NAI

  1. News From Kepler: Five New Exoplanets


    Chart of Kepler planet candidates as of January 2014. Chart of Kepler planet candidates as of January 2014.

    More than three-quarters of the planet candidates discovered by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft have sizes ranging from that of Earth to that of Neptune, which is nearly four times as big as Earth. Such planets dominate the galactic census but are not represented in our own solar system. Astronomers don’t know how they form or if they are made of rock, water or gas.

    The Kepler team today reports on four years of ground-based follow-up observations targeting Kepler’s exoplanet systems at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Washington. These ...

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  1. Solving a Temperature Mystery on Extrasolar Planets


    The sun is just below the horizon in this photo and creates an orange-red glow above the Earth’s surface, which is the troposphere, or lowest layer of the atmosphere. The tropopause is the brown line The sun is just below the horizon in this photo and creates an orange-red glow above the Earth’s surface, which is the troposphere, or lowest layer of the atmosphere. The tropopause is the brown line along the upper edge of the troposphere. Above both are the stratosphere, higher atmospheric layers, and the blackness of space. Credit: NASA Johnson Space Center

    Astrobiologists supported by the NASA Astrobiology Institute have found that a peculiar feature in the atmosphere of Earth could also be present on billions of extrasolar planets. The new findings will help in the search for habitable worlds beyond ...

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  1. Two New Extrasolar Planet Atmospheres Observed


    Scientists using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have characterized the atmospheres of two of the most common type of planets in the Milky Way galaxy and found both may be blanketed with clouds.

    The planets are GJ 436b, located 36 light-years from Earth in the constellation Leo, and GJ 1214b, 40 light-years away in the constellation Ophiuchus. Despite numerous efforts, the nature of the atmospheres surrounding these planets had eluded definitive characterization until now. The researchers described their work as an important milestone on the road to characterizing potentially habitable, Earth-like worlds beyond the solar system. Their findings appear in ...

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  1. Curious Results From Mars


    Rover traverse and location of ChemCam soil targets for the first 100 sols Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona, Figure from Meslin et al. (2013) Rover traverse and location of ChemCam soil targets for the first 100 sols Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona, Figure from Meslin et al. (2013)

    NASA’s Curiosity rover is now returning vast amounts of data from Mars. Findings from the mission were recently showcased in two special editions in the journal Science. In September, five papers were released describing results of Curiosity’s examinations of the rock Jake_M and a site known as Rocknest. Astrobiology Magazine spoke with some of the researchers behind the September Science articles in order to better understand how Curiosity’s findings relate to the ...

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  1. Seasonally Changing Surface Flows on Mars


    Seasonal Changes in Dark Marks on an Equatorial Martian Slope These images from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show how the appearance of dark markings on Martian slope changes with the seasons. The marks, called recurrent slope linea, extend down slopes during warmer months and fade away during cooler months. This animation shows the same location at several times of year. The location is in a crater on the floor of Valles Marineris, near the Martian equator.

    NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has revealed to scientists slender dark markings — possibly due to salty water – that advance seasonally down slopes surprisingly ...

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  1. Titan’s North: A Land-O-Lakes


    This colorized mosaic from NASA's Cassini mission shows the most complete view yet of Titan's northern land of lakes and seas. Saturn's moon Titan is the only world in our solar system other than Earth that has stable liquid on its surface. The liquid in Titan's lakes and seas is mostly methane and ethane.

    NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is providing scientists with key clues about Saturn’s moon Titan, and in particular, its hydrocarbon lakes and seas.

    Titan is one of the most Earth-like places in the solar system, and the only place other than our planet that has stable liquid on its surface.

    Cassini’s recent close flybys are bringing into sharper focus a region in Titan’s ...

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  1. Dating on the Shores of a Habitable Martian Lake


    This mosaic of images from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) instrument on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows a series of sedimentary deposits in the Glenelg area of Gale Crater, from a perspective in Yellowkn This mosaic of images from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) instrument on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows a series of sedimentary deposits in the Glenelg area of Gale Crater, from a perspective in Yellowknife Bay looking toward west-northwest. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

    Six new papers outlining science results from NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars have been published in the journal Science Express. Talks on the results were also given during the 2013 Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), held in San Francisco from December 9-13.

    The papers provide valuable information for astrobiologists who are attempting to ...

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  1. Water Vapor Venting From Europa


    This is an artist's concept of a plume of water vapor thought to be ejected off the frigid, icy surface of the Jovian moon Europa, located about 500 million miles (800 million kilometers) from the sun

    NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has observed water vapor above the frigid south polar region of Jupiter’s moon Europa, providing the first strong evidence of water plumes erupting off the moon’s surface.

    Previous scientific findings from other sources already point to the existence of an ocean located under Europa’s icy crust. Researchers are not yet certain whether the detected water vapor is generated by water plumes erupting on the surface, but they are confident this is the most likely explanation. Should further observations support the finding, it would make Europa the second moon in the solar system ...

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  1. Could Life Hitch a Ride to Saturn and Jupiter?


    Voyager 1 took photos of Jupiter and two of its moons (Io, left, and Europa) on Feb. 13, 1979. Credit: NASA/JPL Voyager 1 took photos of Jupiter and two of its moons (Io, left, and Europa) on Feb. 13, 1979. Credit: NASA/JPL

    A new study supported by the NASA Astrobiology Institute suggests that the possibility of life being transferred from the inner solar system to the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, although very rare, cannot be ruled out.

    The idea that life can spread through space is known as panspermia. One class of panspermia is lithopanspermia — the notion that life might travel on rocks knocked off a world’s surface. If these meteoroids encase hardy enough organisms, they could seed ...

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  1. Signals of Water on Extrasolar Planets


    This illustration shows a star's light illuminating the atmosphere of a planet.

    Using the powerful­ eye of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, two teams of scientists, funded in part by the NASA Astrobiology Institute, have found faint signatures of water in the atmospheres of five distant planets.

    The presence of atmospheric water was reported previously on a few exoplanets orbiting stars beyond our solar system, but this is the first study to conclusively measure and compare the profiles and intensities of these signatures on multiple worlds.

    The five planets — WASP-17b, HD209458b, WASP-12b, WASP-19b and XO-1b — orbit nearby stars. The strengths of their water signatures varied. WASP-17b, a planet with an especially puffed-up ...

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  1. FameLab@AGU!


    Winners from FameLab@AGU 2013

    Please join us in congratulating our winner and wild cards from the FameLab regional heat at AGU 2013 in San Francisco on December 8th! From left to right: Alli Coffin from Washington State University (wild card), Lilah Rahn-Lee from UC Berkeley (wild card), and Gabriella March from the University of Wisconsin, Madison (winner and audience choice).

    Thirteen early career scientists participated in the day – in the morning each contestant gave their first 3-minute, powerpoint-free talk to the judges, and in the afternoon all took part in a training focused on principles and best practices in science communication. Nine advanced to ...

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  1. The State of Super Earths


    Artist's impression of Kepler-62f, a potential super-Earth in its star's habitable zone. Credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech Artist's impression of Kepler-62f, a potential super-Earth in its star's habitable zone. Credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech

    Super-Earths are planets that range from 2-10 times the mass of the Earth, and with radii up to twice as large as our planet. A number of super-Earths have been identified around distant stars, but scientists have yet to determine if any of these planets could be habitable for life as we know it.

    The first step in identifying a habitable super-Earth is to check and see if it has a stable, long-term orbit that sits within the habitable zone of its ...

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  1. Ancient Minerals on Earth and the Origin of Life


    The magnesium silicate forsterite was one of the most abundant minerals in the Hadean Eon, and it played a major role in Earth's near-surface processes. The green color of this mineral (which is also The magnesium silicate forsterite was one of the most abundant minerals in the Hadean Eon, and it played a major role in Earth's near-surface processes. The green color of this mineral (which is also known as the semi-precious gemstone peridot, the birthstone of August) is caused by small amounts iron. The iron can react with seawater to promote chemical reactions that may have played a role in life's origins. Credit: Photo courtesy of Robert Downs, University of Arizona, Ruff Project

    The origin of life is thought to have been the result of natural processes that took advantage of ...

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  1. Dining on Methane in the Cold, Dark Sea


    The image to the left shows Jennifer Glass working in a chamber where she can control the oxygen levels to mimic the deep sea environment. On the right is an example of marine gas hydrates on the sea The image to the left shows Jennifer Glass working in a chamber where she can control the oxygen levels to mimic the deep sea environment. On the right is an example of marine gas hydrates on the sea floor. Credit: Rob Felt (left image); US Department of Energy (right image)

    Astrobiologists supported in part by the NASA Astrobiology Institute have performed a detailed analysis of the biochemistry that helps microorganisms thrive in extremely cold environments around methane seeps on the ocean floor.

    The study was led by Jennifer Glass at Georgia Tech, and reveals previously unknown details about how two ...

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  1. The Oldest Signs of Life on Earth


    An example of wrinkle mats at the Dresser Formation. Credit: Wikicommons An example of wrinkle mats at the Dresser Formation. Credit: Wikicommons

    Scientists studying geological structures in Australia have found evidence of microbial life in 3.48 billion-year-old rocks. Their discovery could represent the oldest biosignatures yet identified on Earth.

    Nora Noffke of Old Dominion University first spotted what looked like a microbially-induced sedimentary structure (or MISS) while visiting Australia in 2008. The MISS structures were found in Western Australia’s Dresser Formation, which contains some of the oldest known rocks on Earth’s surface. The Dresser Formation is an active research site for scientists studying the ancient environment of Earth ...

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