at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The lecture takes place February 1, 2017, 6-7:30PM PST, and a live stream ...

    Source: [UC Riverside]

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  1. Delay Announced for the NASA Astrobiology Institute Cooperative Agreement Notice (CAN 8)


    Release of the NASA Astrobiology Institute CAN 8 has been delayed to February 2017. Stay tuned! Image credit: None
    Release of the NASA Astrobiology Institute CAN 8 has been delayed to February 2017. Stay tuned!

    The NASA Science Mission Directorate Planetary Science Division intends to release a Cooperative Agreement Notice (CAN) soliciting team-based proposals for membership in the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) in February 2017.

    Step-1 proposals will be due ~8 weeks after the final CAN release, and Step-2 proposals will be due ~18 weeks after the CAN release. A preproposal conference will be scheduled ~2 weeks after the CAN release.

    Questions and comments related to this announcement should be addressed to Mary Voytek, NASA Astrobiology Institute Program Scientist, at mary.voytek-1@nasa.gov.

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  1. Thermal Variation and Habitability of the Earth's Seafloor


    A map showing the thickness of sediment (in meters) for a temperature range under 80 degrees Celsius. Source: Amend and LaRowe Image credit: None
    A map showing the thickness of sediment (in meters) for a temperature range under 80 degrees Celsius. Source: Amend and LaRowe

    Our Earth is about 70% covered in ocean, and the seafloor is a blanket of unconsolidated sediment made up of a wide range of organic matter, minerals, and chemistries. The habitable portions of ocean sediment provide living space for an estimated 3×1029 microbial cells.

    Scientists with the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) Life Underground team based at the University of Southern California have used data on global sediment thickness, ocean depth, heat flow, and bottom water temperatures to developed a model to calculate the three-dimensional distribution of temperature in sediments.

    The research, “Temperature and volume of global marine sediments ...

    Source: [Geology]

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  1. Penelope Boston on Subsurface Astrobiology: Cave Habitat on Earth, Mars, and Beyond


    In the summer of 2016, Penny Boston, Director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI), presented the seminar, Subsurface Astrobiology: Cave Habitat on Earth, Mars, and Beyond at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, CA. She talked about her past work exploring and studying caves around the world, where the extreme subsurface conditions and the discovered microbial life forms held possible clues for future Mars exploration and the search for life in our solar system.

    Boston’s talk is part of the annual NASA Ames Summer Series, which invites subject leaders from around the world to present science and technology discoveries ...

    Source: [NASA Ames Summer Series]

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  1. An Introduction to the 2016-2017 Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology


    Luis Campos is the 2016-2017 Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology. Image credit: None
    Luis Campos is the 2016-2017 Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology.

    Luis Campos, science historian and the current Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology, was interviewed by Dan Turello at the Kluge Center, where Campos will spend his one year residency as Chair. The conversation is available at the Library of Congress blog.

    Campos talked about how his interests and academic path led up to the position of Astrobiology Chair, giving details about his childhood inspirations and college and graduate work that incorporated both science and the humanities.

    Campos discussed his book, Radium and the Secret of Life, which explores how the discovery of the radioactive element ...

    Source: [Library of Congress]

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  1. Workshop Without Walls: Serpentinizing Systems Science


    Image credit: None

    Compelling terrestrial evidence records active and ancient serpentinization, the process that occurs when ultramafic rocks come into contact with water. This process may have been active on the surface and subsurface of Mars, beneath the surface of icy satellites such as Enceladus and Europa, and beyond. On Earth, these geochemical interactions support distinct microbial ecosystems.

    The purpose of this workshop is to highlight recent advances in understanding how Serpentinizing Systems function chemically and biologically within our Solar System.

    Each day of this 3-day workshop will begin with an overview by a Theme Lead, followed by several invited talks (list below ...

    Source: [NAI Seminars and Workshops]

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  1. Upcoming Deadlines for AbSciCon 2017


    Abstracts and Student Travel Grant Applications are due January 18, 2017. Opportunities are also available to be a mentor at AbSciCon 2017. Image credit: None
    Abstracts and Student Travel Grant Applications are due January 18, 2017. Opportunities are also available to be a mentor at AbSciCon 2017.

    Deadlines for the Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon) 2017 are coming soon! Don’t miss your chance to participate in the conference in Mesa, Arizona on April 24–28, 2017.

    Abstracts are due January 18, 2017. Instructions for submitting an abstract can be found at: http://www.hou.usra.edu/meetings/abscicon2017/program-abstracts/abstracts/. When filling out the submission form, students can additionally register for the poster competition. Further details about submitting a poster can be found at: http://www.hou.usra.edu/meetings/abscicon2017/program-abstracts/posters/.

    Qualified students can apply for grants to cover travel expenses for AbSciCon 2017. Applications for ...

    Source: [USRA]

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  1. A Fertilizer Dearth Foiled Animal Evolution for Eons?


    These 1.9 billion-year-old marine sediments are from the East Arm of the Great Slave Lake, Canada. Thousands of samples for this study were collected from the few places on Earth that have such remaining slivers of ancient seafloor. Credit: Georgia Tech / Yale - Reinhard / Planavsky Image credit: None
    These 1.9 billion-year-old marine sediments are from the East Arm of the Great Slave Lake, Canada. Thousands of samples for this study were collected from the few places on Earth that have such remaining slivers of ancient seafloor. Credit: Georgia Tech / Yale - Reinhard / Planavsky

    For three billion years or more, the evolution of the first animal life on Earth was ready to happen, practically waiting in the wings. But the breathable oxygen it likely required wasn’t there, and a lack of simple nutrients may have been to blame.

    Then came a fierce planetary metamorphosis. Roughly 800 million years ago, in the late Proterozoic Eon, phosphorus, a chemical element essential to all life, began to accumulate in shallow ocean zones near coastlines widely considered to be the birthplace of animals and other complex organisms, according to a new study by geoscientists from the Georgia ...

    Source: [Georgia Tech]

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  1. 5th ELSI International Symposium: Expanding Views on the Emergence of the Biosphere


    The 5th ELSI International Symposium, Expanding Views on the Emergence of the Biosphere, takes place January 11-13, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan. Talks will be webcast via SAGANet.org. Image credit: None
    The 5th ELSI International Symposium, Expanding Views on the Emergence of the Biosphere, takes place January 11-13, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan. Talks will be webcast via SAGANet.org.

    The Earth-Life Science Institute (ELSI) presents its 5th International Symposium: Expanding Views on the Emergence of the Biosphere.

    January 11th-13th, 9AM – 5PM (GMT+9)
    Earth-Life Science Institute, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Japan
    Conference website: www.elsi5sympo.org

    The emergence of a biosphere on Earth, and possibly elsewhere in the universe, remains one of the great unsolved scientific questions. Research into the origin and subsequent evolution of life takes place across an array of scientific disciplines, including but not limited to planetary sciences, astronomy, theoretical physics, chemistry and biology. The goal of this Symposium is to provide a forum for ...

    Source: [Earth-Life Science Institute]

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  1. Early Earth, the Pale Orange Dot, May Have Been Habitable


    An image of Saturn's moon Titan, which is surrounded by a thick haze. Scientists speculate that a similar haze surrounding early Earth may have helped to make it habitable. Source: NASA. Image credit: None
    An image of Saturn's moon Titan, which is surrounded by a thick haze. Scientists speculate that a similar haze surrounding early Earth may have helped to make it habitable. Source: NASA.

    Before it became visible as the Pale Blue Dot, early Earth may have been aglow in orange, and this might have helped to make it habitable.

    Scientists at the Virtual Planetary Laboratory, the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) team based at the University of Washington, have developed a simulation of Earth during the Archaen era (3.8-2.5 billion years ago), with the atmosphere supporting an organic-rich and orange-colored haze that—shifting from previous haze studies— provided UV and temperature shielding to support the existence of life.

    The paper, “The Pale Orange Dot: The Spectrum and Habitability of Hazy Archaen Earth,” was ...

    Source: [Astrobiology]

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  1. Scott Sandford on the Space Show


    Scott Sandford, PI of the NAI Team at the NASA Ames Research Center, joined David Livingston to discuss astrobiology. Image credit: None
    Scott Sandford, PI of the NAI Team at the NASA Ames Research Center, joined David Livingston to discuss astrobiology.

    In August 2016, PI Scott Sandford of The Evolution of Prebiotic Chemical Complexity and the Organic Inventory of Protoplanetary Disks and Primordial Planets, the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) team based at the NASA Ames Research Center, was a guest on the Space Show radio program hosted by David Livingston.

    In the program, Sandford gave his explanation of the science of astrobiology and ways to think about the search for life in the Universe. Topics and questions also ranged from his research at the Ames labs, the OSIRIS-Rex mission, working with the NAI, and how aspiring astrobiologists can pursue a ...

    Source: [The Space Show]

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  1. Insights from Studies of Uranium Isotopes in Cryogenian Marine Carbonates


    Images of carbonate components in marine cements from the Balcanoona reef in South Australia. Source: A. Hood, et. al., via Geological Society of America. Image credit: None
    Images of carbonate components in marine cements from the Balcanoona reef in South Australia. Source: A. Hood, et. al., via Geological Society of America.

    In the effort to understand the history of Earth’s oxygenation, scientists have sought geochemical proxies, but studies don’t always fully consider how samples get preserved within the ancient environment and how that may affect results, especially when it comes to marine carbonates which can be altered during rock transitions and formations.

    NASA Astrobiology Postdoctoral Program fellow Ashleigh Hood and the Alternative Earths team looked at uranium isotopes in samples from a reef complex in South Australia dating back over 635 millions ago. The research paper, “Integrated geochemical-petrographic insights from component-selective δ238U of Cryogenian marine carbonates” was featured on ...

    Source: [Geology]

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