NAI

  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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  1. Astrobiologist Receives Presidential Early Career Award


    Please join us in congratulating Moh El-Naggar, from NAI’s team at the University of Southern California, who recently received a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

    Moh El-Naggar is an assistant professor of physics at the University of Southern California. El-Naggar received a B.S. degree from Lehigh University (2001), followed by M.S. (2002) and Ph.D. (2007) degrees from the division of engineering and applied science of the California Institute of Technology, where he was an Applied Materials, Inc. fellow. As a biophysicist, El-Naggar is a pioneer in studying energy conversion and charge transmission at ...

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  1. UH NAI-Nordic Winter School in Astrobiology


    A special “Winter School” for early career astrobiologists was held from January 1-14, 2014 in Hawai’i. The school was co-sponsored by the NAI team at the University of Hawai’i and the Nordic Network for Astrobiology.

    The program combined lectures, field excursions, and extended discussion time, and combined astronomy, biology, and geology via three main venues: Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, UH Institute for Astronomy in Hilo, HI, and the UH main campus in Manoa.

    30 participants from 8 countries joined 33 speakers and staff, also from around the world, to take part in 29 hours of lectures, 16 ...

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  1. Impacting the Hadean Earth


    The process of collision and accretion created the four rocky, or terrestrial, planets of our inner solar system — Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. Credit: NASA Discovery Program The process of collision and accretion created the four rocky, or terrestrial, planets of our inner solar system — Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. Credit: NASA Discovery Program

    Astrobiologists supported by the NASA Astrobiology Institute have assessed the effects of impacts on the crust of the early Earth. The research could help determine whether or not evidence of such violent events in our planet’s early history could still be found in the geological record.

    During the first billion years after its formation, the inner solar system was crowded with debris. This resulted in frequent collisions, which not only played a ...

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  1. Summer Camp…in February!


    NAI’s team at RPI has been hosting the ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp for the last several years. Here is a link to the NPR show To the Best of Our Knowledge featuring a digest of last year’s camp in which teams of middle-school students designed missions to search for life on Mars. It includes interviews with students from the winning team and their parents, prefaced by a superb introduction by Dr. Wayne Roberge. The camp is a vital component of the E/PO program of the NY Center for Astrobiology, and this show does an excellent ...

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  1. Radiation and Mars Exploration


    Photo of RAD flight model in the lab (left) and an artist's impression of the Curiosity rover on Mars. Credit: NASA / JPL Photo of RAD flight model in the lab (left) and an artist's impression of the Curiosity rover on Mars. Credit: NASA / JPL

    Scientists have published the first thorough analysis of radiation readings from the surface of another planet. Using its Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD), NASA’s Curiosity rover measured radiation exposure during its journey to Mars, and the amount of radiation present at the planet’s surface.

    Radiation and its variations impact not only the planning of human and robotic missions, but also the search for extraterrestrial life. Without substantial atmospheric protection, powerful particles entering the air can penetrate ...

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  1. A Protein for Photosynthesis in Ancient Microorganisms


    A deep-sea hydrothermal vent. Credit: Photo courtesy of Chris Germen, WHOI/NSF, NASA/ROV Jason 2012, at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution A deep-sea hydrothermal vent. Credit: Photo courtesy of Chris Germen, WHOI/NSF, NASA/ROV Jason 2012, at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

    A new study reports that a protein used in plant photosynthesis could have originated 2.5 billion years ago in methanogenic microbes – long before oxygen levels rose in Earth’s atmosphere. The research was supported in part by the Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology (Exo/Evo) element of the NASA Astrobiology program.

    When studying Methanocaldococcus jannaschii, a methanogen that lives in deep-sea hydrothermal vent environments, the team found a protein called thioredoxin. This protein plays a regulatory role in photosynthesis ...

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  1. Habitability of Icy Worlds Workshop


    The Habitability of Icy Worlds workshop took place in Pasadena, CA on February 5-7, 2014. All talks and presentations were recorded and are available for viewing here.

    The workshop’s primary focus was to focus on the astrobiological potential of icy worlds in the outer solar system, including Europa, Ganymede, Enceladus, Titan, and beyond. Participants discussed future research directions and spacecraft missions that can best assess that potential. The agenda for the workshop was organized around thematic sessions that address the potential habitability of the unique planetary environments of the outer solar system.

    Source: [USRA]

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  1. NASA Astrobiology NPP Alumni Seminar Series: Jennifer Glass


    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)

    On March 3, 2014, Dr. Jennifer Glass of the Georgia Institute of Technology (GA Tech) will present the second in our series of talks from alumni of the NASA Astrobiology NASA Postdoctoral Program (NPP). In her talk, “Microbes, Methane and Metals: Insights From Geochemistry, Omics and Single Cell Imaging,” Glass ...

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  1. Space Dust Carries Water and Organic Carbon


    Water forms on interplanetary dust particles due to space-weathering from the solar wind. Hydrogen ions in the solar wind react with oxygen atoms in the dust to form tiny water-filled vesicles(blue). Water forms on interplanetary dust particles due to space-weathering from the solar wind. Hydrogen ions in the solar wind react with oxygen atoms in the dust to form tiny water-filled vesicles(blue). Credit: John Bradley, UH SOEST/ LLNL

    Could Space Dust have Delivered Life’s Ingredients to Earth?

    For the first time, scientists have detected water molecules on the surface of interplanetary dust particles. The water forms in tiny bubbles when solar wind irradiates and damages the dust grains floating through space.

    Previous research had shown that space dust also contains organic carbon—another key ingredient for life. Taken together ...

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  1. Gemini’s First Light Reveals Extrasolar System!


    Gemini Planet Imager's first light image of the light scattered by a disk of dust orbiting the young star HR4796A. This narrow ring is thought to be dust from asteroids or comets left behind by planet Gemini Planet Imager's first light image of the light scattered by a disk of dust orbiting the young star HR4796A. This narrow ring is thought to be dust from asteroids or comets left behind by planet formation; some scientists have theorized that the sharp edge of the ring is defined by an unseen planet.

    After nearly a decade of development, construction and testing, the world’s most advanced instrument for directly imaging and analyzing planets orbiting around other stars, the Gemini Planet Imager, is pointing skyward and collecting light from distant worlds. Read the full story here.

    Source: [Lawrence ...

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  1. NAI Director’s Seminar Series: Henderson Cleaves


    Voyager Views Titan's Haze. There is a lot of interesting chemistry occurring in Titan's dense atmosphere. Credit: Voyager Project, JPL, NASA Voyager Views Titan's Haze. There is a lot of interesting chemistry occurring in Titan's dense atmosphere. Credit: Voyager Project, JPL, NASA

    Henderson (Jim) Cleaves of the Carnegie Institution of Washington will present the next talk in the NAI Director’s Seminar Series on February 10 at 11:00 AM PST.

    Amino Acid Analysis of Titan Tholins and Comparison With Other Prebiotic Reaction Systems

    Titan’s atmospheric chemistry produces a host of discrete organic chemical products. It is likewise well known than Miller-Urey type reactions produce a host of complex discrete organic products. We have examined various complex reaction ...

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  1. Size Mattered in Prehistoric Seas


    Fossil remains of Ediacara biota. Credit: Courtesy of Marc Laflamme Fossil remains of Ediacara biota. Credit: Courtesy of Marc Laflamme, University of Toronto

    A team of researchers, including members of the MIT Node of the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI), have revealed new insight into why organisms on the ancient Earth began to grow larger. Life began on our planet as single-cell microorganisms, but today the Earth supports a diverse array of multicellular life. The new study could help explain the advantages that early organisms gained from an increase in size.

    The study, published in Current Biology, shows how primitive organisms called Ediacara became larger to help access nutrients in ocean ...

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  1. New Technique Could Be Used to Search Space Dust for Life’s Ingredients


    This equipment is used by Goddard's Astrobiology Analytical Lab to analyze very small samples. On the right is the nanoelectrospray emitter, which gives sample molecules an electric charge and transfe This equipment is used by Goddard's Astrobiology Analytical Lab to analyze very small samples. On the right is the nanoelectrospray emitter, which gives sample molecules an electric charge and transfers them to the inlet of the mass spectrometer (left), which identifies the molecules by their mass.

    NAI-funded astrobiologists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center have successfully completed a proof-of-concept study of a new technique to analyze extremely small samples of material such as from asteroids, comets, and IDPs for the presence of biomolecules such as amino acids, components used to make DNA, and other biologically important molecules like ...

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  1. Cooking Up Life’s Origin — the Safer Way


    Stanley Miller performs his famous experiment in issue 1 of Astrobiology: The story of our search for life in the Universe. Credit: NASA Astrobiology/artwork by Aaron Gronstal. (Click image for full s Stanley Miller performs his famous experiment in issue 1 of Astrobiology: The story of our search for life in the Universe. Credit: NASA Astrobiology/artwork by Aaron Gronstal

    Back in 1953, Stanley Miller, working at the University of Chicago with Harold Urey, showed how easily one could cook up life’s building blocks by simulating the conditions on early Earth.

    But while the success of the Miller-Urey experiment kicked off an entire field of research, Miller had one basic piece of advice for anyone who’d want to try it out: “Don’t do it.”

    “Stanley was always afraid it ...

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