NAI

  1. Odd Tilts Could Make More Worlds Habitable


    Tilted orbits might make some planets wobble like a top that's almost done spinning, an effect that could maintain liquid water on the surface. Image Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Tilted orbits might make some planets wobble like a top that's almost done spinning, an effect that could maintain liquid water on the surface. Image Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

    Pivoting planets that lean one way and then change orientation within a short geological time period might be surprisingly habitable, according to new modeling by NASA and university scientists affiliated with the NASA Astrobiology Institute.

    The climate effects generated on these wobbling worlds could prevent them from turning into glacier-covered ice lockers, even if those planets are somewhat far from their stars. And with some water remaining ...

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  1. Icebreaking Mars


    Cape Armitage, Antarctica (approximate coordinates: -77.850261, 166.708475). Credit: Honeybee Robotics Cape Armitage, Antarctica (approximate coordinates: -77.850261, 166.708475). Credit: Honeybee Robotics

    Scientists supported by the Astrobiology Technology for Exploring Planets (ASTEP) and Astrobiology Instrument Development Programs (ASTID) have outlined the proposed 'Icebreaker’ mission to Mars in a recent paper in the Journal of Field Robotics.

    Icebreaker would send a robotic lander to the same region of Mars visited by the Phoenix mission in 2007. After landing at Mars’ polar latitudes, Icebreaker would use its tools to penetrate the surface and excavate samples. The goal is to see what is hiding beneath the ice caps, and whether or not Icebreaker ...

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  1. First Earth-Size Planet in the 'Habitable Zone’ of Another Star


    The artist's concept depicts Kepler-186f , the first validated Earth-size planet to orbit a distant star in the habitable zone. Image Credit: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL- The artist's concept depicts Kepler-186f , the first validated Earth-size planet to orbit a distant star in the habitable zone. Image Credit: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech

    Using NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, astronomers have discovered the first Earth-size planet orbiting a star in the “habitable zone” — the range of distance from a star where liquid water might pool on the surface of an orbiting planet. The discovery of Kepler-186f confirms that planets the size of Earth exist in the habitable zone of stars other than our sun.

    While planets have previously been found in the habitable zone, they are ...

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  1. Testing Life’s Origins Around Ocean Vents


    Clear hot spring fluids spew from a talc structure at the Von Damm vent field, a mile and a half beneath the Caribbean Sea. The researchers show that fluids emanating from Von Damm and other hot sprin Clear hot spring fluids spew from a talc structure at the Von Damm vent field, a mile and a half beneath the Caribbean Sea. The researchers show that fluids emanating from Von Damm and other hot spring areas around the global mid-ocean ridge system contain a sulfur compound, methanethiol, that is indicative of pyrolysed subsurface life. The red laser dots are 10cm apart, for scale. Photograph courtesy of the Little Hercules ROV, NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, Mid-Cayman Rise Expedition 2011. Credit: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

    Astrobiologists studying hydrothermal vents have tested a theory that simple metabolic reactions around ancient deep ...

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  1. NAI Director’s Seminar Series: Victoria Orphan


    Victoria Orphan. Credit: mbari.org Victoria Orphan. Credit: mbari.org

    Victoria Orphan, Professor of Geobiology at the California Institute of Technology, will be presenting the next NAI Director’s Seminar on April 21, 2014, at 11AM PDT.

    Orphan is a specialist in molecular microbial ecology. She studies anaerobic microbial communities involved in carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur cycling. The title of her talk is “Methane-Based Life in a Deep-Sea Concrete Jungle.”

    For more information and details on how to join the event, click here.

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  1. The Seafloor Electric


    Michael Russell and Laurie Barge of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., are pictured in their Icy Worlds laboratory, where they mimic the conditions of Earth billions of years ago, att Michael Russell and Laurie Barge of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., are pictured in their Icy Worlds laboratory, where they mimic the conditions of Earth billions of years ago, attempting to answer the question of how life first arose.

    Life took root more than four billion years ago on our nascent Earth, a wetter and harsher place than now, bathed in sizzling ultraviolet rays. What started out as simple cells ultimately transformed into slime molds, frogs, elephants, humans and the rest of our planet’s living kingdoms. How did it all begin?

    A new study from researchers at ...

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  1. Possible New Moon for Saturn


    The disturbance visible at the outer edge of Saturn's A ring in this image from NASA's Cassini spacecraft could be caused by an object replaying the birth process of icy moons. The disturbance visible at the outer edge of Saturn's A ring in this image from NASA's Cassini spacecraft could be caused by an object replaying the birth process of icy moons.

    NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has documented the formation of a small icy object within the rings of Saturn that may be a new moon, and may also provide clues to the formation of the planet’s known moons.

    Images taken with Cassini’s narrow angle camera on April 15, 2013 show disturbances at the very edge of Saturn’s A ring — the outermost of the planet’s ...

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  1. Mars in a Box


    Technical drawing of the MARTE (left). MARTE simulation chamber (right). Credits: Rev. Sci. Instrum. 85, 035111 (2014) (left image) and Martín-Gago/ICMM (right image) Technical drawing of the MARTE (left). MARTE simulation chamber (right). Credits: Rev. Sci. Instrum. 85, 035111 (2014) (left image) and Martín-Gago/ICMM (right image)

    Researchers at the Centro de Astrobiología (CAB) in Madrid, Spain, have developed a Mars simulator that replicates almost all of the environmental variables on the red planet that pose a challenge for exploration equipment.

    MARTE is a modular simulation chamber, and its flexible design allows scientists to re-configure the chamber to accommodate equipment of different sizes and shapes. The environment inside MARTE is also tuneable, allowing researchers to adjust factors like pressure, temperature and atmospheric composition ...

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  1. Astrobiology on NOVA


    Take a spectacular trip to distant realms of our solar system to discover where life may exist on other worlds! Combining the latest telescope images with dazzling animation, this NOVA TV program immerses audiences in the sights and sounds of alien worlds, while top astrobiologists explain how these places are changing how we think about the potential for life in our solar system.

    Short video clips and classroom materials accompany the film online.

    Source: [NOVA]

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  1. Microbial Innovation Causes the End-Permian Extinction


    MIT professor of geophysics Daniel Rothman stands next to part of the Xiakou formation in China. His right hand rests on the layer that marks the time of the end-Permian mass extinction event. MIT professor of geophysics Daniel Rothman stands next to part of the Xiakou formation in China. His right hand rests on the layer that marks the time of the end-Permian mass extinction event.

    Evidence left at the crime scene is abundant and global: Fossil remains show that sometime around 252 million years ago, about 90 percent of all species on Earth were suddenly wiped out — by far the largest of this planet’s five known mass extinctions. But pinpointing the culprit has been difficult, and controversial.

    Now, a team of NAI-funded researchers at MIT may have found enough evidence to ...

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  1. FameLab USA: We Have a Winner!


    Please join us in congratulating Lyl Tomlinson from SUNY Stony Brook on winning the FameLab USA National Competition, co-sponsored by the NASA Astrobiology Program.

    Lyl joins the winners of FameLab competitions from 23 other countries all over the world. He will represent the United States in the FameLab International Final on June 5th at the Cheltenham Science Festival in the UK.

    Watch the archived webcast of the Final!

    At six regional heats throughout the US over the past 18 months, nearly 100 early career scientists from across the US have participated in FameLab USA. They each bravely took the stage ...

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  1. Atmospheric Pressure on Exoplanets


    NAI-funded astrobiologists at the University of Washington have developed a new method of gauging the atmospheric pressure of exoplanets, or worlds beyond the solar system, by looking for a certain type of molecule.

    And if there is life out in space, scientists may one day use this same technique to detect its biosignature — the telltale chemical signs of its presence — in the atmosphere of an alien world.

    Understanding atmospheric pressure is key to knowing if conditions at the surface of a terrestrial, or rocky, exoplanet might allow liquid water, thus giving life a chance.

    The method, devised by Amit Misra ...

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  1. Out­-Of­-This­-World: An Ocean on Enceladus


    The new model of the structure of Enceladus, showing the southern ocean and rocky silicate core. Credit: NASA/JPL and Cal Tech The new model of the structure of Enceladus, showing the southern ocean and rocky silicate core. Credit: NASA/JPL and Cal Tech

    Measurements from the Cassini spacecraft have found a body of liquid water the size of a great lake on Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

    Speculations about the abundance of water on Enceladus have been ongoing since plumes were discovered jetting out of its south pole in 2005. Debates centered around whether the water jets were a local phenomenon, resulting from friction between surface ice, or proof of a large subsurface supply, such as a lake or ocean.

    The latest ...

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  1. From Soup to Cells: Measuring the Emergence of Life


    Sara Walker, assistant professor at Arizona State University. Credit: BEYOND, ASU Sara Walker, assistant professor at Arizona State University. Credit: BEYOND, ASU

    Astrobiologist Sara Walker is exploring ways to measure the transition from non-living to living matter. Her approach could broaden our understanding of how unique—or common—life might be in the Universe.

    The story of life’s origin is one of the great unsolved mysteries of science. The puzzle boils down to bridging the gap between two worlds—chemistry and biology. We know how molecules behave, and we know how cells work. But we still don’t know how a soup of lifeless molecules could have given rise to ...

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  1. Producing Prebiotic Chemistry by Impacting Ice


    Compounds dissociate to form functionalized aromatic hydrocarbons upon expansion and cooling to ambient conditions. Credit: Adapted from Goldman and Tamblyn, 2013. Compounds dissociate to form functionalized aromatic hydrocarbons upon expansion and cooling to ambient conditions. Credit: Adapted from Goldman and Tamblyn, 2013.

    Astrobiologists have provided new information about how comets and asteroids could have delivered prebiotic chemical compounds to the early Earth. The team studied how shock pressures can lead to the production of a number of compounds that could have been used in life’s origins. They performed their study by simulating impacts into an icy mixture rich in carbon dioxide.

    Impacts that generated only moderate pressures were needed to produce aromatic hydrocarbons when the mixture was heated, expanded and ...

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