1. Uncertain Object Orbiting Brown Dwarf Confirmed as Giant Planet

    NAI’s Ben Zuckerman of the UCLA team told UCLA, “The two objects – the giant planet and the young brown dwarf – are moving together; we have observed them for a year, and the new images essentially confirm our 2004 finding.” The international team recently published their discovery in Astronomy and Astrophysics. Team lead Gael Chauvin of the European Southern Observatory declares this to be the first planet outside our Solar System ever to be imaged.

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  1. The 2005 General Meeting of the NASA Astrobiology Institute

    Many attendees felt that astrobiology had come of age. The NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) held its fourth biennial meeting at Boulder, Colorado, April 10-14.

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  1. Iron Record: Ancient Rocks Tell the Story of Oxygen, and Life

    About two billion years ago, a flood of oxygen dramatically changed Earth’s chemistry. Researchers have reconstructed this transformation through studying ancient iron pyrite rocks. Studying the iron in rocks from other planets may give evidence of extraterrestrial life.

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  1. On the Road

    A human geologist could productively cover a two-kilometer stretch of ground in perhaps an hour and a half. For a robotic geologist – NASA’s Spirit rover – it takes a bit longer, more like a month and a half. Still, it’s an impressive journey that will yield important scientific information.

    Spirit’s destination is the Columbia Hills, a group of seven low hills that rise up from the floor of Gusev Crater about 1.7 kilometers (about 1.2 miles) from the rover’s landing site. The Columbia Hills are a tempting target because, scientists believe, they are older than ...

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  1. New Endolithic Microbial Community at Yellowstone

    This week in Nature, members of NAI’s University of Colorado, Boulder team published their description of an extremely acidic, endolithic, microbial community inhabiting the pore spaces between rocks Yellowstone National Park’s Norris Geyser Basin. The community includes mainly photosynthetic algae and previously unknown Mycobacterium species.

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  1. Finding a Second Sample of Life on Earth?

    Scientists and theorists from NAI’s International Affiliate Member, The Australian Centre for Astrobiology, recently published a “hypothesis paper” in Astrobiology discussing the possibility of life emerging on Earth more than once.

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  1. A Deeper Look Into “Great Dying” Theory

    This week, NAI Principal Investigator Peter Ward published a follow on to his January Science paper which described a potential cause for the extinction events on the P/T boundary: “atmospheric warming because of greenhouse gases triggered by erupting volcanoes.” This new paper, “Hypoxia, Global Warming, and Terrestrial Late Permian Extinctions,” further elucidates this story; its focus is on characterizing environmental degradation approaching and succeeding the “final catastrophe.”

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  1. MISSIONS – Flying a Science Lab to Mars

    Even before the Mars Science Lander (MSL) touches down descending from its hovering mother ship like a baby spider from an egg case the first of a slew of cameras will have started recording, capturing and storing high-resolution video of the landing area.

    The MSL landing will represent a first, says Frank Palluconi, MSL project scientist. After entering the Mars atmosphere- like Viking and MER but with a potential landing zone about one fourth the size – he says, MSL will show its stuff. “It completes the descent down to the ten-meter [33-foot] level, or so, where the descent vehicle hovers ...

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  1. NAI Scientists Turn to Mexican Lake for Clues to Alien Life

    Scientists from NAI’s Virtual Planetary Laboratory recently visited the exotic lakes of Cuatro Ciengas in Mexico’s Chihuahuan desert. What’s being studied there may provide clues what life on other, distant worlds may be like, and help scientists understand and interpret the data coming back from extrasolar planets?

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  1. New Study Implies More Hydrogen in Early Earth Atmosphere Than Previously Thought

    NAI researchers on the University of Colorado Team published a new paper this week in ScienceExpress describing an increased quantity of hydrogen in Earth’s early atmosphere due to a slower escape rate. In contrast to the view that the early atmosphere was oxidizing, this work implies a more favorable “climate” for the production of pre-biotic organic compounds like amino acids, and ultimately, life.

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  1. Eventual Renewal of Frozen Worlds?

    An international collaboration including scientists from NAI’s International Partner, Groupement de Recherche en Exobiologie (GDR Exobio), published recently in Astrophysics their new ideas about the temporal evolution of the circumstellar habitable zone. They describe the possibility of an icy planet in orbit around a star becoming “revived,” and potentially habitable as the star leaves its main sequence. GDR Exobio collaborator Bruno Lopez of the Observatoire de la Cote d’Azur told NASA, “Our result indicates that searches for life-giving worlds outside our Solar System should include planets around old stars.”

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  1. Using Isotopes to Probe the Earliest History of the Solar Nebula

    Members of the NAI UCLA team led by Ed Young are using high-precision analysis of tiny grains in meteorites to probe the earliest history of the solar nebula. The age of the solar system is set at 4.567 billion years, and the new work traces some of the history of these small grains during about 300,000 years, before the formation of comets, asteroids, or planets.

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  1. New Tools to Study Extrasolar Planets

    NAI scientists led one of two teams that have announced the first measurements of light from planets around other stars. The Spitzer Space Telescope detected infrared emissions from these two planets, both of which are “hot Jupiters’ — giant planets orbiting very close to their parent star. This brings a third technique to the study of these planets, which had previously been detected by their gravitational pull on the star and by the dimming of the star as the planet crosses in front of it. As noted by Drake Demming of the Goddard NAI Team, “Spitzer has provided us with a ...

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  1. A Different Type of Marine Thermal Vent

    NAI-supported researchers lead by Deborah S. Kelley of the University of Washington have discovered a new type of marine ecosystem. The Lost City seafloor vents are alkaline rather than acidic, and they produce white chimneys rather than black smokers. Their paper, just published in Science, discusses the unique life found at this locations, such as methane-producing microbes and tiny transparent shrimps and crabs.

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  1. Dry Signs of Life

    A unique rover-based life detection system developed by Carnegie Mellon University scientists has found signs of life in Chile’s Atacama Desert, according to results being presented at the 36th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference March 14-18 in Houston. This marks the first time a rover-based automated technology has been used to identify life in this harsh region, which serves as a test bed for technology that could be deployed in future Mars missions.

    “Our life detection system worked very well, and something like it ultimately may enable robots to look for life on Mars,” said Alan Waggoner, Atacama team ...

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