The Habitability of Icy Worlds workshop was held in early February, 2014 in Pasadena, CA, co-sponsored by NASA and USRA. The primary objective was to focus on the astrobiological potential of icy worlds in the outer solar system — including Europa, Ganymede, Enceladus, Titan, and beyond — with discussion on future research directions and spacecraft missions that can best assess that potential. The agenda for the workshop was organized around thematic sessions that address the potential habitability of the unique planetary environments of the outer solar system. Archived video of the sessions can be viewed here, courtesy of the NASA Astrobiology Institute ...September 3, 2014 / Written by: Daniella Scalice
Artist impression of Earth during the Archean eon. Image Credit: Peter Sawyer / Smithsonian Institution
A new study supported by the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) has revealed details about the composition of Earth’s atmosphere during the Archean eon, which occurred roughly 4 to 2.4 billion years ago.
Astrobiologists study the Archean in order to better understand the early evolution of life on Earth, and how organisms survived in an environment that was much different than the planet today. Studying the Archean Earth can also provide clues about life’s potential beyond our planet.
“The Archean Earth is the most ...September 2, 2014 / Written by: Aaron Gronstal
Leading scientific experts were convened at NASA Headquarters on August 20th to discuss early Earth and how studying it can inform our search for life elsewhere in the Universe.
What can Earth’s history teach us about planets orbiting other stars? If you could visit the early Earth, you would find it a vastly different, inhospitable, and alien place. Yet, it was in this environment that life on this planet began and evolved. What do we know about the ancient Earth and how can that guide our search for habitable planets orbiting other stars?
NASA, NSF, and the Smithsonian Institution ...August 28, 2014 / Posted by: Daniella Scalice
Led by a NASA scientist, students hike into Lassen Volcanic National Park to sample hydrothermal waters. NASA
Mayson Trujillo stretches across a rock at the edge of a stream cascading through Lassen Volcanic National Park. Braving snow from an advancing blizzard, she meticulously collects a sample of the sulphur-scented water. Trujillo, a senior at Red Bluff High School in California, is intent on the task at hand: gathering data that may hold clues for early life on Earth—and potentially, Mars.
To reach the stream, Trujillo and 13 classmates snowshoed a mile into the center of an ancient volcano—for ...
Saturn’s moon Titan appears as a hazy ball from a distance. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
In a new study, astrobiologists are attempting to recreate substances found in the atmosphere of Titan known as tholins. These organic aerosols are formed as radiation and interact with the thick atmosphere of the Saturnian moon. The production of organics in Titan’s atmosphere could help astrobiologists better understand the conditions in which life arose on the early Earth.
The study was led by Dr. Chao He at the University of Houston (now of Johns Hopkins University). Chao is ...August 25, 2014 / Posted by: Aaron Gronstal
This rotating 3-D map shows how HCN molecules are released from the nucleus of comet Lemmon and then spread evenly throughout the atmosphere, or coma. Image Credit: Brian Kent/NRAO/AUI/NSF
A NASA-led team of scientists has created detailed 3-D maps of the atmospheres surrounding comets, identifying several gases and mapping their spread at the highest resolution ever achieved.
“We achieved truly first-of-a-kind mapping of important molecules that help us understand the nature of comets,” said Martin Cordiner, a researcher working in the Goddard Center for Astrobiology at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Cordiner led ...
JPL intern Jessica Nuñez observes hydrothermal chimneys in the laboratory. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Alexis Drake
Not many interns get the opportunity to study one of humanity’s biggest questions: How did life emerge? But mechanical engineering major Jessica Nuñez is having the experience of a lifetime in search of the answer. Nuñez is interning this summer in the Planetary Sciences Section at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
As part of a NASA Astrobiology Institute project led by Isik Kanik, Nuñez constructs and analyzes simulated hydrothermal vents, chimney-like structures that are hypothesized to have been the birthing ...
The NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) welcomes back Dr. Carl B. Pilcher as NAI Interim Director. Carl will begin his tenure August 11, 2014, and serve on a half-time basis for approximately one year as the selection of a permanent director is completed.
Dr. Pilcher has had careers in both academia and NASA management. Dr. Pilcher retired as Director of the NAI in early 2013, after leading the Institute for more than six years. Prior to directing the Institute he was the Senior Scientist for Astrobiology at NASA Headquarters with overall management responsibility for NASA’s Astrobiology Program.
With bachelor’s ...August 7, 2014 / Written by: Julie Fletcher
Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera on August 3, 2014, from a distance of 177 miles (285 kilometers). Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
After a decade-long journey chasing its target, the European Space Agency’s Rosetta probe, carrying three NASA instruments, became the first spacecraft to rendezvous with a comet, 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
“After 10 years, five months and four days travelling towards our destination, looping around the sun five times and clocking up 6.4 billion kilometers, we are delighted to announce finally we are here ...
An artistic conception of the early Earth, showing a surface pummeled by large impacts, resulting in extrusion of deep seated magma onto the surface. At the same time, distal portions of the surface could have retained liquid water. Credit: Simone Marchi/SwRI.
New research shows that more than four billion years ago the surface of Earth was heavily reprocessed – or melted, mixed, and buried – as a result of giant asteroid impacts. A new terrestrial bombardment model, calibrated using existing lunar and terrestrial data, sheds light on the role asteroid collisions played in the evolution of the uppermost layers of the ...August 6, 2014 / Posted by: Daniella Scalice
Illustration of the mechanism and conceptual research targets for SHERLOC. SHERLOC will provide fine-scale imaging and use an ultraviolet laser to determine fine-scale mineralogy and detect organic compounds. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Last week, NASA announced seven instruments that will make up the payload of the Mars 2020 rover. Among those instruments is SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals).
SHERLOC will provide fine-scale imaging, and will also use an ultraviolet laser to study mineralogy and search for organic compounds. SHERLOC will be used to detect molecules that contain rings of carbon atoms. Such molecules may ...August 4, 2014 / Posted by: Aaron Gronstal
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 ...August 1, 2014 / Posted by: Aaron Gronstal
This view looks across the geyser basin of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, along fractures spewing water vapor and ice particles into space. Cassini scientists have pinpointed the source locations of about 100 geysers and gained new insights into what powers them. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI
Two papers published in the Astronomical Journal represent the first comprehensive study of the connections between geysers, tidal stresses, and thermal emissions at the south pole of Enceladus.
In the first study, researchers used 6.5 years of data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft to identify 101 geysers erupting from the ...July 30, 2014 / Posted by: Aaron Gronstal
This is an artistic illustration of the gas giant planet HD 209458b (unofficially named Osiris) located 150 light-years away in the constellation Pegasus. This is a "hot Jupiter" class planet.
Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have gone looking for water vapor in the atmospheres of three planets orbiting stars similar to the Sun — and have come up nearly dry.
The three planets, HD 189733b, HD 209458b, and WASP-12b, are between 60 and 900 light-years away. These giant gaseous worlds are so hot, with temperatures between 1,500 and 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit, that they are ideal candidates for ...July 25, 2014 / Posted by: Daniella Scalice
Due to its high iron content, the acidic Río Tinto river flows like red wine through a multicolored and rocky landscape. The Río Tinto has an average pH of 2.3, which is acidic enough to eat metal. Image credit: Leslie Mullen
Astrobiologists have outlined how geochemistry and metabolism are connected in subsurface microbial ecosystems beneath Spain’s Rio Tinto region. The Iberian Pyrite Belt (IPB) in the Río Tinto area is the largest known deposit of sulfide on Earth, and for decades it has been a field-site for scientists studying chemolithotrophic microbes.
In the early 2000 ...July 24, 2014 / Written by: Aaron Gronstal
- September 30 - Abstract Submission Deadline for Hayabusa 2014: 2nd Symposium of Solar System Materials
- October 1 - Application Deadline for ESA Postdoctoral Fellowships in Space Science
- October 1 - Application Deadline for NASA Astrobiology Program Early Career Collaboration Award
- October 9 - Watch Astrobiology Graduates in Europe (AbGradE) Symposium Live
- October 13 - Moscow International Solar System Symposium (5M-S3)
- October 22 - Deadline for Session Topics and Organizers for Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon) 2015
- October 31 - Application Deadline for 2015 Exploration Postdoctoral Fellowship Opportunity at ASU
- November 1 - Application Deadline for NASA Astrobiology Postdoctoral Fellowship Program
- November 1 - Workshop on the Modern Analytical Methods Applied to Earth Planetary Sciences
- November 4 - 2nd International Workshop on 'Instrumentation for Planetary Missions' (IPM-2014)
- November 6 - Application Deadline for Sagan Postdoctoral Fellowships
- November 12 - Proposal Deadline for 2014 NASA EONS Solicitation New Appendix
- November 13 - Proposal submission deadline for East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes for U.S. Graduate Students (EAPSI)