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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  1. Universe of Disks

    Living next to a ringed planet in a flat solar system in a spiral galaxy may make you think there are a lot of disk-shapes in space. And, indeed, there are. A January 2005 issue of the journal Science contains a special section featuring the roles disks play in the universe.

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  1. NASA Study Suggests Giant Space Clouds Iced Earth

    Astrobiology includes the study of ways that astronomical events can influence the evolution of life on Earth. Alex Pavlov of the NAI University of Colorado team reports in two papers how passage of the solar system through dense cool clouds of dust and gas (called molecular clouds by astronomers) could influence the climate, producing extinctions and perhaps triggering the state known as “snowball Earth”. Much of this research was performed while Pavlov was a NAI postdoctoral fellow.

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  1. Context for the Origin of Life on Earth

    The origins of life – the nature of the transition from inanimate to animate chemistry – is one of the major mysteries of astrobiology. The first of the three theme-questions in astrobiology – Where did we come from? – deals in part with origins, whether the process took place on the ancient Earth or elsewhere. One perspective suggests that chemical interactions between water and various minerals might have been important.

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  1. Touchdown on a Strange Land

    On January 14 the Huygens Probe, built by the European Space Agency, made a soft landing on the surface of Saturn’s moon Titan. The first data from the atmosphere and surface reveal a remarkable place indeed, as described in a science press conference held in Paris on January 21.

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  1. The Greatest Mass Extinction: A Bang or a Whimper?

    At the boundary between the Permian and Triassic periods, 252 million years ago, multi-celled life on planet Earth was nearly terminated. This PT mass extinction represents the greatest dying in the fossil record, with more than 90 percent of species lost. New results from South Africa provide the best-ever picture of the PT extinction on land, suggesting that it was a much more complex process than would be expected for a comet or asteroid impact.

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  1. MISSIONS – Plunge to Methane Lake?

    Imagine descending through hurricane-like conditions where wind speeds can reach 400 miles per hour and the ground temperatures drop as low as -300 degrees Fahrenheit. A choking haze envelopes everything. If all goes well, on January 14, a tiny capsule will take this plunge in hopes of sending back data and pictures near the surface of the Earth-like moon, Titan.

    As part of the Cassini Imaging team studying the atmosphere on Saturn, Anthony Del Genio explained to Astrobiology Magazine his interests in the giant ringed world, Saturn and its strange moons.

    Del Genio is a research scientist at NASA Goddard ...

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  1. MISSIONS – Titan: Looking Back to the Future

    As the Huygens probe begins its descent through Titan’s thick haze, few can offer the unique perspective of those who were there in the room when the daring concept for the mission was conceived.

    University of Arizona Emeritus Professor, Don Hunten, was present in the beginning more than two decades ago, and this week’s culmination is another milestone in his remarkable career as a planetary scientist. When Hunten received the prestigious Fleming Award from the American Geophysical Union in 1998, he was recognized by his peers for his “original research and technical leadership in geomagnetism, atmospheric electricity, aeronomy ...

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  1. MISSIONS – Titan Close Up

    The European Space Agency has released the first 3 of several hundred images captured by the Huygens probe during its descent through the atmosphere of Saturn’s giant moon Titan. Although the images have not yet been cleaned up – they were released in their raw form – they reveal a world of diverse landforms, shaped at least in part by fluid erosion. Two of the images are reminiscent of early photographs of Mars.

    The left half of the first image, taken from a height of 16 kilometers (10 miles) above Titan’s surface, shows a pattern of branching channels that look ...

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  1. MISSIONS – Did Fluid Once Flow on Titan?

    Carolyn Porco of the Space Science Institute (Boulder, Colorado) heads Cassini’s imaging science team. She sat down with Astrobiology Magazine’s Chief Editor, Helen Matsos, to give a scientist’s first look at Titan from the European Space Agency’s Darmstadt, Germany mission control room.

    Porco, also an University of Arizona adjunct professor of planetary sciences, describes her excitement and surprise when the Mars-like imagery first beamed down to Earth from Titan’s surface. Porco speculates what might elementally comprise those mysteriously smooth boulders in the foreground.

    Helen Matsos (HM): What is your reaction to the stunning photos from ...

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  1. MISSIONS – Rendezvous With Titan

    For nearly a decade, scientists around the world have been waiting patiently for the European Space Agency’s Huygens probe to arrive at its destination: Saturn’s giant moon Titan. Now, as the Huygens science team gathers at ESA’s control center in Darmstadt, Germany, that wait is almost over. In less than 24 hours, Huygens will descend down through Titan’s thick shroud of fog, taking a host of measurements along the way. The data the probe sends back will reveal Titan in far more detail than any previous mission has offered. Results from Hugyens may also provide a ...

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  1. Titan or Bust!

    On January 14th, four weeks after separation with the Cassini spacecraft, the European Space Agency’s Huygens probe will enter Titan’s atmosphere. Along its several-hour-long journey to the surface, it will collect, along with other data, the sounds of the atmosphere.

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  1. Activities of Subseafloor Life More Diverse Than Expected

    NAI-funded research on cores recovered through the Joint Oceanographic’s Ocean Drilling Program show that the activity of microbial life beneath the seafloor is far more diverse than expected.

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