NAI

  1. Life’s Origins in a Prebiotic Fuel Cell


    Wet rocky planets as geochemical fuel cells. This electrical energy is focused in hydrothermal systems, and different planetary environments can be simulated in fuel cell experiments. Credit: Barge et Wet rocky planets as geochemical fuel cells. This electrical energy is focused in hydrothermal systems, and different planetary environments can be simulated in fuel cell experiments. Credit: Barge et al. 2014

    Astrobiologists supported by the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) have demonstrated a new way to study the origin of life: fuel cells.

    On Earth, hydrothermal vents on the seafloor act as “geochemical fuel cells.” Living cells also generate energy through processes that are similar to fuel cells. To this end, the team used a lab-grown hydrothermal chimney to simulate origin of life reactions in a ‘fuel cell’ experiment. This ‘Prebiotic ...

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  1. Extrem-O-Philes in the Classroom!


    Two cards from the activity. Credit: ASU Two cards from the activity. Credit: ASU

    This hands-on/minds-on lesson can engage learners in a variety of settings, showing them how scientists use Earth-based bacteria to investigate the potential for lilfe on Mars.

    Working in teams, students gain knowledge about the various types of extremophiles found on Earth and use that information to correlate to Mars’ environmental conditions, both past and present. Students will then determine the most likely and interesting landing site candidates for future Mars exploration, specific to searching for potential extremophiles.

    Source: [Arizona State University]

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  1. Alien Moons Baked Dry


    An Earthlike moon orbiting a gas giant host planet. Credit: NASA An Earthlike moon orbiting a gas giant host planet. Credit: NASA

    According to a new study, heat radiating from gas giant planets could pose a problem for otherwise habitable exomoons in distant solar systems.

    Over 1000 extrasolar planets have now been identified, but most are gas giants and not rocky planets like Earth. Astrobiologists have wondered if a gas giant orbiting in the habitable zone of its host star could host rocky moons that are suitable for life as we know it. The new study, which includes work from the NASA Virtual Planetary Laboratory at the University of Washington, examines ...

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  1. Big Picture Science Radio Show


    Join Seth Shostak and his guests over the airwaves for one hour every Friday (or anytime via podcast) and you’ll be glad you did! The Big Picture Science radio show, produced by the SETI Institute, takes listeners on a journey with modern science research through lively and intelligent storytelling. A special astrobiology collection is available.

    What came before the Big Bang? How does memory work? Will our descendants be human or machine? What’s the origin of humor? We ponder these questions daily … and expound on them weekly.

    Big Picture Science takes on big questions by interviewing leading researchers ...

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  1. Charting the Chemical Universe of Amino Acid Structure


    Amino acids are fundamental to life as the building blocks with which cells construct proteins according to genetic instructions. However, the 20 amino acids of the standard genetic code represent a tiny fraction of the number of amino acid chemical structures that could plausibly play such a role, both from the perspective of natural processes by which life emerged and evolved, and from the perspective of human-engineered genetically coded proteins.

    Until now, efforts to describe the structures comprising this broader set, or even estimate their number, have been hampered by the complex properties of organic molecules. In a new study ...

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  1. The Formation of Complex Organic Molecules in Star-Forming Regions


    Eric Herbst. Credit: University of Virginia Eric Herbst. Credit: University of Virginia

    On March 10, Eric Herbst of the University of Virginia will present the next Astrobiology Director’s Seminar: The Formation of Complex Organic Molecules in Star-Forming Regions.

    Please join us at 11 am PDT. Connection details are available here.

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  1. New Technique to Date Ancient Zircons


    Jack Hills Zircon

    New light has been shed on our understanding of Earth’s early crust thanks to a new study in Nature Geoscience by NAI-funded researchers at the University of Wisconsin.

    During the Hadean eon, between Earth’s formation and 4 billion years ago, the Earth differentiated into a core, mantle and crust. The planet was also resurfaced by bombardment of planetesimals and asteroids, as well as some form of plate tectonics. As a result, few rocks of Hadean age remain. Every scrap of material older than 4 billion years is therefore of great interest.

    The oldest preserved crust was previously thought ...

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  1. Clues to the Early Solar System in Carbon Fractionation


    An artist's impression of a planet-forming disk. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle (SSC) An artist's impression of a planet-forming disk. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle (SSC)

    A team of astrobiologists supported by the NAI has shed new light on the mechanisms that fractionate carbon isotopes in planetary bodies. Their work shows that significant fractionation of carbon isotopes in nature may be the result of diffusion in iron-nickel metal, which is found inside planets and meteorites.

    Carbon is all around us. Life on Earth is carbon based, but the element is also abundant in the composition of planets and meteorites. By studying how different isotopes of carbon are formed, astrobiologists are able to ...

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  1. Astrobiology Math


    Interested in using astrobiology to teach math? Already teaching astrobiology and want to bring in some math problem sets? This resource is for you! The Astrobiology Math booklet was developed by Dr. Sten Odenwald at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center as part of the Space Math at NASA project.

    The booklet contains 75 problems, introducing many topics in astrobiology. It covers concepts in evolution, the detection of extra-solar planets, habitability, Drake’s Equation, and the properties of planets such as temperature and distance from their star.

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  1. NASA’s Kepler Mission Announces a Planet Bonanza, 715 New Worlds


    The artist concept depicts multiple-transiting planet systems, which are stars with more than one planet. The planets eclipse or transit their host star from the vantage point of the observer. This an The artist concept depicts multiple-transiting planet systems, which are stars with more than one planet. The planets eclipse or transit their host star from the vantage point of the observer. This angle is called edge-on. Credit: NASA

    On Wednesday, NASA’s Kepler missions announced that 715 new planets have been verified in orbit around 305 stars. The discovery includes multiple planet systems similar to the Solar System, and marks a significant increase in the number of small-sized planets known to orbit distant stars.

    Four of the planets are less than 2.5 times the size of Earth and orbit within ...

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  1. Microbes, How Low Can You Go?


    Tullis Onstott of Princeton University opens a borehole in a section of rock wall in a South African mine. Image credit: Lisa M. Pratt / The Trustees of Indiana University / NASA / National Science Fo Tullis Onstott of Princeton University opens a borehole in a section of rock wall in a South African mine. Image credit: Lisa M. Pratt / The Trustees of Indiana University / NASA / National Science Foundation

    It seems like anywhere you look on Earth, microorganisms are there – even kilometers beneath the Earth’s surface where sunlight never reaches. Scientists are just beginning to understand Earth’s deep subsurface biosphere, but a new study supported by the NAI might help determine just how far down microbes can go on our planet. The results could also shed light on the potential for life’s origins ...

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  1. Searching for Life: What Does It Mean for Humanity?


    Is intelligence inevitable? How altruistic will aliens be (or will they just wipe us out)? These are just some of the questions posed at a Library of Congress astrobiology discussion on January 28, 2014. Moderated by Washington Post reporter Joel Achenbach, NASA/Library of Congress Astrobiology Chairs David Grinspoon and Steven Dick addressed the topic of “Searching for Life in the Universe: What Does it Mean for Humanity?”

    Grinspoon said it seems likely life is widespread throughout the universe because it originated so quickly on Earth. Soon after our planet settled down from its own tumultuous origins, life appeared.

    “Any ...

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  1. Meet a Rover Driver!


    Attention students! On February 27th, join this very special opportunity to meet and interact with one of Curiosity’s drivers—JPL’s Vandi Tompkins—ask questions about her life and career, and especially what it’s like to drive the rover. For more information, visit the NBN Mars Lab website.

    Source: [NBN Mars Lab]

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  1. Michael Meyer to Serve as NAI Director


    Effective April 7, 2014, Michael Meyer will serve on a one-year detail assignment as the interim director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

    NAI is a virtual, distributed organization of competitively-selected teams that integrate astrobiology research and training programs in concert with the national and international science communities. It is supported by the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

    NAI’s missions are to carry out, support, and catalyze collaborative, interdisciplinary research; to train the next generation of astrobiology researchers; to provide scientific and technical leadership on astrobiology investigations ...

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  1. Thomas Pierson 1950-2014


    Tom Pierson of the SETI Institute. Credit: SETI Tom Pierson of the SETI Institute. Credit: SETI

    Tom Pierson, who founded the SETI Institute and went on to become its Chief Executive Officer for most of the organization’s first thirty years, died on February 20 of cancer. He had been on medical leave since 2012.

    Under Pierson’s guidance, the Institute grew from a tiny, narrowly focused research center with a handful of employees to its current status: an internationally known organization that is home to more than 130 scientists, educators, and support staff.

    Thomas Pierson was presented the Distinguished Public Service Medal by the National Aeronautics and ...

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