NAI

  1. 2014 NASA Astrobiology MIRS Fellows


    Please join us in welcoming four new fellows to the NASA Astrobiology Minority Institution Research Support (MIRS) Program!

    The goal of the NAI MIRS Program is to help train a new generation of researchers in astrobiology and to increase diversity within the astrobiology community. Over the past ten years, the program has provided opportunities for faculty members and students from minority-serving institutions to partner with astrobiology investigators.

    One of the program’s main objectives is to engage more faculty from under-represented schools in astrobiology research and increase the number of students pursuing careers in astrobiology.

    The four newest MIRS partnerships ...

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  1. Could Alien Life Cope With a Hotter, Brighter Star?


    An artist's impression of an exoplanet orbiting the well-known, nearby F-type main sequence star Procyon, the brightest star in the constellation Canis Minor. Credit: RedOrbit.com An artist's impression of an exoplanet orbiting the well-known, nearby F-type main sequence star Procyon, the brightest star in the constellation Canis Minor. Credit: RedOrbit.com

    The stars in the night sky shine in myriad hues and brightnesses—piercing blues, clean whites, smoldering crimsons. Every star has a different mass, the basic characteristic that determines its size, lifespan, light output and temperature (which we discern as a particular color).

    Yet when it comes to the existence of life, we know with certainty of only a single star—a toasty, yellow-whitish one, our Sun—that has permitted the rise of ...

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  1. Vitamin B3 Might Have Been Made in Space, Delivered to Earth by Meteorites


    Karen Smith crushing meteorites with a mortar and pestle in Goddard’s Astrobiology Analytical Laboratory to prepare them for analysis. Vitamin B3 was found in all eight meteorites analyzed in the stud Karen Smith crushing meteorites with a mortar and pestle in Goddard’s Astrobiology Analytical Laboratory to prepare them for analysis. Vitamin B3 was found in all eight meteorites analyzed in the study. Image Credit: Karen Smith

    Ancient Earth might have had an extraterrestrial supply of vitamin B3 delivered by carbon-rich meteorites, according to a new analysis by NASA Astrobiology Institute-funded researchers. The result supports a theory that the origin of life may have been assisted by a supply of key molecules created in space and brought to Earth by comet and meteor impacts.

    “It is always difficult to put a ...

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  1. HabWorlds Beyond: A New Type of Online Course


    Smart Sparrow and NAI-funded researchers and educators at Arizona State University announce the launch of a new type of online course! HabWorlds Beyond is a platform that lets educators create rich, interactive and adaptive learning experiences. It teaches students about space exploration, climate science, and the search for life on other planets. Centered on one of the most profound questions in science – does life exist elsewhere in the Universe? HabWorlds Beyond uses game-like simulations to expose students to the thought processes and practice of science in a fun and engaging way.

    HabWorlds Beyond stems from Habitable Worlds – ASU Online’s ...

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  1. New View of Ganymede


    This artist's concept of Jupiter's moon Ganymede, the largest moon in the solar system, illustrates the "club sandwich" model of its interior oceans. Scientists suspect Ganymede has a massive ocean un This artist's concept of Jupiter's moon Ganymede, the largest moon in the solar system, illustrates the "club sandwich" model of its interior oceans. Scientists suspect Ganymede has a massive ocean under an icy crust. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    The largest moon in our solar system, a companion to Jupiter named Ganymede, might have ice and oceans stacked up in several layers like a club sandwich, according to new NASA-funded research that models the moon’s makeup.

    Previously, the moon was thought to harbor a thick ocean sandwiched between just two layers of ice, one on top and one ...

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  1. Probing the Depths of the Methane World


    Methane bubbles rising from the seafloor. Credit: NOAA-OER/BOEM/USGS Methane bubbles rising from the seafloor. Credit: NOAA-OER/BOEM/USGS

    In 2011, Jennifer Glass joined a scientific cruise to study a methane seep off of Oregon’s coast. In these cold, dark depths, microbes buried in the sediment feast on methane that seeps through the seafloor.

    A product of their metabolism, bicarbonate, reacts with calcium in seawater to form tall rocky deposits. The chemical energy these organisms extract from methane supports a vibrant underworld — an eclectic blanket of microbial mats, clam fields and tube worms.

    “It’s such a beautiful landscape,” says Glass, an alumnus of NASA’s Astrobiology post-doctoral ...

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  1. Earth’s Crust Younger Than Moon-Forming Impact


    A zircon from the Jack Hills in Western Australia was claimed to be 4.4 billion years old. The grain is probably less than 100 million years younger than the Earth–Moon system and is likely to be a re A zircon from the Jack Hills in Western Australia was claimed to be 4.4 billion years old. The grain is probably less than 100 million years younger than the Earth–Moon system and is likely to be a remnant of the oldest continental crust. Image Credit: John Valley, Univ. Wisconsin

    The age of the Earth’s crust is contentious, and geologic material available for analysis is few and far between. In a new study in Nature Geoscience, NAI-funded astrobiologists have mapped the distribution of radiogenic isotopes within an ancient zircon from the Jack Hills in Western Australia (a site ...

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  1. NAI Interim Director: Announcement


    Due to unexpected personal conflicts, Dr. Michael Meyer has declined the position of NAI’s Interim Director. Dr. Meyer explains, “Unfortunately, the requirements levied to resolve a conflict-of-interest were unacceptable. I am disappointed that I am unable to accept the Interim Director position with NAI – I very much looked forward to re-engaging with the great work being done at the NAI.” Dr. Steve Zornetzer, Associate Director for Research and Technology at Ames Research Center, indicated that the Center will consider appointing another Interim Director for NAI while re-establishing the search for a distinguished scientific leader for the permanent Director’s ...

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  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


    The research team, from right to left, co-authors Eoghan Reeves, Jill McDermott, and Jeff Seewald and their WHOI colleagues Frieder Klein and Sean Sylva used isobaric gas-tight samplers (IGTs) to coll The research team, from right to left, co-authors Eoghan Reeves, Jill McDermott, and Jeff Seewald and their WHOI colleagues Frieder Klein and Sean Sylva used isobaric gas-tight samplers (IGTs) to collect and analyze samples of hydrothermal vent fluids (Jason pilot Scott Hansen peeks out from the background) on a cruise to the Cayman Trough in 2012. Seewald developed the samplers to collect fluids, some exceeding 700°F, and return them to the surface under pressure to preserve their physical and chemical composition. Credit: Julie Huber, copyright Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

    Astrobiologists studying hydrothermal vents have tested a theory that simple ...

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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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