1. NAI Newsletter August 4, 2014

    August 4, 2014 Issue






    Mars 2020 Rover Payload Announced

    An artist concept image of where seven carefully-selected instruments will be located on NASA’s Mars 2020 rover. The instruments will conduct unprecedented science and exploration technology investiga An artist concept image of where seven carefully-selected instruments will be located on NASA’s Mars 2020 rover. The instruments will conduct unprecedented science and exploration technology investigations on the Red Planet as never before. Image Credit: NASA

    NASA has announced seven carefully-selected instruments that will make up the payload of the next rover being sent to Mars. The Mars 2020 rover is based on the successful design of Curiosity, which is currently exploring the martian surface. The new rover’s payload consists of upgraded hardware and new instruments that will study geology and the potential habitability of the martian environment, and will directly search for signs of ancient martian life.

    The selected payload proposals are:

    - Mastcam-Z, an advanced camera system with panoramic and stereoscopic imaging capability with the ability to zoom. The instrument also will determine mineralogy of the Martian surface and assist with rover operations. The principal investigator is James Bell, Arizona State University in Tempe.

    - SuperCam, an instrument that can provide imaging, chemical composition analysis, and mineralogy. The instrument will also be able to detect the presence of organic compounds in rocks and regolith from a distance. The principal investigator is Roger Wiens, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mexico. This instrument also has a significant contribution from the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales,Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Plane’tologie (CNES/IRAP) France.

    - Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL), an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer that will also contain an imager with high resolution to determine the fine scale elemental composition of Martian surface materials. PIXL will provide capabilities that permit more detailed detection and analysis of chemical elements than ever before. The principal investigator is Abigail Allwood, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

    - Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals (SHERLOC), a spectrometer that will provide fine-scale imaging and uses an ultraviolet (UV) laser to determine fine-scale mineralogy and detect organic compounds. SHERLOC will be the first UV Raman spectrometer to fly to the surface of Mars and will provide complementary measurements with other instruments in the payload. The principal investigator is Luther Beegle, JPL.

    - The Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment (MOXIE), an exploration technology investigation that will produce oxygen from Martian atmospheric carbon dioxide. The principal investigator is Michael Hecht, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

    - Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA), a set of sensors that will provide measurements of temperature, wind speed and direction, pressure, relative humidity and dust size and shape. The principal investigator is Jose Rodriguez-Manfredi, Centro de Astrobiologia, Instituto Nacional de Tecnica Aeroespacial, Spain.

    - The Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Exploration (RIMFAX), a ground-penetrating radar that will provide centimeter-scale resolution of the geologic structure of the subsurface. The principal investigator is Svein-Erik Hamran, Forsvarets Forskning Institute, Norway.

    Finding Alien Life: On Earth, on Mars, and Throughout the Cosmos

    How do we define “life?” This fundamental question has remained largely philosophical, because it has been asked for so long, by so many, and with so few concrete conclusions.

    In this seminar, produced by the NASA Astrobiology Institute, Dr. Steven Benner takes a different tack. He shows how laboratory studies can create a second example of life, helping us develop a firmer scientific understanding of what life is. The challenge of “synthetic biology” is on!

    Dr. Benner discusses how we are hitchhiking on rockets, rovers, and telescopes to find life elsewhere in the Solar System, and describes how his research team is working to develop that second example of life in laboratories here on Earth, one step at a time.

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    Nigel Goldenfeld: We Need a Theory of Life

    In this fascinating interview, the Huffington Post’s Suzan Mazur talks with NAI Principal Investigator Nigel Goldenfeld, of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. They discuss the emergence of a new theory of life, the nature of the evolutionary process, the origin of life, and more.

    “Our collaborative position was that the Modern Synthesis is simply not enough,” said Goldenfeld, “population genetics is not a full account of the evolution process because it manifestly does not describe evolution before genes, it does not describe evolution before there were species and the lineages. The Modern Synthesis wasn’t designed to do so.

    Read the full article

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    Anbar Selected as HHMI Professor at ASU

    Please join us in congratulating NAI PI Ariel Anbar on his selection as Arizona State University’s first Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor. This honor recognizes Anbar’s pioneering research and teaching.

    He is one of 15 professors from 13 universities whose appointments were announced by the Maryland-based biomedical research institute on June 30. The appointment includes a five-year, $1 million grant to support Anbar’s research and educational activities.

    Read the full article

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    Simons Collaboration on the Origins of Life Opportunities

    The Simons Collaboration on the Origins of Life is now accepting applications for its Simons Investigator and Simons Postdoctoral Fellowship awards. The origins of life are among the great unsolved scientific problems of our age. To advance our knowledge of the processes that led to the emergence of life, the Simons Foundation established the Simons Collaboration on the Origins of Life (SCOL). The Collaboration supports creative, innovative research on topics such as the astrophysical and planetary context of the origins of life, the development of prebiotic chemistry, the assembly of the first cells, the advent of Darwinian evolution and the earliest signs of life on the young Earth.

    The deadline for first-stage proposals for both the Simons Investigator and Simons Postdoctoral Fellowship award is Friday, September 12, 2014, 5:00 PM EST.

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    Europa Pre-Proposal Conference

    The Europa Pre-Proposal Conference has been scheduled for Monday, August 4, 2014. Potential proposers to the Europa Instrument Investigation Program Element Appendix (PEA) soliciting Principal Investigator (PI)-led science investigations for a Europa mission are encouraged to attend this pre-proposal conference. Information will be presented by NASA officials, and participants will have the opportunity to pose questions regarding the opportunity.

    The pre-proposal conference has been scheduled from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm EDT. The conference will be virtual and participation will be facilitated via Webex and teleconference line. Travel to the pre- proposal conference is not necessary and attendance in person is not supported. The agenda and instructions will soon be posted at: http://soma.larc.nasa.gov/europa/

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    AGU Abstract Submission Deadline – August 6, 2014

    The deadline for abstract submissions is fast approaching for sessions at the American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) 47th annual Fall Meeting in San Francisco. Below are a selection of sessions that are relevant to the astrobiology community and you can look here for the complete list of sessions accepting abstracts. Make sure to submit your abstracts by August 6, 23:59 EDT!

    Session 1492: Enceladus: A Habitable World
    Conveners: Christopher P McKay, NASA Ames Research Center, and Carolyn Porco, Space Science Institute

    Session 2464: Icy World Eruptions and Their Analogues
    Conveners: Steve Vance, NASA JPL, and Cynthia B Phillips, SETI Institute

    Session 2511: Increasing and Measuring the Impact of Education and Public Outreach
    Conveners: Hilarie B Davis, Technology for Learning, and Daniella Scalice, NASA Astrobiology Institute

    Session 2526: Evolutions, Interactions and Origins of Outer Planet Satellites
    Conveners: Amanda R Hendrix, Planetary Science Institute Tucson, and Krishan K Khurana, University of California at Los Angeles

    Session 2682: Rapid Environmental Change and the Fate of Planetary Habitability
    Conveners: Franck Marchis and Cynthia B Phillips, SETI institute, and Nathalie A Cabrol, NASA Ames Research Center & SETI institute

    Session 3102: Proof of Life: Cutting-Edge Tools for Metabolic Rate Measurements in Environmental Microbiology and Astrobiology
    Conveners: Jeffrey Marlow and Shawn McGlynn, California Institute of Technology

    Session 3262: Cross-cutting in situ earth and planetary science instruments
    Conveners: Max Coleman and Andrew Aubrey, NASA JPL

    Session 3387: Looking For Life: Formation, Preservation and Detection of Biosignatures in Terrestrial Analogue Environments
    Conveners: Alexandra Pontefract and Haley Sapers, University of Western Ontario

    Session 3438: Reconstructing Habitable Environments on Ancient Mars
    Conveners: Briony Horgan, Purdue University, and Melissa Rice, Western Washington University

    Session 3669: Iron cycling in extreme environments
    Conveners: Sophie Nixon, University of Edinburgh, Eric Roden, University of Wisconsin, Jemma L Wadham, University of Bristol, and Charles S Cockell, University of Edinburgh

    Session 3709: Upstairs Downstairs: Consequences of Internal Evolution for the Habitability of Planetary Surfaces
    Conveners: Ariel D Anbar, Arizona State University, Christopher Ballentine, University of Oxford, Christy B. Till, Arizona State University, and David C Catling, University of Washington

    Session 3732: Preparing for Mars sample return: Geobiological approaches to discovering the history of life on Mars
    Conveners: Michael Tuite and Kenneth Williford, Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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    Second Annual Astrobiology Symposium at the Library of Congress

    On September 18-19, 2014, the Second Annual Astrobiology Symposium titled Preparing For Discovery: A Rational Approach to the Impact of Finding Microbial, Complex, or Intelligent Life Beyond Earth will be hosted by the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress in cooperation with the NASA Astrobiology Program. View the program here.


    Data Management in Astrobiology

    Data management and sharing are growing concerns for scientists and funding organizations throughout the world. Funding organizations are implementing requirements for data management plans, while scientists are establishing new infrastructures for data sharing. One of the difficulties is sharing data among a diverse set of research disciplines. Astrobiology is a unique community of researchers, containing over 110 different disciplines.

    In this new study, the results of a survey of data management practices among scientists involved in the astrobiology community, and the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) in particular, are presented. The results of the survey show that the astrobiology community shares many of the same concerns for data sharing as other groups. The benefits of data sharing are acknowledged by many respondents, but barriers to data sharing remain, including lack of acknowledgement, citation, time, and institutional rewards. Overcoming technical, institutional, and social barriers to data sharing will be a challenge into the future.

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    Astrobiologists Set UV Radiation Record

    The Licancabur volcano (5,917 m elevation – 19,800 ft) from Bolivia. Photo Credit: The High Lakes Project: The SETI Institute Carl Sagan Center/NASA Ames/ NAI The Licancabur volcano (5,917 m elevation – 19,800 ft) from Bolivia. Photo Credit: The High Lakes Project: The SETI Institute Carl Sagan Center/NASA Ames/ NAI

    Astrobiologists from the United States and Germany have recorded the highest level of UV radiation from the Sun yet known at the Earth’s surface.

    You might expect the highest radiation levels of this type on Earth to be somewhere in Antarctica – underneath the hole in Earth’s ozone layer. This layer of Earth’s stratosphere contains higher concentrations of ozone gas (O3) than the rest of the atmosphere, and it protects life on Earth by absorbing harmful UV radiation from the Sun. In the southern hemisphere above Antarctica, when the ozone develops, the ozone layer is at its thinnest and more UV radiation gets through to pummel to the surface.

    Read the full article

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    Not a Planet After All

    View of the possible inner planets of the Gliese 581 system along with their star, a red dwarf. Credit: Lynette Cook View of the possible inner planets of the Gliese 581 system along with their star, a red dwarf. Credit: Lynette Cook

    What astronomers thought were a pair of potentially life-friendly alien worlds are illusions, apparitions conjured up by a star’s intense magnetic activity, a new NAI-funded study suggests.

    These new findings could one day not only help astronomers dispel more such illusory exoplanets, but discover worlds that would otherwise remain hidden. A new video about the possible cosmic illusions also details the finding.

    Read the full article

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    The Ribosome: A Record of Evolution

    In a new study, scientists compared three-dimensional structures of ribosomes from a variety of species, showing where new structures were added to the ribosomal surface without altering the pre-exist In a new study, scientists compared three-dimensional structures of ribosomes from a variety of species, showing where new structures were added to the ribosomal surface without altering the pre-existing ribosomal core, which originated over 3 billion years ago before the last universal common ancestor (LUCA) of life. Credit: Loren Williams/Georgia Institute of Technology.

    The evolution of the ribosome, a large molecular structure found in the cells of all species, has been revealed in unprecedented detail in a new study.

    In a new study co-funded by the NAI, scientists compared three-dimensional structures of ribosomes from a variety of species of varying biological complexity, including humans, yeast, bacteria and archaea. The team found distinct “fingerprints” in the ribosomes where new structures were added to the ribosomal surface without altering the pre-existing ribosomal core, which originated over 3 billion years ago before the last universal common ancestor (LUCA) of life.

    Read the full article

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    Hydrothermal Vents Could Explain Chemical Precursors to Life

    The Bain des Japonais Spring, an intertidal hydrothermal vent on Prony Bay. Note shimmering where fluids are mixing with seawater. Credit: Roy Price The Bain des Japonais Spring, an intertidal hydrothermal vent on Prony Bay. Note shimmering where fluids are mixing with seawater. Credit: Roy Price

    Lewis and Clark and Early Career Collaboration Awardee, Roy Price first heard about the hydrothermal vents in New Caledonia’s Bay of Prony a decade ago. Being a scuba diver and a geologist, he was fascinated by the pictures of a 38-meter-high calcite “chimney” that had precipitated out of the highly-alkaline vent fluid.

    His attraction to this South Pacific site intensified over the years, as it was later revealed that the geochemistry of the hydrothermal fluids discharging in the Bay of Prony resemble that of the mid-Atlantic’s “Lost City,” one of the most spectacular of all hydrothermal vent systems. The unique chemical and biological conditions at the Lost City has led some scientists to speculate that the origin of life may have occurred around similar sorts of vents in the Earth’s distant past.

    Read the full article

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    Sugars of the Interstellar Medium…in the Lab

    Sugars of extraterrestrial origin have been observed in the interstellar medium (ISM), in at least one comet spectrum, and in several meteorites that have been recovered from the surface of the Earth. The origins of the sugars within the meteorites have been debated.

    To explore the possibility that sugars could be generated during shock events, a new study funded by the NASA Astrobiology Institute is the first set of laboratory impact experiments wherein glycolaldehyde, found in the ISM, as well as glycolaldehyde mixed with montmorillonite clay, have been subjected to reverberated shocks.

    New biologically-relevant molecules, including threose, erythrose and ethylene glycol, were identified in the resulting samples. These results show that sugar molecules can not only survive, but also become more complex, during impact delivery to planetary bodies.

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    Postdoctoral Position in Mathematical Modeling of Microbial Evolution

    A postdoctoral researcher position is available in the lab of Olga Zhaxybayeva at the Biological Sciences Department of Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH to study evolution of gene transfer agents via mathematical modeling. This is a 5-year project funded through the Simons Foundation program in Mathematical Modeling of Living Systems.

    Qualified applicant must have a Ph.D. in bioinformatics, applied mathematics, computer science, statistics, biology, microbiology, or a related field with strong interest in molecular evolution, prior research experience in computational sciences and some programming skills.

    The successful candidate will join a vibrant research and educational environment of Dartmouth College. Zhaxybayeva’s lab uses computational approaches to study how microbes evolve and adapt to their environments. Ongoing projects fall into the following broad areas: 1) Studying impact of horizontal gene transfer on microbial populations; 2) Characterization of microbial communities; and 3) Deciphering genomic signatures of microbial adaptations. More information about Zhaxybayeva’s lab is available at http://www.dartmouth.edu/~ecglab/.

    Review of applications will begin immediately and continue until the position is filled. Start date is negotiable. Interested applicants should send a single PDF file containing CV, one-page statement of research interests and contact information of three referees to Olga Zhaxybayeva at ECGLabJobs@gmail.com.

    Dartmouth offers competitive salary and benefits along with the opportunity to live in a picturesque rural region that offers year-round recreational activities and is located near cities of Boston, Montreal, and New York.

    Dartmouth College is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer that has a strong commitment to diversity.

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    Marion Milligan Mason Award for Women in the Chemical Sciences

    The objective of the Mason Award is to kick-start the research career of promising future senior investigators in the chemical sciences. The Marion Milligan Mason Fund will provide three grants of $50,000 every other year to women researchers engaged in basic research in the chemical sciences. Awards are for women who are starting their academic research careers. In addition to research funding, the program will provide leadership development and mentoring opportunities.

    Applicants must have a “full-time” career-track appointment. More than one applicant from the same institution can apply for this award, provided that each application is scientifically distinct. For more information about the request for proposals for the Marion Milligan Mason Award for Women in the Chemical Sciences, please click here to view the PDF.

    As a chemist and AAAS member since 1965, the late Marion Tuttle Milligan Mason wanted to support the advancement of women in the chemical sciences. Dr. Milligan also wanted to honor her family’s commitment to higher education for women, as demonstrated by her parents and grandfather, who encouraged and sent several daughters to college.

    Proposals are due Monday, September 15, 2014. Awards will be announced on or before May 1, 2015. Proposals should be submitted via the online application system at https://masonaward.aaas.org

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    Workshop for Early-Career Geoscientists on the Process of Preparing and Publishing Papers

    On October 18, the day before GSA 2014 begins, this workshop, led by science editors from GSA’s journals, will focus on the process of preparing your research for submission to scholarly journals. Presentations by the three editors will be followed by roundtable discussions and a question-and-answer period.

    Before You Begin: You have a big pile of data and lots of good ideas. How do you parse all that into discrete, coherent papers? Knowing how to frame and structure your work for publication is fundamental. Find out what editors and reviewers look for, such as whether the paper fits the scope of the journal to which it was submitted, and whether the stated aims of the paper match the results and interpretations reported.

    Writing and Revising: The aim of this workshop isn’t to address the writing process itself, but to focus on the bigger creative picture. How do you frame your paper to meet the journal’s aims and the reviewers’ expectations? Find out what makes a well-prepared manuscript, from an attention-getting cover letter to an introduction that serves its purpose to well-thought-out figures and tables that communicate your ideas.

    • Get advice on what to include, what to leave out, and how best to structure your manuscript.
    • Learn how to avoid frustrating your paper’s reviewers.
    • Then learn how to submit your paper online and what to expect during the review and publication process.

    Reviewing: Be a Part of the Scholarly Community: Peer review is integral to publishing, so both reviewing and being reviewed are essential parts of your role as a scientist. As an early-career author, what kind of criticism should you expect and how should you respond to critical reviews? Reviewing the work of others is also a great way to discover what works in a paper and what does not, and it teaches you the things to avoid in your own writing. Hear from the experts on what constitutes a good review and how you benefit from being a reviewer.

    Apply to Attend: Space is free but limited for this workshop. It will take place at the GSA Vancouver, BC venue from 8:30 – 11:00am. Please e-mail editing@geosociety.org for an application. We welcome applications from graduate students, early-career researchers, people getting back into research after a hiatus, post-docs, or anyone for whom this discussion is relevant.

    For more information on GSA 2014, visit: http://community.geosociety.org/gsa2014/home/

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    August 6 – Abstract Submission Deadline for AGU sessions http://fallmeeting.agu.org/2014/scientific-program/

    August 15 – Abstract Submission Deadline for EANA 2014 – 14th European Astrobiology Conference http://www.astrobiology.ac.uk/eana2014/

    August 19 – Abstract Submission Deadline for Workshop on Volatiles in the Martian Interior http://www.hou.usra.edu/meetings/volatiles2014/

    August 25 – Abstract Submission Deadline for 2nd International Workshop on 'Instrumentation for Planetary Missions’ (IPM-2014) http://ssed.gsfc.nasa.gov/IPM/

    August 31 – Abstract Submission Deadline for Extremophiles 2014 http://extremophiles2014.ru/

    September 5 – Proposal Deadline for ROSES-14 Amendment 8: Change in due dates for C.15, Planetary Protection Research (PPR) http://nspires.nasaprs.com/external/