NAI

  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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  1. Early Career Seminar: Paula Welander


    Early Career Seminar: Paula Welander Early Career Seminar: Paula Welander

    Hopanoid Biosynthesis and Function in Methanotrophic Bacteria

    Paula Welander of Stanford University will be presenting the next Early Career Seminar on April 7, 2014, at 11am PDT. Welander studies molecular fossils in order to better understand how microbial communities in the past altered the Earth’s surface environment and impacted life’s evolution on our planet.

    Details of Welander’s upcoming talk can be found here.

    Source: [Early Career Seminars]

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  1. Icy Debris Around Nearby Star Suggests “Shepherd” Planet


    This artist's concept illustrates the preferred model for explaining ALMA observations of Beta Pictoris. At the outer fringes of the system, the gravitational influence of a hypothetical giant planet This artist's concept illustrates the preferred model for explaining ALMA observations of Beta Pictoris. At the outer fringes of the system, the gravitational influence of a hypothetical giant planet (bottom left) captures comets into a dense, massive swarm (right) where frequent collisions occur. Image Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/F. Reddy

    An international team of astronomers led by NAI-funded astrobiologists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center exploring the disk of gas and dust around a nearby star have uncovered a compact cloud of poisonous gas formed by ongoing rapid-fire collisions among a swarm of icy, comet-like ...

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  1. Solar System’s Edge Redefined


    These are the discovery images of 2012 VP113. Three images of the night sky, each taken about two hours apart, were combined into one. The first image was artificially colored red, second green and th These are the discovery images of 2012 VP113. Three images of the night sky, each taken about two hours apart, were combined into one. The first image was artificially colored red, second green and third blue. 2012 VP113 moved between each image as seen by the red, green and blue dots. The background stars and galaxies did not move. Credit: Courtesy Scott Sheppard and Chad Trujillo

    Astronomers have spotted a new dwarf planet named 2012 VP113, the discovery of which extends the edge of the known Solar System. 2012 VP113 is likely to be just one of the thousands of ...

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  1. Reviving the Debate About Life on Mars


    This scanning electron microscope image of a polished thin section of a meteorite from Mars shows tunnels and curved microtunnels. Image Credit: NASA This scanning electron microscope image of a polished thin section of a meteorite from Mars shows tunnels and curved microtunnels. Image Credit: NASA

    Scientists at NASA’s Johnson Space Center and JPL have recently found evidence of past water movement throughout a Martian meteorite, reviving debate in the scientific community over life on Mars.

    In 1996, a group of scientists at Johnson led by David McKay, Everett Gibson, and Kathie Thomas-Keprta published an article in Science announcing the discovery of biogenic evidence in the Allan Hills 84001(ALH84001) meteorite.

    In this new study, Gibson and his colleagues focused on structures ...

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  1. Recreating Europa’s Crust


    Lenticulae terrain on the surface of Europa. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/University of Colorado Lenticulae terrain on the surface of Europa. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/University of Colorado

    Researchers at the Centro de Astrobiología (CAB) in Spain have used laboratory experiments to show that water, salts and gases dissolved in Europa’s ocean could rise to the surface to create geological features. The study might help explain how reddish materials at the surface are formed.

    Images of Europa from missions like Galileo and Voyager revealed red-tinged materials associated with fractures in the moon’s icy surface. Astrobiologists have long wondered if these reddish marks are evidence that materials can be transported between ...

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  1. Perchlorate Radiolysis on Mars


    The Viking 1 lander dug trenches on Mars to collect samples for later analysis. Credit: NASA The Viking 1 lander dug trenches on Mars to collect samples for later analysis. Credit: NASA

    Astrobiologists supported by the Exobiology element of NASA’s Astrobiology Program have provided new information about the survival of biosignatures on Mars. Their study also provides new insight into data from a NASA mission that was sent to the red planet almost 40 years ago.

    In 1976, NASA’s twin Viking probes landed on Mars to search for signs of microbial life. The data they returned created a great deal of debate. The new study published last autumn in the journal Astrobiology reveals details ...

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  1. Exoplanet Education Guide


    Artist's conception of an exoplanet. Art by Karen Teramura. Artist's conception of an exoplanet. Art by Karen Teramura.

    The discovery and characterization of exoplanets is one of the most exciting and fast-changing areas in modern astronomical research. As a result, Astronomy 101 instructors have had trouble keeping up with the flow of new techniques, instruments and discoveries. To help, NASA missions, educational projects around the country, and scientists themselves have produced a wide range of materials that astronomy instructors (and their students) can use to learn about the latest developments. This annotated guide is designed to highlight useful materials on the web and in print. It was produced ...

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  1. Super-Habitable World May Exist Near Earth


    This artist’s impression shows the planet orbiting the star Alpha Centauri B, a member of the triple star system that is the closest to Earth. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada This artist’s impression shows the planet orbiting the star Alpha Centauri B, a member of the triple star system that is the closest to Earth. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada

    Earth is the only known example of an inhabited planet in the Universe, so the search for alien life has focused on Earth-like worlds. But what if there are alien worlds that are even more habitable than Earth-like planets?

    A recent paper in the journal Astrobiology examines the potential for so-called “superhabitable” worlds. One such planet might even exist around the stellar system closest to Earth: Alpha Centauri B.

    The ...

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