NAI

  1. NASA Selects New Science Teams for Astrobiology Research


    NASA has awarded five-year grants totaling almost $50 million to seven research teams nationwide to study the origins, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe.

    “With the Curiosity rover characterizing the potential habitability of Mars, the Kepler mission discovering new planets outside our solar system, and Mars 2020 on the horizon, these research teams will provide the critical interdisciplinary expertise to help interpret data from these missions and future astrobiology-focused missions, “ said Jim Green, director, Planetary Science Division, at NASA Headquarters, Washington.

    Average funding for each team will be approximately $8 million. The interdisciplinary teams will become members ...

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  1. Evolution in Toxic Mercury Resistance


    The researchers dig holes in the snowpack over sea ice to establish vertical snow profiles used for sampling of the snow at different depths. Credit: Niels Kroer The researchers dig holes in the snowpack over sea ice to establish vertical snow profiles used for sampling of the snow at different depths. Credit: Niels Kroer

    Scientists have traced the evolutionary branches of Arctic bacterial resistance to toxic mercury — an adaptation that appears to have an ancient lineage. Up to 31 percent of bacteria retrieved during an Arctic expedition and grown in lab cultures contain the mercuric reductase gene(merA), a genetic sequence that encodes an enzyme that is capable of breaking down toxic mercury into a more harmless chemical form.

    The study, detailed in the journal FEMS Microbiology ...

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  1. History, Discovery, and Analogy


    In a new video interview with C-SPAN’s American History TV, Kluge Center astrobiology chair Steven Dick explains how history, discovery, and analogy may be useful frameworks for approaching the problem of what societal reactions may be to the discovery of life beyond Earth.

    Dick has spent the past year at the Library of Congress as the Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology, researching a new book on preparing for discovery. Tracing incidents of discoveries and cultural contacts in various moments throughout human history, Dick says these past incidents may illuminate what contemporary reactions could be ...

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  1. Life’s Wrinkles in the Sand


    Wrinkle structures reproduced in the laboratory​. by moving microbial aggregates on a bed of loose fine sand. The total width of the image is 30 cm. Credit: Mariotti et al. 2014 Wrinkle structures reproduced in the laboratory​ by moving microbial aggregates on a bed of loose fine sand. The total width of the image is 30 cm. Credit: Mariotti et al. 2014

    A new study shows how wrinkle structures can form on a bed of sand when waves and microorganisms are present. Wrinkle structures on sandy bed surfaces are rare on Earth today, but were more common in ancient sedimentary environments. These ancient sediments often have trace fossils and imprints of early animals, and appear in the geological record after some of the largest mass extinctions on Earth.

    Some scientists have ...

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  1. Scientists “Resurrect” Ancient Proteins to Learn About Primordial Life


    The young Earth differed markedly from today’s world. Credit: NASA The young Earth differed markedly from today’s world. Credit: NASA

    Geological evidence tells us that ancient Earth probably looked and felt very different from the planet we all recognize today. Billions of years ago, our world was a comparatively harsh place.

    Thanks to advances in a niche field called paleobiochemistry, researchers in the last decade have started to “resurrect” ancient proteins. Studying these proteins’ properties is offering us glimpses of what life was like in bygone epochs. A new study published in the journal Proteins: Structure, Function, and Bioinformatics explores how such 'resurrection studies’ can provide evidence to support ...

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  1. India’s Mars Orbiter Mission


    Primary deployment test of MOM's three-fold solar panel prior to launch. Credit: ISRO Primary deployment test of MOM's three-fold solar panel prior to launch. Credit: ISRO

    India has become the fourth nation to successfully deliver a spacecraft to Mars. The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) is the country’s first interplanetary mission and will collect data about martian surface features, morphology and mineralogy. The spacecraft will also search for signs of methane gas in the atmosphere.

    A statement from Lisa May, program executive for the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD):

    “NASA’s Mars Exploration Program is very excited to have new neighbors at Mars ...

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  1. Our Ocean’s Cosmic Origin


    An illustration of water in our Solar System through time from before the Sun’s birth through the creation of the planets. Credit: Bill Saxton, NSF/AUI/NRAO An illustration of water in our Solar System through time from before the Sun’s birth through the creation of the planets. Credit: Bill Saxton, NSF/AUI/NRAO

    A new study published in Science looks beyond the question of whether Earth’s oceans can be traced to comets or other objects from space, and instead asks the question: where did the water in comets come from?‬ The answer: some of it, maybe even a majority, is interstellar, and either survived the formation of our Sun and planetary disk or migrated here at a later time.‬ The findings could have important ...

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  1. Light Scattering on Dust Holds Clues to Habitability


    A light wave can be roughly imagined as a single line that wiggles up and down. If circular polarization occurs, this line rotates as the wave moves. Circular polarization of light when it interacts w A light wave can be roughly imagined as a single line that wiggles up and down. If circular polarization occurs, this line rotates as the wave moves. Circular polarization of light when it interacts with dust might help identify molecules relevant to the origins of life. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

    Source: [astrobio.net]

    Dust particles can be found everywhere in space, but what can dust tell us about life’s potential in the Universe? By modeling how light scatters when it interacts with dust particles, researchers supported by the Exobiology & Evolutionary Biology are looking at ways of determining whether or ...

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  1. MAVEN Enters Orbit at Mars


    Members of the mission team at the Lockheed Martin Mission Support Area in Littleton, Colorado, celebrate after successfully inserting NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft Members of the mission team at the Lockheed Martin Mission Support Area in Littleton, Colorado, celebrate after successfully inserting NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft into orbit around Mars at 10:24 p.m. EDT Sunday, Sept. 21. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

    NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft successfully entered Mars’ orbit at 10:24 p.m. EDT Sunday, Sept. 21, where it now will prepare to study the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere as never done before. MAVEN is the first spacecraft dedicated to exploring the tenuous upper atmosphere of Mars.

    Source: [NASA]

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  1. How Did Life on Earth Begin?


    This week’s Science Nation video features research at the Center for Chemical Evolution (CCE), headquartered at Georgia Tech. Nicholas Hud and a team from the CCE are working to understand the origins of life on Earth by studying how chain-like chemicals called polymers first came together to form RNA and DNA.

    The CCE is co-funded by the NASA Astrobiology program and the National Science Foundation (NSF Centers for Chemical Innovation (CCI) program.

    Source: [NSF]

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  1. MAVEN Mars Orbit Insertion Briefing


    This artist's concept shows NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft orbiting Mars. Image Credit:  NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center This artist's concept shows NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft orbiting Mars. Image Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

    NASA will be hosting a televised media briefing at 1 pm EDT on September 17 to outline activities around the upcoming orbital insertion of the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft. The briefing will be held in NASA’s Headquarters’ auditorium in Washington DC, and broadcast live on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

    The public will be able to ask questions on social media using the hashtag #askNASA.

    Panelists include: Lisa May (lead program ...

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  1. Follow AbGradE 2014 Live on SAGANet!


    The first symposium of AbGradE (Astrobiology Graduates in Europe) will be streamed live on SAGANet October, 9th-10th at http://saganet.org/page/saganlive

    The purpose of AbGradE is to start a network of early-career astrobiologists in Europe. Yearly symposia will be organized where young researchers can meet, attend background lectures, and present their work and ideas in front of their peers in a pressure-free environment.

    The group emerged in response to the rising need for multidisciplinary collaborations and for the creation of a solid scientific and social network across the astrobiological scene. It will also strive to set a common ...

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  1. In the Zone. The Venus Zone: Seeking the Twin of Our Twin Among the Stars


    Not every planet in or near a habitable zone is habitable. Inhospitable Venus is an excellent example. Credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech Not every planet in or near a habitable zone is habitable. Inhospitable Venus is an excellent example. Credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech

    A new study explores how distant analogs to Venus might be detected and differentiated from Earth-like planets. Discovering a twin to Venus could help astrobiologists identify systems similar to our own Solar System and narrow the search for habitable worlds around distant stars.

    The work was supported by the NASA Astrobiology Institute’s Virtual Planetary Laboratory and published in Astrophyiscal Journal Letters.

    Dr. Shawn Domagal-Goldman of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and co-author of the study recently spoke ...

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  1. Simulated Atmospheres of Alien Worlds


    Left: Ozone molecules in a planet's atmosphere could indicate biological activity, but ozone, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide -- without methane, is likely a false positive. Right: Ozone, oxygen, c Left: Ozone molecules in a planet's atmosphere could indicate biological activity, but ozone, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide -- without methane, is likely a false positive. Right: Ozone, oxygen, carbon dioxide and methane -- without carbon monoxide, indicate a possible true positive.

    Astronomers searching the atmospheres of alien worlds for gases that might be produced by life can’t rely on the detection of just one type, such as oxygen, ozone, or methane, because in some cases these gases can be produced non-biologically, according to extensive simulations by researchers in the NASA Astrobiology Institute’s Virtual Planetary Laboratory. The study appears ...

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  1. The Hypatia Catalogue


    An Arizona State University alumna has devised the largest catalog ever produced for stellar compositions. Called the Hypatia Catalog, after one of the first female astronomers who lived ~350 AD in Alexandria, the work is critical to understanding the properties of stars, how they form, and possible connections with the formation and habitability of orbiting planets. And what she found from her work is that the compositions of nearby stars aren’t as uniform as once thought.

    Since it is not possible to physically sample a star to determine its composition, astronomers study of the light from the object. This ...

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