1. Astrobiology Newsletter October 22, 2015






    The 2015 Astrobiology Strategy Identifies Priority Research for the NASA Astrobiology Program in the Next Decade

    Over the past two years 800 members of the astrobiology community have contributed, through in-person meetings, white papers, a series of webinars and reviews, to define a new strategy for the next decade of astrobiology research. Mary Voytek, the Senior Scientist for Astrobiology, and Michael New, the Astrobiology Discipline Scientist, described the goal of the endeavor to create an “inspirational and aspirational” document. The strategy will replace the 2008 Astrobiology Roadmap.

    The six major research areas in the field of astrobiology described are:

    • Identifying abiotic sources of organic compounds
    • Synthesis and function of macromolecules in the origin of life
    • Early life and increasing complexity
    • Co-evolution of life and the physical environment
    • Identifying, exploring, and characterizing environments for habitability and biosignatures
    • Constructing habitable worlds

    A pdf of the document is available here.

    Life on Earth Likely Started Much Earlier Than Previously Thought

    Transmission X-ray image of RSES 61-18.8 with graphite indicated. Credit: Bell et al. (2015), www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1517557112 Transmission X-ray image of RSES 61-18.8 with graphite indicated. Credit: Bell et al. (2015), www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1517557112

    New evidence suggests that life existed on Earth 300 million years earlier than previously thought. Researchers examined heavy minerals known as zircons, which formed from ancient molten rock. Zircons are durable and are capable of capturing samples of their local environment when they form. Dark specks contained in some of the zircons were studied with Raman spectroscopy, and the findings indicate that the specks could be the remnants of microorganisms from 4.1 billion years ago.

    View the press release from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) at: http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/life-on-earth-likely-started-at-least-4-1-billion-years-ago-much-earlier-than-scientists-had-thought.

    The study, “Potentially biogenic carbon preserved in a 4.1 billion-year-old zircon,” was published in the journal The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)

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    Cassini Begins Series of Flybys With Close-Up of Saturn Moon Enceladus

    Illustration of the interior of Saturn's moon Enceladus showing a global liquid water ocean between its rocky core and icy crust. Image Credit: JPL Illustration of the interior of Saturn's moon Enceladus showing a global liquid water ocean between its rocky core and icy crust. Image Credit: JPL

    Starting October 14, 2015, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft began a series of three close encounters with Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus. Images from the flyby arrived two days later, providing the first close-up view of the moon’s north polar region.

    Since Cassini’s 2005 discovery of continually-erupting fountains of icy material on Enceladus, the Saturn moon has become one of the most promising places in the solar system to search for present-day habitable environments. Mission scientists announced evidence in March that hydrothermal activity may be occurring on the seafloor of the moon’s underground ocean. In September they broke news that its ocean — previously thought to be only a regional sea — was, in fact, global.

    Read the full NASA press release at: http://www.nasa.gov/press-release/cassini-begins-series-of-flybys-with-close-up-of-saturn-moon-enceladus

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    NAI Scientist Receives 2015 Presidential Rank

    Louis Allamandola receives the 2015 Presidential Rank of Meritorious Senior Professional. Image source: NASA. Louis Allamandola receives the 2015 Presidential Rank of Meritorious Senior Professional. Image source: NASA.

    On October 7, 2015, Louis Allamandola was given the Presidential Rank of Meritorious Senior Professional during the 2015 Presidental Rank and NASA Honor Awards Ceremony for Ames Research Center. The award is one of the highest honors granted by the US government.

    Allamondola is the founder of the Astrophysics and Astrochemistry Laboratory at NASA Ames Research Center, and he is known for his revolutionary work creating laboratory settings that mimic conditions in deep space that have lead to increased understanding of the chemistry, composition and spectroscopy of interstellar matter, among many other discoveries. He has been a member of several NASA Astrobiology Institute teams, most recently with the NAI team at NASA Ames Research Center. His other awards and honors include the AAS Laboratory Astrophysics Prize in 2014, NASA Ames Fellow in 2012, and Presidential Rank in 2006.

    More information about Allamondola’s work is available at: http://www.astrochem.org/bios/allamandola.php.

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    A Memorial to Honor Our Astrobiologists

    To celebrate the men and women who have made great and lasting contributions to astrobiology, the NASA Astrobiology Institute has put together a film paying tribute to twelve scientists and leaders who have recently passed away. These individuals are remembered not only for their enduring work in the field, but as astrobiologists who touched the lives of many during their lifetime.

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    US House Committee Hearing: Astrobiology and the Search for Life Beyond Earth in the Next Decade

    On September 29, the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing entitled Astrobiology and the Search for Life Beyond Earth in the Next Decade. The hearing covered the scientific methods and recent discoveries in astrobiology, addressed the prospects of finding life beyond Earth, and provided an overview of NASA astrobiology programs and the Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS) initiative. Testimonies were provided by Dr. Ellen Stofan of NASA, Dr. Jonathan Lunine of Cornell University, Dr. Jacob Bean of the University of Chicago and Dr. Andrew Siemion of SETI Research Center at UC Berkeley.

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    The Martian Astrobiologist

    (1) The fictional Ares 3 landing site in southern Acidalia Planitia. (2) Carl Sagan Memorial Station (Landing site of the NASA Pathfinder mission) (3) Marwth Vallis (4) Meridiani Planum and the site o (1) The fictional Ares 3 landing site in southern Acidalia Planitia. (2) Carl Sagan Memorial Station (Landing site of the NASA Pathfinder mission) (3) Marwth Vallis (4) Meridiani Planum and the site of NASA's Opportunity rover (5) Schiaparelli crater

    Mars has been a focus of astrobiology and exobiology research since the early days of NASA. Even before the invention of the telescope, Mars captured the imagination of scientists and philosophers who were interested in life’s potential beyond Earth.

    With the Viking landers in the 1970s, Mars became the target of NASA’s first dedicated mission to search for life in our solar system. Ever since, further robotic missions have expanded our knowledge of Mars, revealing many sites on the surface that could hold evidence of past or present life.

    Humans have yet to make the journey, but the desire to send teams of researchers to visit scientific sites on Mars has been a driving force for space exploration. The question of life on Mars is so compelling that artists, writers and some of humankind’s greatest thinkers have been exploring the possibility through fiction for centuries. Recent weeks have showcased two big news stories about Mars that capture both our scientific and fictional fascinations with the red planet.

    On September 28th, 2015, NASA announced evidence that liquid water does exist on Mars today. Liquid water is one of the key ingredients for life as we know it, and its presence on Mars raises hopes that we may soon discover the first known living organisms native to a planet other than Earth. Days later, a new Hollywood epic, The Martian, arrived in theatres.

    The Martian, based on the novel by Andy Weir, follows the story of an astronaut stranded on Mars after harrowing circumstances force his colleagues to abort their mission. Although fictional, the story takes place in the near future and finds inspiration in real-life work performed by NASA and other institutions around the world. NASA is already developing technologies that appear in the film, and the Astrobiology Program has been studying many of the sites on Mars that feature on the big screen.

    In The Martian, astronaut Mark Watney undergoes an epic journey as he struggles to survive after being left alone on Mars. He draws on his skills as a botanist and mechanical engineer to overcome many obstacles that the harsh martian environment throws at him. However, if Mark Watney had been an astrobiologists, and survival wasn’t his first priority, there are many detours he could have taken along his route to perform some spectacular scientific investigations.

    To check out some of the sites, a great place to start is NASA’s online tool Mars Trek: http://marstrek.jpl.nasa.gov. Mars Trek is a web-based application that allows anyone to explore high-quality visualizations of Mars using 50 years of data from NASA missions and other institutions.

    The Journey

    Watney begins at the fictional landing site of the Ares 3 mission, placed at the southern reaches of Mars’ Acidalia Planitia. From here, he travels south to the real-life site of NASA’s Pathfinder mission and the Sojourner rover. His path eventually takes him all the way across Mawrth Vallis in an attempt to reach Schiaparelli Crater. With a little more time (and a lot more resources), Watney could have made some incredible observations along the way that would have greatly advanced our understanding of life’s potential on Mars.

    What follows is just a small snapshot of some of the astrobiological sites on Mars that Watney could have taken in if his journey had been a little less desperate. The truth is, any samples he could have collected, or experiments performed, would be spectacular. This is just a snapshot of some real-life highlights along his fictional route.

    Acidalia Planitia

    Acidalia Planitia is a huge area on Mars, centered at 49.8°N 339.3°E, and sits northeast of the famous Valles Marineris. In the story, Watney touches down in a region of wind-blown deposits and weathered craters at the southern reaches of Acidalia Planatia, just 800 kilometers north of the actual site of the 1997 Pathfinder landing site (now designated Carl Sagan Memorial Station).

    Because Acidalia Planatia is such a large region, there are many sites of interest to astrobiology here. At the far north of Acidalia Planatia is an area dotted with geological structures that could be the ancient remnants of mud volcanoes, where wet mud would have been belched out to the martian surface from underground. Some scientists believe that this would be a good place to search for biosignatures of ancient life on Mars, but it would actually be a long trek for Watney to undertake from Ares 3. Instead, Watney turned south toward Pathfinder.


    NASA’s Pathfinder mission delivered a lander and rover to a region known as Ares Vallis on Mars. The choice of landing site was no mistake. Ares Vallis is what is known as an outflow channel, and it may have been formed by liquid water flowing out of a region of hills to the south known as Margaritifer Terra. The water would have flowed from the hills and through the Xanthe Highlands, ending in a feature called Chryse Planitia, which bears a striking resemblance to deltas on Earth.

    The Sojourner rover and undeployed ramps onboard the Mars Pathfinder spacecraft can be seen in this image, by the Imager for Mars Pathfinder (IMP) on July 4 (Sol 1). The mission provided data indicati The Sojourner rover and undeployed ramps onboard the Mars Pathfinder spacecraft can be seen in this image, by the Imager for Mars Pathfinder (IMP) on July 4 (Sol 1). The mission provided data indicating that Mars was once warmer and wetter than it is today. Findings also suggested that Mars once had a much thicker atmosphere, and that liquid water could have existed at the surface. Credit: NASA

    There is evidence of past water erosion in Chryse Planitia, which may have also received outflows of water from Valles Marineris. This site would be an interesting place for an astrobiologist to explore because any environment where liquid water was once present might contain clues about past habitability on Mars, or even biosignatures of ancient life. It’s a shame that Watney didn’t have the resources to carry samples from the Pathfinder site for further study.

    Marwth Vallis

    Watney’s next major journey takes him from Ares 3 across Marwth Vallis, a region with a plethora of sites that could have easily distracted him from his survival mission had he been trained as an astrobiologist. Marwth Vallis was a finalist in the selection of landing sites for NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission and its Curiosity rover.

    In the end, Curiosity landed halfway around the planet at Gale Crater in 2012, far away from Watney’s path. But before the mission launched, Marwth Vallis was under scrutiny due to the fact that it contains the best-known exposure of clay minerals at the surface of Mars. On Earth, clays form in wet environments and their location on Mars is a good sign that a watery environment was once present. Clays also trap organics, molecules essential for life as we know it.

    For more about Marwth Vallis and the interesting features is contains, check out the discussions from the 4th MSL Landing Site Workshop in 2010 from the American Geophysical Union (AGU) at: http://blogs.agu.org/martianchronicles/2010/09/28/4th-msl-landing-site-workshop-day-1/


    After his treacherous journey through Marwth Vallis, Watney turns south into Meridiani Planum, the landing site of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover (MER) Opportunity. Even in the story, Watney is tempted to head just a bit further south to search for Opportunity. If he had been an astrobiologists, he probably wouldn’t have been able to resist the temptation.

    Merdiani Planum was selected after rigorous study as Opportunity’s landing site because of its high scientific value. For astrobiology, the main draw is evidence that liquid water was once present in the area. Meridiani has an ancient layer of a mineral known as hematite. Hematite is an iron oxide, and wet environments are often a key to its formation on Earth. There are ways in which hematite can form without water, but its presence in Meridiani was a big draw for team behind the MER rovers.

    A self-portrait of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ. A self-portrait of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

    Opportunity confirmed many scientists’ suspicions about Meridiani, providing compelling evidence for a wet environment on ancient Mars.

    At the rim of Endeavor Crater, Opportunity uncovered clays that were older than the impact event that formed the crater itself. They are the oldest rocks that Opportunity has examined thus far, and they could have formed in waters that were habitable for life. The findings also suggest that the water might have persisted for long periods of time. Grabbing a sample from these rocks would be a high priority for any wandering astrobiologist.

    Opportunity also spotted a few meteorites on Meridiani Planum, and studying these rocks from space could help astrobiologists understand whether or not the ingredients for life’s origins could have been delivered to Mars when the planet was warmer and wetter.

    An astrobiologist on Mars would have a field day exploring all of the interesting sites that Opportunity has uncovered during its incredible decade-long journey on Mars (1).

    Schiaparelli crater

    Watney’s end goal as he heads across Meridiani Planum is to reach Shiaparelli crater. Shiaparelli is a relatively large crater some 460 kilometers in diameter. If Watney’s fictional journey had been focused on astrobiology, this would still be a great destination for a visit.

    Outcrops of ancient rock could be present on Shiaparelli’s floor, and the rim of the crater itself also provides access to rocks that cover a long period of Mars’ geological history. There is even evidence that sedimentary deposits in the crater could have been left behind by flowing water.

    Layers, Bedrock Ridges, and Dark Sand in Schiaparelli Crater. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona Layers, Bedrock Ridges, and Dark Sand in Schiaparelli Crater. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

    The biggest draw of Shiaparelli, however, is the presence of hydrated minerals. The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Mars Express mission has sent back images of deposits inside Shiaparelli that are similar to those found when lakes on Earth evaporate. This has led some to theorize that a martian lake once filled parts of the crater. These deposits of hydrated minerals rest near the surface, and would be an excellent place for astrobiologists to explore.

    Alternate Routes

    If Watney had chosen an alternate route to Schiaparelli, via Ares Vallis, he could have also hit a few more sites of interest. After grabbing plenty of samples from Ares Vallis itself, he would have reached Firsoff crater.

    Firsoff crater is one of the sites being considered for NASA’s upcoming Mars 2020 rover, and there would be a lot to see here. The University of Arizona’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has provided images of many features around Firsoff crater that would be worth a stop. A detailed map of the points of interest for Mars 2020 can be found here: http://www.uahirise.org/hiwish/view/101424

    The big draw of Firsoff is the presence of Equitorial Layered Deposits (EDL) inside the crater. These mounds of material have been interpreted by some as 'mud volcanoes,’ and could have been formed by water upwelling from underground and evaporating (2). The possibility of groundwater rising to the surface raises many questions about whether or not the EDLs would be a good place to search for signs of past or present life.

    Another point of interest on this route is Oxia Palus, a site that has been considered for future Mars landings, including the ESA’s ExoMars 2018 mission. Ancient, clay-rich rocks feature here, and they would definitely be worth a look for any passing astrobiologist.

    A Walk on Mars

    In The Martian, Watney’s journey is focused on his survival. If a real-life astronaut were to touch down at the site of the fictional Ares 3 mission, there are many more areas of interest on Mars that could be reached over a similar distance by a wandering astrobiologist. This includes other candidate sites that were considered for the landing of NASA’s Curiosity rover, such as Holden and Eberswalde craters.

    NASA is currently developing many technologies that could make human exploration of Mars a reality. For aspiring astrobiologists interested in where they might want to explore if they make it onto a future NASA mission to Mars, check out the Explore Mars Trek at: http://mars.nasa.gov/maps/explore-mars-map/fullscreen/

    The list below provides a few hints for some other astrobiology sites on Mars that you might be able to reach if you ever find yourself on a cross-country martian roadtrip:

    Terminus of Sabrina Vallis
    Hypanis delta
    Valles Marineris: Melas Basin and Coprates Chasma
    Eastern Margaritifer Terra

    Related Stories:
    The Martian, Part 1: Acidalia Planitia (NASA JPL)
    Real Martians (NASA)
    Nine Real NASA Technologies in 'The Martian’ (NASA)
    Ares 3 Landing site (NASA JPL)

    (1) Knoll et al. (2005) An astrobiological perspective on Meridiani Planum, Earth and Planetary Science Letters 240, 179–189

    (2) Pondrelli et al. (2011) Mud volcanoes in the geologic record of Mars: The case of Firsoff crater, Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 304(3–4), 511–519

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    NASA Confirms Evidence That Liquid Water Flows on Today’s Mars

    These dark, narrow, 100 meter-long streaks called recurring slope lineae flowing downhill on Mars are inferred to have been formed by contemporary flowing water. Recently, planetary scientists detecte These dark, narrow, 100 meter-long streaks called recurring slope lineae flowing downhill on Mars are inferred to have been formed by contemporary flowing water. Recently, planetary scientists detected hydrated salts on these slopes at Hale crater, corroborating their original hypothesis that the streaks are indeed formed by liquid water. The blue color seen upslope of the dark streaks are thought not to be related to their formation, but instead are from the presence of the mineral pyroxene. The image is produced by draping an orthorectified (Infrared-Red-Blue/Green(IRB)) false color image (ESP_030570_1440) on a Digital Terrain Model (DTM) of the same site produced by High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (University of Arizona). Vertical exaggeration is 1.5. Credits: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

    [Source: NASA]

    New findings from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) provide the strongest evidence yet that liquid water flows intermittently on present-day Mars.

    Using an imaging spectrometer on MRO, researchers detected signatures of hydrated minerals on slopes where mysterious streaks are seen on the Red Planet. These darkish streaks appear to ebb and flow over time. They darken and appear to flow down steep slopes during warm seasons, and then fade in cooler seasons. They appear in several locations on Mars when temperatures are above minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 23 Celsius), and disappear at colder times.

    “Our quest on Mars has been to ‘follow the water,’ in our search for life in the universe, and now we have convincing science that validates what we’ve long suspected,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “This is a significant development, as it appears to confirm that water — albeit briny — is flowing today on the surface of Mars.”

    These downhill flows, known as recurring slope lineae (RSL), often have been described as possibly related to liquid water. The new findings of hydrated salts on the slopes point to what that relationship may be to these dark features. The hydrated salts would lower the freezing point of a liquid brine, just as salt on roads here on Earth causes ice and snow to melt more rapidly. Scientists say it’s likely a shallow subsurface flow, with enough water wicking to the surface to explain the darkening.

    “We found the hydrated salts only when the seasonal features were widest, which suggests that either the dark streaks themselves or a process that forms them is the source of the hydration. In either case, the detection of hydrated salts on these slopes means that water plays a vital role in the formation of these streaks,” said Lujendra Ojha of the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) in Atlanta, lead author of a report on these findings published Sept. 28 by Nature Geoscience.

    Ojha first noticed these puzzling features as a University of Arizona undergraduate student in 2010, using images from the MRO’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE). HiRISE observations now have documented RSL at dozens of sites on Mars. The new study pairs HiRISE observations with mineral mapping by MRO’s Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM).

    The spectrometer observations show signatures of hydrated salts at multiple RSL locations, but only when the dark features were relatively wide. When the researchers looked at the same locations and RSL weren’t as extensive, they detected no hydrated salt.

    Ojha and his co-authors interpret the spectral signatures as caused by hydrated minerals called perchlorates. The hydrated salts most consistent with the chemical signatures are likely a mixture of magnesium perchlorate, magnesium chlorate and sodium perchlorate. Some perchlorates have been shown to keep liquids from freezing even when conditions are as cold as minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 70 Celsius). On Earth, naturally produced perchlorates are concentrated in deserts, and some types of perchlorates can be used as rocket propellant.

    Perchlorates have previously been seen on Mars. NASA’s Phoenix lander and Curiosity rover both found them in the planet’s soil, and some scientists believe that the Viking missions in the 1970s measured signatures of these salts. However, this study of RSL detected perchlorates, now in hydrated form, in different areas than those explored by the landers. This also is the first time perchlorates have been identified from orbit.

    MRO has been examining Mars since 2006 with its six science instruments.

    “The ability of MRO to observe for multiple Mars years with a payload able to see the fine detail of these features has enabled findings such as these: first identifying the puzzling seasonal streaks and now making a big step towards explaining what they are,” said Rich Zurek, MRO project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

    For Ojha, the new findings are more proof that the mysterious lines he first saw darkening Martian slopes five years ago are, indeed, present-day water.

    “When most people talk about water on Mars, they’re usually talking about ancient water or frozen water,” he said. “Now we know there’s more to the story. This is the first spectral detection that unambiguously supports our liquid water-formation hypotheses for RSL.”

    The discovery is the latest of many breakthroughs by NASA’s Mars missions.

    “It took multiple spacecraft over several years to solve this mystery, and now we know there is liquid water on the surface of this cold, desert planet,” said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “It seems that the more we study Mars, the more we learn how life could be supported and where there are resources to support life in the future.”

    There are eight co-authors of the Nature Geoscience paper, including Mary Beth Wilhelm at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California and Georgia Tech; CRISM Principal Investigator Scott Murchie of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland; and HiRISE Principal Investigator Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in Tucson, Arizona. Others are at Georgia Tech, the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and Laboratoire de Planétologie et Géodynamique in Nantes, France.

    The agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin built the orbiter and collaborates with JPL to operate it.

    More information about NASA’s journey to Mars is available online at:


    For more information about the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, visit:


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    Researchers Use 'Seafloor Gardens’ to Switch on Light Bulb

     Researchers created "chemical gardens" -- chimney-like structures normally found at bubbling vents on the seafloor -- in the laboratory. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech Researchers created "chemical gardens"—chimney-like structures normally found at bubbling vents on the seafloor—in the laboratory. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    Source: [Jet Propulsion Laboratory]

    One of the key necessities for life on our planet is electricity. That’s not to say that life requires a plug and socket, but everything from shrubs to ants to people harnesses energy via the transfer of electrons — the basis of electricity. Some experts think that the very first cell-like organisms on Earth channeled electricity from the seafloor using bubbling, chimney-shaped structures, also known as chemical gardens.

    In a new study, researchers report growing their own tiny chimneys in a laboratory and using them to power a light bulb. The findings demonstrate that the underwater structures may have indeed given an electrical boost to Earth’s very first life forms.

    “These chimneys can act like electrical wires on the seafloor,” said Laurie Barge of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, lead author of a new paper on the findings in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition. “We’re harnessing energy as the first life on Earth might have.”

    The findings are helping researchers put together the story of life on Earth, starting with the first chapter of its origins. How life first took root on our nascent planet is a topic riddled with many unanswered chemistry questions. One leading theory for the origins of life, called the alkaline vent hypothesis, is based on the idea that life sprang up underwater with the help of warm, alkaline (as opposed to acidic) chimneys.

    Chimneys naturally form on the seafloor at hydrothermal vents. They range in size from inches to tens of feet (centimeters to tens of meters), and they are made of different types of minerals with, typically, a porous structure. On early Earth, these chimneys could have established electrical and proton gradients across the thin mineral membranes that separate their compartments. Such gradients emulate critical life processes that generate energy and organic compounds.

    “Life doesn’t want to get electrocuted, but needs just the right amount of electricity,” said Michael Russell of JPL, a co-author of the study. “This new experiment confirms what that amount of electricity is — just under a volt.” Russell first proposed the alkaline vent hypothesis in 1989, and even predicted the existence of alkaline vent chimneys more than a decade before they were actually discovered in the Atlantic Ocean and dubbed “The Lost City.”

    Previously, researchers at the University of Tokyo and the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology recorded electricity in “black smoker” vent chimneys in the Okinawa Trough in Japan. Black smokers are acidic — and hotter and harsher — than alkaline vents.

    The new study demonstrates that laboratory chimneys similar to alkaline vents on early Earth had enough electricity to do something useful — in this case power an LED (light-emitting diode) light bulb. The researchers connected four of the chemical gardens, submerged in iron-containing fluids, to turn on one light bulb. The process took months of patient laboratory work by Barge and Russell’s team, with the help of an undergraduate student intern at JPL, Yeghegis “Lily” Abedian.

    “I remember when Lily told me the light bulb had turned on. It was shocking,” said Barge (while admitting she likes a good pun).

    The scientists hope to do the experiment again using different materials for their laboratory chimneys. In the current study, they made chimneys of iron sulfide and iron hydroxide, geological materials that can conduct electrons. Future experiments can assess the electrical potential of additional materials thought to have been present in Earth’s early oceans and hydrothermal vents, such as molybdenum, nickel, hydrogen and carbon dioxide.

    “With the right recipe, maybe one chimney alone will be able to light the LED – or instead, we could use that electrochemical energy to power other reactions,” said Barge. “We can also start simulating higher temperature and pressures that occur at hydrothermal vents.”

    Materials or other energy sources thought to have been involved in the possible development of life on other planets and moons can be tested too, such as those on early Mars, or icy worlds like Jupiter’s moon Europa.

    The electrical needs of life’s first organisms are only one of many puzzles. Other researchers are trying to figure out how organic materials, such as DNA, might have assembled from scratch. The ultimate goal is to fit all the pieces together into one amazing story of life’s origins.

    The JPL research team is part of the Icy Worlds team of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, based at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. The Icy Worlds team is led by Isik Kanik of JPL.

    JPL is managed by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena for NASA.

    For more information about the NASA Astrobiology Institute, visit: http://astrobiology.nasa.gov/nai

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    Evidence of Ancient Life Discovered in Mantle Rocks Deep Below the Seafloor

    The active Lost City hydrothermal field, located at the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, is hosted by  rocks very similar to those from the Iberia continental margin analyzed in this study.  Lost City will be dril The active Lost City hydrothermal field, located at the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, is hosted by rocks very similar to those from the Iberia continental margin analyzed in this study. Lost City will be drilled during a forthcoming expedition by the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP). Klein and his colleagues hope to gain more detailed insight in the subseafloor life by comparing rocks from the Iberia continental margin with those from other ODP and IODP drill cores. Credit: Photo by National Science Foundation, Univ. of Washington, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

    Ancient rocks harbored microbial life deep below the seafloor, reports a team of scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), Virginia Tech, and the University of Bremen. This new evidence was contained in drilled rock samples of Earth’s mantle – thrust by tectonic forces to the seafloor during the Early Cretaceous period. The new study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    The discovery confirms a long-standing hypothesis that interactions between mantle rocks and seawater can create potential for life even in hard rocks deep below the ocean floor. The fossilized microbes are likely the same as those found at the active Lost City hydrothermal field, providing potentially important clues about the conditions that support 'intraterrestrial’ life in rocks below the seafloor.

    Read more from WHOI at: http://www.whoi.edu/news-release/microbes-in-rocks

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    New Insight Into Prebiotic Chemistry’s 'Water Problem’

    A common borate mineral on Earth, colemanite. The Tohoku University Museum collection. Credit: Yoshihiro Furukawa/Tohoku University A common borate mineral on Earth, colemanite. The Tohoku University Museum collection. Credit: Yoshihiro Furukawa/Tohoku University

    Inspired by previous work on chemistry’s 'water problem’ and 'asphalt problem,’ a team of researchers has provided new insight into the conditions in which nucleosides combine with phosphate to form nucleoside phosphates, a key set of molecules found in RNA.

    Chemistry’s 'water problem’ refers to the fact that nucleoside phosphates do not form in water because hydrolysis is a more thermodynamically stable reaction. Decades ago, scientists addressed this problem by using formamide as a solvent instead of water.

    The 'asphalt problem’ refers to the degradation of carbohydrates. Recently, researchers supported by the NASA Astrobiology Program showed that borate could be used to stabilize carbohydrates against this process.

    By adding borate to formamide, the team has now found that borate can also help a nucleoside (adenosine) combine with phosphate, producing the nucleoside phosphate adenosine-5’-phosphate.

    RNA is a molecule that can store a part of the genetic information in cells and can also act like enzymes to increase the rates of chemical reactions important for life. Thus, RNA-based life has been proposed as the ancestral system of modern DNA-protein based life. Studying how RNA might have formed from precursor molecules, and the conditions in which RNA could have formed on the early Earth, is essential in understanding the origin and evolution of life on our planet.

    The work was supported in part by the Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology element of the NASA Astrobiology Program. The study, “Abiotic Regioselective Phosphorylation of Adenosine with Borate in Formamide,” was published in the journal Astrobiology.

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    Disparity in the Tentacles of Moon Jellyfish

    Aurelia, sp.1 (moon jellyfish). Photo source: <a href="http://thescyphozoan.ucmerced.edu/Biol/Ecol/CoastMan/IntroducedAurelia.html" target="_blank">Mike Dawson/UC Merced</a>. Aurelia, sp.1 (moon jellyfish). Photo source: Mike Dawson/UC Merced.

    The animal phylum known as cnidaria includes an abundant and colorful variety of anenomes, jellyfish, corals and hydroids—all categorized as having tentacles with stinging cells for defense and capturing prey.

    It turns out that across the life stages of even just one species of jellyfish, tentacles can present a great number of functional and anatomical differences. In “Structural and Developmental Disparity in the Tentacles of the Moon Jellyfish Aurelia sp.1,” researchers examined two types of tentacles of the moon jellyfish: the oral tentacles of the polyp (post-larval stage) and the marginal tentacles of the medusa (juvenile to mature stage). They observed marked differences in musculature, cell types, cellular distribution and growth patterns that may have evolved from distinct adaptive requirements, such as for feeding or movement. The complexity of these differences call to question the current textbook assumption that all cnidarian tentacles evolved from a similar point of origin.

    The research was supported by the NASA Astrobiology Institute – Foundations of Complex Life: Evolution, Preservation and Detection on Earth and Beyond.

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    Diversity of Life on Pumice Islands

    Overhead image of smoke from the Puyehue-Cordón Caulle volcanic eruption and nearby lake and mountains acquired by the Advanced Land Imager (ALI) aboard the Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite. The gra Overhead image of smoke from the Puyehue-Cordón Caulle volcanic eruption and nearby lake and mountains acquired by the Advanced Land Imager (ALI) aboard the Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite. The gray area inside the lake is floating pumice. Photo credit: NASA Earth Observatory

    During and following the eruption of the Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcano in southern Chile in 2011, large quantities of ash and pumice filled the air and landed into neighboring lakes. Small pieces of pumice in Lake Espejo and Lake Nahuel Huapi stayed afloat for months to years after landing, and researchers who examined these two lakes found that the floating islands of pumice became unique and diverse habitats for microbial life.

    In the study “Community Structure and Biogeochemical Impacts of Microbial Life on Floating Pumice,” scientists measured nutrient uptake and used DNA sequencing to identify different strains. Even over the course of a hot summer, the harsh surface of the floating pumice still held thriving and diverse communities of various bacteria that were quite distinct from the bacterial communities in the lake itself yet similar to communities on other pumice islands from different lakes. Bacterial traits that appeared to be selected for on the pumice included surface adherence, ability to degrade or metabolize the surface organic matter, and metabolisms that required light and abundance of oxygen. However, photosynthetic pathways were not favored among the pumice-loving microbes. Uptake of lake nutrients over time, particularly phosphorus and nitrogen, allowed for sustained growth and were quite substantial, similar to the demand the lake’s normal planktonic communities.

    These findings link to past studies that point to pumice as potential vectors for marine and terrestrial biota and that suggest that pumice islands could have been cradles for emerging life on Earth.

    The research was supported by the NASA Astrobiology Institute, the US National Science Foundation, the Fondo Para la Investigacion Cientifica y Tecnologica, CONICET-NSF, and the National Geographic Society.

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    Autonomous Analysis in the Atacama

    Zoe rover exploring the coastal range of Chile's Atacama desert in 2004. Credit: Carnegie Mellon University Zoe rover exploring the coastal range of Chile's Atacama desert in 2004. Credit: Carnegie Mellon University

    Using the Atacama Desert in Chile as an analog site for Mars, astrobiologists have tested a laser Raman spectrometer in preparation for future robotic missions. The Mars Micro-beam Raman Spectrometer (MMRS) was placed on the Zoë rover and used to analyze drill samples from a depth of one meter below the surface. Data from the MMRS provided information about regional geology and biological activities. With further testing, MMRS could prove to be a useful instrument for inclusion on future space missions. Currently, three laser Raman spectrometers are included in the payloads for two Mars missions that are under development: the European ExoMars mission in 2018 and NASA’s Mars 2020 rover.

    The paper, “Autonomous soil analysis by the Mars Micro-beam Raman Spectrometer (MMRS) on-board a rover in the Atacama Desert: a terrestrial test for planetary exploration,” was published in the Journal of Raman Spectroscopy. This work was supported by the Astrobiology Technology for Exploring Planets (ASTEP) element of the NASA Astrobiology Program.

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    Fossil Ages and Molecular Divergence

    Hubble image of the chaotic-looking mass of gas and dust of a nearby supernova remnant. Radiation from sources in our galaxy could have had a profound effect on mutation rates throughout the history o Hubble image of the chaotic-looking mass of gas and dust of a nearby supernova remnant. Radiation from sources in our galaxy could have had a profound effect on mutation rates throughout the history of life on Earth. Image Credit: NASA/ESA/HEIC and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

    Studying ancient life on Earth is important for astrobiologists who are interested in how speciation and radiation occurred throughout the history of our planet. However, it’s not always easy to pinpoint these events in time. For instance, when looking back at the history of life, there is a disparity between fossil ages and molecular divergence dates for some groups of organisms.

    Molecular divergence is based on the idea that certain molecules change over time as they are passed down from generation to generation. For example, by looking closely at the DNA of an organism, scientists can see how the sequence of nucleotides (the building blocks of DNA) has been altered by mutation, and determine the rate at which the changes occur. This calculation can indicate when in geologic history two species diverged. This technique is referred to as the 'molecular clock.’

    Molecular ages for the origin of species are usually higher than fossil ages, and the disparity between fossil and molecular ages has often been attributed to the fact that fossils only provide a lower boundary for ages. Gaps in the fossil record always make it tricky to determine when exactly speciation occurred.

    A new study looks at the problem from the perspective of physics, examining a potential bias in molecular ages tied to the fact molecules do not always change over time at a constant rate. The rate of evolution can be affected by many things, such as selection pressures or communities that become isolated from the rest of the population. The history of Earth is also full of large-scale events that could cause dramatic increases in mutation, such as exposure to radiation events from nearby supernovae or other sources like gamma ray bursts.

    The study, “A possible role for stochastic radiation events in the systematic disparity between molecular and fossil dates,” will be published in the upcoming book Earth and Life II. The work was supported by the Exobiology & Evolutionary Biology element of the NASA Astrobiology Program.

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    Oldest Known Redox Gradient Discovered

    Overhead shot of mountains of Barberton, South Africa. Photo credit: <a href="http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=35970">Earth Observatory NASA</a>/MODIS imagry of modern day ocean cyano Overhead shot of mountains of Barberton, South Africa. Photo credit: Earth Observatory NASA/MODIS imagry of modern day ocean cyanobacterial growth. Photo credit: Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UCSD

    By analyzing iron isotopes against the uranium content in the jasper rock from the ancient ocean of the Barberton Greenstone Belt in South Africa, scientists have found a defined vertical redox gradient, called a redoxcline, showing a change in the level of oxygenation from the deeper part of the ocean leading to the shallower portion.

    While the seawater at deeper level is depleted of oxygen, samples in the photic zone of the ocean, the area where sunlight is able to reach, show low levels of dissolved oxygen. The iron-uranium tests place the oxygenation occurrence at 3.2 billion years ago, 200 millions earlier than previous estimates for ocean redox. The team hypothesizes that oxygen at the photic zone may have been produced through photosynthesis by microorganisms such as cyanobacteria. That then suggests that cyanobacteria also evolved earlier than 3.2 billion years ago.

    So far, this discovery stands as the oldest known redoxcline in the ancient oceans, and pushes back the date for the beginnings of ocean redox.

    The full paper, “A redox-stratified ocean 3.2 billion years ago” is published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

    This study was supported by the NASA Astrobiology Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence for Energy and Mineral Resource Analysis (CIMERA) at the University of Johannesburg.

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    A New Cold-, Low Pressure-Tolerant Microbe

    On the Arctic plains of northern Mars, NASA's Phoenix lander revealed a landscape of interlocking polygon shapes <a href="http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=8786" target="_blank">simila On the Arctic plains of northern Mars, NASA's Phoenix lander revealed a landscape of interlocking polygon shapes similar to those on Earth that form in permafrost when it freezes and thaws seasonally. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

    The habitability of Mars is of interest to astrobiology, life detection, and planetary protection efforts, and permafrost is considered a Martian analogue environment. In 2013, a group of US and Russian scientists reported the isolation from a borehole in Siberian permafrost of several bacteria belonging to the genus Carnobacterium that could grow in the laboratory under a combination of Mars pressure, temperature, and atmospheric composition(1). One of these isolates has been formally classified as a new taxon, named Carnobacterium inhibens subsp. gilichinskyi in honor of the late David Gilichinsky, pioneer in permafrost microbiology and astrobiology.

    These findings were recently presented in the paper, “Proposal to rename Carnobacterium inhibens as Carnobacterium inhibens subsp. inhibens subsp. nov. and description of Carnobacterium inhibens subsp. gilichinskyi subsp. nov., a psychrotolerant bacterium isolated from Siberian permafrost,” published in the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Biology by W.L. Nicholson, K. Zhalnina, R.R. Oliveira, and E.W. Triplett. The work was supported by the Exobiology & Evolutionary Biology element of the NASA Astrobiology Program. Additional support came from the Florida Agriculture Experimental Station and the US Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute.

    (1) W.L. Nicholson, K. Krivushin, D. Gilichinsky, and A.C. Schuerger (2013) PNAS, 110: 666-671.

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    Studying Metabolism in Mixed Cultures

    Crystal structure of photosystem I: a photosynthetic reaction center and core antenna system from cyanobacteria. Credit: Jawahar Swaminathan and MSD staff, European Bioinformatics Institute, Wikimedia Crystal structure of photosystem I: a photosynthetic reaction center and core antenna system from cyanobacteria. Credit: Jawahar Swaminathan and MSD staff, European Bioinformatics Institute, Wikimedia

    Studying Carbon-13 (13C) metabolism in a microbial community can be a time-consuming and tricky prospect. This is because scientists often have to separate a single species out of the mix for study. However, if particular proteins are produced by a single species within the community, they can sometimes be extracted to yield information about the 13C metabolism of those organisms. A new study describes how the protein photosystem I (PSI) might be used as a 'reporter protein’ for (13)C metabolism of a cyanobacterium when it is present in a mixed culture of heterotrophic bacteria.

    The paper, “Using photosystem I as a reporter protein for ¹³C analysis in a coculture containing cyanobacterium and a heterotrophic bacterium,” was published in the journal Analytical Biochemistry. The work was supported in part by the Exobiology & Evolutionary Biology element of the NASA Astrobiology Program.

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    Open-Rank, Tenured or Tenure-Track Faculty Position in Geobiology at the University of Southern California

    Application Review Begins October 15, 2015

    The Departments of Earth Sciences and Biological Sciences of the Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences at the University of Southern California (Los Angeles, California) invite applications for an open-rank, tenured or tenure-track faculty position in geobiology anticipated to start Fall 2016.

    The department is looking for an interdisciplinary scientist who will apply modern, quantitative and innovative techniques to solve major problems in any area of geobiology. Interests include but are not limited to candidates with expertise in geomicrobiology, biogeochemistry, microbial ecology, and/or organic geochemistry, who combine field-based studies with state-of-the-art analytical capabilities and laboratory experimentation. The successful candidate will be expected to develop a transformative research program, to provide leadership in USC’s strong geobiology program, and to contribute to teaching at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

    The position can be filled at the Full Professor, Associate Professor, or Assistant Professor level. A Ph.D. or equivalent in the Geosciences, Microbiology, or related field is required. Candidates are encouraged to visit our websites in the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences at http://dornsife.usc.edu/earth/ and http://dornsife.usc.edu/bisc/meb/ and http://dornsife.usc.edu/bisc/meb/.

    Applications must include a curriculum vitae, publication list, statement of teaching interests, and the names and contact information of at least four individuals who can provide letters of recommendation upon request. In addition, applicants should include in their cover letter a list of what they consider to be critical issues in geobiology today and a research statement that demonstrates how the candidate plans to address those issues.

    In order to be considered for this position, applicants are required to submit an electronic USC application at: http://jobs.usc.edu/postings/53260.

    For further information, please contact the Chair of the search committee, Jan Amend at janamend@usc.edu.

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    2016 Exploration Postdoctoral Fellowships at the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University

    Application Deadline: October 31, 2015

    The School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE) at Arizona State University invites applications for the position of Exploration Postdoctoral Fellow. The fellowship provides opportunities for outstanding early-career scientists and engineers emphasizing interdisciplinary collaboration. Research areas within SESE encompass astrobiology, astrophysics and cosmology, earth and planetary sciences, instrumentation and systems engineering, and science education.

    Incoming Fellows will receive an annual stipend of $61,000 with health benefits, plus $9,000 per year in discretionary research funds. A relocation allowance of up to $2,500 will be provided. Appointments will be for up to three years and shall commence on or around July 1, 2016.

    A full description of the application process is available at: http://sese.asu.edu/ExplorationPostdocFellowships.

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    NASA Postdoctoral Program Opportunities in Astrobiology

    Proposal Deadline: November 1, 2015

    The NASA Postdoctoral Program will be accepting applications to the Astrobiology program opportunities on November 1. The NPP provides opportunities for Ph.D. scientists and engineers to perform research on problems largely of their own choosing, yet compatible with the research interests of the NASA Astrobiology Program. For more information see https://astrobiology.nasa.gov/nai/funding/nasa-astrobiology-postdoctoral-fellowship-program/.

    To apply, go to http://nasa.orau.org/postdoc/.

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    Lowell Observatory: Tenure-Track or Tenured Astronomer

    Application Deadline: November 1, 2015

    Lowell Observatory invites applications for one or more tenure-track or tenured research positions in astronomy or planetary science. We invite applicants at any career level who can build on current strengths or open new areas for Lowell. A Ph.D. in astronomy, planetary science, or a related field is required, as is an outstanding record of research and demonstrated ability or potential to obtain external research funding. Candidates are invited to describe how they would make use of our observational facilities, but we will give equal consideration to all research areas. The start date for this position is flexible but desired by Fall 2016.

    Additional position details can be found at: https://lowell.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Tenure-track-Astronomer.pdf

    To apply: Send applications electronically to: humanresources@lowell.edu

    Applications should include:
    (1) a cover letter and CV,
    (2) a research plan of 3 pages or less, and
    (3) names and mail/email addresses of three individuals who have agreed to serve as references. Do not ask for reference letters to be sent in advance.

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    2016 Sagan Postdoctoral Fellowships

    Application Deadline: November 5, 2015

    The Sagan Fellowships support outstanding recent postdoctoral scientists to conduct independent research that is broadly related to the science goals of NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration program. The primary goal of missions within this program is to discover and characterize planetary systems and Earth-like planets around nearby stars. Sagan Fellowships are joined by two other NASA astrophysics theme-based fellowship programs: the Einstein Fellowship Program which supports the Physics of the Cosmos research, and the Hubble Fellowship Program which supports Cosmic Origins research.

    We anticipate awarding 5 fellowships in 2016.

    The proposed research may be theoretical, observational, or instrumental. This program is open to applicants of any nationality who have earned (or will have earned) their doctoral degrees on or after January 1, 2013, in astronomy, physics, or related disciplines. The fellowships are tenable at U.S. host institutions of the fellows’ choice, subject to a maximum of one new fellow per host institution per year (see note on host institutions below). The duration of the fellowship is up to three years: an initial one-year appointment and two annual renewals contingent on satisfactory performance and availability of NASA funds.

    We accept the submission of up to three host institutions. The purpose of designating of more than one host institution in the application is to provide the program with flexibility should there be several highly ranked applications at any single institution. Barring this circumstance, it is expected that awardees will use their Fellowships at their first-choice institutions.

    More information and the application submission form are available at http://nexsci.caltech.edu/sagan/fellowship.shtml.

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    Remote Sensing Comparative Planetology Position at the University of Arizona

    Application Review Begins November 9, 2015

    The University of Arizona announces coordinated hiring of five tenure-track or tenured faculty positions in Earth system remote sensing to establish the Earth Dynamics Observatory (EDO) to respond to global challenges in Earth and environmental science, planetary science, and hazards and resource assessment. EDO faculty will contribute to interdisciplinary research and educational programs oriented around remote sensing and Earth and planetary change, with the goal of developing instruments, deploying missions, and leading new research in applications of remote sensing. One position is in remote sensing of planetary surfaces, atmospheres, and/or interiors with relevance to multiple planets (including exoplanets) or solar system objects to astrobiology, to provide context for understanding the Earth. Experience in field and lab work and theory are also desirable. The scientist will have expertise in planetary science and observing techniques to a) develop instrumentation and techniques and lead experiments for planetary science (including Earth), and b) provide perspective on the implications for Earth of knowledge about other planets and vice versa. Inquiries should be directed to Tim Swindle (tswindle@lpl.arizona.edu), Director, Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.

    More information is at: http://www.geo.arizona.edu/edo/

    Candidates should apply for position F20164 at: https://uacareers.com/

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    McGill Space Institute Postdoctoral Fellowships

    Application Deadline: December 1, 2015

    We invite applications for multiple Postdoctoral Fellowships to be held in the McGill Space Institute at McGill University.

    The McGill Space Institute is a newly formed interdisciplinary center that brings together researchers engaged in space-related research at McGill. Currently there are 17 active faculty members affiliated with the center, from the Physics, Earth and Planetary Sciences, Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, and Natural Resource Sciences departments at McGill.

    The successful applicant will have a strong research record in theoretical, observational, or experimental work in astronomy, astrophysics, cosmology, planetary science, atmospheric science or astrobiology. Applicants should submit a curriculum vitae, list of publications, statement of research plans (not to exceed 2 pages) which demonstrates how the proposed research program complements current MSI activities, and contact details of 3 referees.

    This position offers a competitive salary and will be for two years, with a possible renewal for a third year, dependent on supervisor approval and the availability of funds. Preference is given to applicants within 3 years of the PhD. All application materials including letters of recommendation must be received by the deadline of December 1, 2015.

    Apply online at: https://academicjobsonline.org/ajo/jobs/6521

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    Visiting Scientist Positions in the Astrophysics Division of NASA HQ

    Screening Process Begins December 1, 2015

    NASA’s Science Mission Directorate seeks one or more experienced scientists to fill Visiting Scientist positions within the Astrophysics Division of NASA Headquarters, located in Washington, DC. Visiting Scientists serve as Program Scientists for current NASA space missions and future missions in development, and Discipline Scientists for research solicitations. Visiting scientists play a leadership role in developing budgets, program plans, and long-range strategic plans to define the future NASA astrophysics program. They help execute the NASA science mission, and are expected to demonstrate a high degree of initiative in doing so.

    The Astrophysics Division manages space missions, research and technology programs that include instrumentation, observation and theory, and which fall into three focused science programs. Physics of the Cosmos explores the fundamental physics of the universe and the extremes of space-time. Cosmic Origins is concerned with the origins and evolution of stars, galaxies, and cosmic structure. Exoplanet Exploration searches for, and characterizes, extra-solar planetary systems and potentially habitable environments around other stars.

    Visiting Scientists take leave from their home institution and hold two-year positions, extendible to six years. Positions are available beginning April 2016, though the starting date is negotiable. Applicants must have a Ph.D. or equivalent in astronomy or physics, plus relevant experience in instrumental, observational, or theoretical research, ideally related to the focused programs described above. They should be familiar with NASA grants programs, and be able to communicate effectively with the scientific community, educators, and the media. Visiting Scientists are normally funded via an Intergovernmental Personnel Act agreement with their home institution, which requires current employment with a US institution for at least 90 days.

    The search will remain open to new applicants until the position is filled. A curriculum vitae and cover letter, including contact details for three professional referees, should be sent to the primary Point of Contact, Dr. Martin Still at martin.still@nasa.gov. Interested scientists are encouraged to talk to NASA HQ staff directly, or can contact Dr. Still by phone at (202) 358-4462 for additional details concerning this position.

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    Two Microbiology Faculty Positions on Sea Level Rise and Mitigation at the University of Florida’s Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center

    Application Deadline: December 10, 2015

    The University of Florida invites faculty applications for two available 12-month tenure accruing positions at the assistant professor level to solve fundamental problems in Environmental Microbiology with a focus on biological impacts associated with sea level rise and mitigation. The positions will be 70% research and 30% teaching and will be part of a larger interdisciplinary core team dedicated to addressing and developing mitigation strategies for sea level rise, an urgent problem in South Florida. The university is searching broadly for two faculty members that can build a research program related to the consequences of sea level rise from a microbiology perspective. Examples of microbiology-related research areas could include: identifying emerging infectious diseases affecting marine organisms under a rising sea level; characterizing mechanisms governing stability of microbiota associated with marine environments in habitats threatened by sea level rise; identifying and managing conditions that promote marine algal blooms; analyzing impact on coral reef ecosystems (e.g. ocean acidification); and developing economically feasible biological-based methods of carbon sequestration.

    Tenure will accrue in the Department of Microbiology and Cell Science, however, the successful candidates will be located at the Ft. Lauderdale Research and Education Center. The faculty members will participate actively in undergraduate education and graduate education by chairing graduate committees, serving on graduate committees, supervising thesis and dissertation research, supervising undergraduate research, and publishing the results with his/her graduate students. The faculty member will seek contract and grant funding actively to support his/her program. The faculty members will engage in Extension activities in his or her program area.

    Qualifications: A doctorate (foreign equivalent acceptable) in microbiology or a closely related discipline is required. Postdoctoral experience is desirable. Candidates should have demonstrated skills in verbal and written communication, interpersonal relationships, and procurement of extramural funding. Candidates must be supportive of the mission of the Land-Grant system. Candidates must also have a commitment to IFAS core values of excellence, diversity, global involvement, and accountability.

    The positions begin March 1, 2016. More information is available at: http://explore.jobs.ufl.edu/cw/en-us/job/494898

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    Faculty Position in Planetary Petrology/Mineralogy/Geochemistry at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville

    Application Deadline: December 15, 2015

    The Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences at The University of Tennessee seeks to fill a faculty position in petrology/mineralogy/geochemistry with emphasis in planetary geoscience. The position is for an open-rank (tenure-track or tenured); we would prefer to select a candidate at the Associate or Full Professor level, but welcome applications for Assistant Professor. The position begins August 1, 2016. The University of Tennessee, Knoxville is a Research I University and the flagship campus of the UT system. Information about the department may be found at: http://eps.utk.edu.

    It focuses on geology and has an active emphasis on planetary research through its Planetary Geosciences Institute: http://web.utk.edu/~pgi.

    Requirements for the position are: Ph.D. in geology or a related field, and demonstrated research experience in planetary geoscience.

    To apply, please email the following to mcsween@utk.edu: C.V., cover letter describing research and teaching experience and plans, and names of 4 references with contact information. Applications received by December 15, 2015 are ensured review, but earlier submission is encouraged. The position will remain open until filled. Questions about the position should be directed to H. McSween.

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    Exploration Science Summer Intern Program

    Application Deadline: January 15, 2016

    The Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) and NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) is hosting a special Exploration Science Summer Intern Program to build on the success of the former Lunar Exploration Summer Intern Program that was designed to evaluate possible landing sites on the Moon for robotic and human exploration missions. Over a five year period (2008–2012), teams of students worked with Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) science staff and their collaborators to produce A Global Lunar Landing Site Study to Provide the Scientific Context for Exploration of the Moon. The program for 2016 is designed to have the same impact on future exploration activities, but has a broader scope that includes both the Moon and near-Earth asteroids. It is a unique opportunity to integrate scientific input with exploration activities in a way that mission architects and spacecraft engineers can use. Activities may involve assessments and traverse plans for a particular destination (e.g., on the lunar farside) or a more general assessment of a class of possible exploration targets (e.g., small near-Earth asteroids).

    The 10-week program runs from May 23, 2016, through July 29, 2016. Selected interns will receive a $5675 stipend to cover the costs associated with being in Houston for the duration of the program. Additionally, U.S. citizens will receive up to $1000 in travel expense reimbursement and foreign nationals will receive up to $1500 in travel expense reimbursement.

    Applications are only accepted using the electronic application form found at the LPI’s Exploration Science Summer Intern website: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/exploration_intern/

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    Opening for Assistant Professor in Extrasolar Planets at George Mason University

    Application Deadline: January 29, 2016

    The George Mason University, Department of Physics and Astronomy within the School of Physics, Astronomy, and Computational Science is accepting applications for a tenure-track position at the Assistant Professor-level in the field of Extrasolar Planets.

    Responsibilities: The successful applicant will teach courses in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and develop an extrasolar planets research program.

    George Mason University is located in Fairfax, Va., in the suburban Washington, D.C., area. This location offers prospects for collaboration at several nearby institutions and federal laboratories, such as the Goddard Space Flight Center, the Carnegie Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, the Space Telescope Science Institute, the National Institute of Science and Technology, and the Naval Research Laboratory.

    Qualifications: Candidates with expertise in all areas of observational and theoretical studies of extrasolar planets—including detection, characterization, and their formation and evolution—will be considered. Applicants should have a Ph.D. in physics or astronomy as well as postdoctoral experience, and show promise for developing an independent and externally funded research program.

    For full consideration, applicants must apply for position number F9967z at: http://jobs.gmu.edu/postings/36094

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    Three Post-Doctoral Positions in the Reaction Dynamic Group, Department of Chemistry at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa

    The Reaction Dynamics Group at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa invites applications for three postdoctoral positions. The appointment period is initially for one year, but can be renewed annually based on avail­a­b­ility of funds and satisfactory progress. The salary is competitive and commensurate with experience. Successful applicants should have a strong background in one or more of the following: experimental reaction dynamics, molecular beams, low temperature condensed phase, soft matter, UHV tech­nology, pulsed laser systems. Programming experience in labview is desirable. A description of our current research group can be found at http://www.chem.hawaii.edu/Bil301/welcome.html.

    Position I: Reaction Dynamics. The prime directive of the experiments is to investigate the formation of carbonaceous and silicon-bearing molecules in extreme environments ranging from combustion flames, CVD processes, and interstellar/circumstellar environments exploiting the crossed molecular beams method.

    Position II: Soft Matter & Material Sciences. The main objective of these experimental studies is to explore the fundamental mecha­­­­­nisms and electron transfer processes involved in the reaction and ignition of prototype boron-based energetic ionic liqui­ds (EILs) doped with passivated nanoparticles in levitated droplets.

    Position III: Planetary Chemistry. The goal of these experiments is to probe the formation of water and/or hydroxyl radicals via interaction of the solar wind particles such as keV protons and deuterons with silicates at lunar temperatures. Reaction products will be probed via condensed phase spectroscopy and photoionization of the subliming molecules.

    Solid communication skills in English (written, oral), a publication record in internationally circulated, peer-reviewed journals, and willingness to work in a team are man­da­to­ry. Only self-motivated an energetic candidates are encouraged to apply. Applicants must demonstrate their capability to prepare manuscripts for publications independently. Please send a letter of interest, three letters of recommendation, CV, and publication list to:
    Prof. Ralf I. Kaiser
    De­partment of Chemistry
    University of Hawai’i at Manoa
    Honolulu, HI 96822-2275, USA

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    Opening for Senior Program Officer, Science and Technology for Sustainability at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in Washington, DC

    The Science and Technology for Sustainability (STS) program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine is recruiting a Senior Program Officer to contribute to the growth, management, and leadership of program activities. The program examines issues at the intersection of the three sustainability pillars—social, economic, and environmental—and aims to strengthen science for decision-making related to sustainability. We seek an individual interested in working on a broad range of activities and issues in support of the program’s mission. A full position description and application instructions are available at http://chk.tbe.taleo.net/chk02/ats/careers/requisition.jsp?org=NAS&cws=1&rid=8201. More information about the STS program is available at http://sites.nationalacademies.org/PGA/sustainability/index.htm.

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    Postdoctoral Research Associate Position at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP), University of Colorado Boulder

    The Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado is seeking a minimum one-year Postdoctoral Research Associate in the field of planetary science. A strong candidate will have experience with several of the following areas: planetary (Mars/Mercury/Moon) data processing and analysis, geologic mapping, research on fluvial/lacustrine processes on Mars, planetary volcanism, martian geochemistry/mineralogy/spectroscopy, field-based planetary analog studies, and/or hydrothermal systems.

    – PhD related to planetary science with detailed knowledge of one or more of the following disciplines: planetary geology, interpretation of spacecraft data, and Mars science.
    – Experience analyzing and processing spacecraft data.
    – Experience with Geographic Information Systems.
    – Ability to conduct original research, publish in peer-reviewed journals, and give presentations of research at science conferences.
    – Preference for knowledge of and experience with: USGS ISIS software, ArcGIS, IDL/ENVI.

    Please submit your resume/vitae, list of three references, and a cover letter describing your research background and interest in this position to: http://www.jobsatcu.com/postings/108117

    Please contact Brian Hynek (hynek@lasp.colorado.edu) with any inquiries.

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    Open Rank Environmental Microbiology Faculty Position at Montana State University

    The Department of Microbiology and Immunology offers a dynamic research and teaching environment with state-of-the–art facilities for biochemistry, flow cytometry, genomics, proteomics, cell biology, microbiology and bioinformatics.

    The faculty position to be filled is a full-time tenure track appointment with primary responsibilities in research, teaching, and service/outreach. The successful candidate will become an integral part of the Microbiology and Immunology department and potentially research centers on campus. The position is 50% research, 40% teaching, and 10% service and will be funded by the College of Agriculture and the College of Letters and Science. The new hire will be responsible for developing and obtaining extramural research funding for a nationally competitive, independent research program that will make significant contributions to the understanding of microbe-environment interactions, microbial biology/ecology, and/or microbial engineering. The faculty member will participate in teaching undergraduate and/or graduate courses in their area of specialization and mentoring graduate and undergraduate students. They will also be responsible for providing service as applicable to the department, college, university, and scientific community. Opportunities to participate in the cooperative human medical education program with the University of Washington (WWAMI program) or the Regional Program in Veterinary Medicine (WIMU program) may also be possible.

    More information and application instructions are available at https://jobs.montana.edu/postings/2601.

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    Call for Postdoctoral Associate in Astrobiology at MIT

    There is an opportunity for a Postdoctoral Associate in Astrobiology, Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS), to work on research that will focus on analytical studies of organic matter in astrochemical analog materials such as meteorites and ices in order to identify amphiphiles. The position, which is associated with the Simons Foundation Collaboration on the Origins of Life and will require collaborating closely with researchers Drs. Roger Summons/MIT (lead), Scott Sandford/ARC, & Jason Dworkin/GSFC, as well as relevant MIT faculty, research staff, and postdoctoral associates in the geobiology and astrobiology community.

    Job Requirements: a Ph.D. in organic chemistry, organic geochemistry, or analytical organic chemistry. Experience in the use of GCMS, LCMS, and pyrolysis techniques is essential. For all the information and to apply, visit: http://careers.peopleclick.com/careerscp/client_mit/external/jobDetails.do?functionName=getJobDetail&jobPostId=5601&localeCode=en-us

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    October 23 – Abstract Submission Deadline for the Paneth Kolloquium: First 10 Million Years of the Solar System http://www.paneth.eu/PanethKolloquium/Registration_%26_Abstracts.html
    October 26 – Registration Opens for the ESA/ESTEC International Symposium on Moon 2020-2030 http://spaceflight.esa.int/humanrobotics/keyinfo/
    October 31 – Application Deadline for the 2016 Vatican Observatory Summer School in Astrophyics on Water in the Solar System and Beyond http://www.vaticanobservatory.va/content/specolavaticana/en/summer-schools—voss-/voss2016.html
    October 31 – Application Deadline for the 2016 Exploration Postdoctoral Fellowships at the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University http://sese.asu.edu/ExplorationPostdocFellowships
    November 1 – Application Deadline for the California Academy of Sciences “Cluster Hiring” http://calacademy.snaphire.com/jobdetails?ajid=vNXB8
    November 1 – Application Deadline for the NASA Postdoctoral Program http://nasa.orau.org/postdoc/
    November 5 – Application Deadline for 2016 Sagan Postdoctoral Fellowships http://nexsci.caltech.edu/sagan/fellowship.shtml