NAI

  1. Scientists “Resurrect” Ancient Proteins to Learn About Primordial Life


    The young Earth differed markedly from today’s world. Credit: NASA The young Earth differed markedly from today’s world. Credit: NASA

    Geological evidence tells us that ancient Earth probably looked and felt very different from the planet we all recognize today. Billions of years ago, our world was a comparatively harsh place.

    Thanks to advances in a niche field called paleobiochemistry, researchers in the last decade have started to “resurrect” ancient proteins. Studying these proteins’ properties is offering us glimpses of what life was like in bygone epochs. A new study published in the journal Proteins: Structure, Function, and Bioinformatics explores how such 'resurrection studies’ can provide evidence to support ...

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  1. Light Scattering on Dust Holds Clues to Habitability


    A light wave can be roughly imagined as a single line that wiggles up and down. If circular polarization occurs, this line rotates as the wave moves. Circular polarization of light when it interacts w A light wave can be roughly imagined as a single line that wiggles up and down. If circular polarization occurs, this line rotates as the wave moves. Circular polarization of light when it interacts with dust might help identify molecules relevant to the origins of life. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

    Source: [astrobio.net]

    Dust particles can be found everywhere in space, but what can dust tell us about life’s potential in the Universe? By modeling how light scatters when it interacts with dust particles, researchers supported by the Exobiology & Evolutionary Biology are looking at ways of determining whether or ...

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  1. Call for Session Topics and Organizers for AbSciCon 2015


    Deadline to submit Session Topics is October 22, 2014

    The Astrobiology Science Conference 2015 (AbSciCon2015) Science Organizing Committee is soliciting community input for Session Topics and Session Organizers. Given the wide variety of disciplinary tools and topics to be presented at the conference, the success of AbSciCon 2015 will be built upon the community’s involvement in the organization of topical sessions. Community members are urged to be proactive in proposing sessions, merging similar session topics, and organizing abstracts into selected sessions.

    To submit a session topic and to see the list of submissions visit: http://www.hou.usra.edu ...

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  1. Under the Bright Lights of an Aging Sun


    Venus can be seen as a black dot eclipsing the Sun in this image from 2012. Venus orbits too close to the Sun to the planet to be habitable for life as we know it. Venus experiences a runaway greenhou Venus can be seen as a black dot eclipsing the Sun in this image from 2012. Venus orbits too close to the Sun to the planet to be habitable for life as we know it. Venus experiences a runaway greenhouse and the average surface temperatures are thought to be around 864ºF. Image Credit: NASA/SDO & the AIA, EVE, and HMI teams; Digital Composition: Peter L. Dove

    Source: [astrobio.net]

    Astrobiologists supported by the Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology element of the Astrobiology Program have shed new light on the future habitability of Earth. The tools they are using could also tell us about habitability around distant stars ...

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  1. Liquid Water From Ice and Salt on Mars


    Erik Fischer, a doctoral student in the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences at the University of Michigan, sets up a Mars Atmospheric Chamber in the Space Research Building on June 1 Erik Fischer, a doctoral student in the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences at the University of Michigan, sets up a Mars Atmospheric Chamber in the Space Research Building on June 18, 2014. The chamber simulates the atmospheric conditions of Mars in hopes of producing water through the interaction of salt with the atmospheric conditions simulated by the chamber. The resulting research allows Astrobiologists to postulate about the potential of life on Mars. Credit: Joseph Xu, Michigan Engineering Communications & Marketing

    Source: [astrobio.net]

    Astrobiologists supported by the Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology element of the NASA Astrobiology Program have discovered that a salt on Mars could cause liquid water to form when it comes into contact with water ice. The study was inspired by images from NASA’s Phoenix mission, which showed what appeared to be droplets of liquid water on a leg of the lander.

    Researchers determined that liquid water could be stable on Mars if it was very salty – a possibility that arose when calcium perchlorate was identified on the martian surface by missions including Phoenix and the Curiosity ...

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  1. Evolution in the Lab


    The variability of natural systems makes it difficult to understand how organisms’ genes influence the way they look and behave, and how communities of interacting organisms arise. Using laboratory experimental evolution, this variation can be controlled.

    A NASA Astrobiology Program-funded team based at the University of Montana previously showed that a single population of bacteria that was cultured in the presence of a single limiting resource evolved into a stable, three-membered community, wherein one member’s waste products are used by the others as a source of food.

    In a new study, the team found that the two new members ...

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  1. Hydrothermal Vents Could Explain Chemical Precursors to Life


    The Bain des Japonais Spring, an intertidal hydrothermal vent on Prony Bay. Note shimmering where fluids are mixing with seawater. Credit: Roy Price The Bain des Japonais Spring, an intertidal hydrothermal vent on Prony Bay. Note shimmering where fluids are mixing with seawater. Credit: Roy Price

    Roy Price first heard about the hydrothermal vents in New Caledonia’s Bay of Prony a decade ago. Being a scuba diver and a geologist, he was fascinated by the pictures of a 38-meter-high calcite “chimney” that had precipitated out of the highly-alkaline vent fluid.

    His attraction to this South Pacific site intensified over the years, as it was later revealed that the geochemistry of the hydrothermal fluids discharging in the Bay of Prony resemble that of ...

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  1. Sugars of the Interstellar Medium…in the Lab


    Sugars of extraterrestrial origin have been observed in the interstellar medium (ISM), in at least one comet spectrum, and in several meteorites that have been recovered from the surface of the Earth. The origins of the sugars within the meteorites have been debated.

    To explore the possibility that sugars could be generated during shock events, a new study funded by the NASA Astrobiology Program is the first set of laboratory impact experiments wherein glycolaldehyde, found in the ISM, as well as glycolaldehyde mixed with montmorillonite clay, have been subjected to reverberated shocks.

    New biologically-relevant molecules, including threose, erythrose and ethylene ...

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  1. Supporting Early Career Astrobiologists


    Please join us in welcoming a new crop of early career astrobiologists into two of the many community-based programs supported by NASA Astrobiology: the 2014 International Summer School in Astrobiology and the NASA Astrobiology Early Career Collaboration Award.

    This year’s theme for the 2014 International Summer School in Astrobiology is “Habitable Environments in the Universe.” The school will provide an interdisciplinary examination of the nature and evaluation of habitability, an environment’s ability to support life. The Astrobiology Early Career Collaboration Award offers research-related travel support for undergraduate, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and junior scientists.

    2014 Selections for the ...

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  1. Destroying Glycine in Ice


    This MARCI image from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is a composite mosaic of the north polar cap. The images were taken at midnight, 6 a.m., noon, and 6 p.m. martian time, during the summer when the This MARCI image from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is a composite mosaic of the north polar cap. The images were taken at midnight, 6 a.m., noon, and 6 p.m. martian time, during the summer when the sun is always shining in the polar region. The image shows the mostly water-ice perennial cap (white area), sitting atop the north polar layered materials (light tan immediately adjacent to the ice), and the dark circumpolar dunes. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/MSSS

    Astrobiologists have provided new insight into how radiation exposure can destroy the amino acid glycine, even when it’s trapped ...

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  1. 2014 NASA Astrobiology MIRS Fellows


    Please join us in welcoming four new fellows to the NASA Astrobiology Minority Institution Research Support (MIRS) Program!

    The goal of the NAI MIRS Program is to help train a new generation of researchers in astrobiology and to increase diversity within the astrobiology community. Over the past ten years, the program has provided opportunities for faculty members and students from minority-serving institutions to partner with astrobiology investigators.

    One of the program’s main objectives is to engage more faculty from under-represented schools in astrobiology research and increase the number of students pursuing careers in astrobiology.

    The four newest MIRS partnerships ...

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  1. Probing the Depths of the Methane World


    Methane bubbles rising from the seafloor. Credit: NOAA-OER/BOEM/USGS Methane bubbles rising from the seafloor. Credit: NOAA-OER/BOEM/USGS

    In 2011, Jennifer Glass joined a scientific cruise to study a methane seep off of Oregon’s coast. In these cold, dark depths, microbes buried in the sediment feast on methane that seeps through the seafloor.

    A product of their metabolism, bicarbonate, reacts with calcium in seawater to form tall rocky deposits. The chemical energy these organisms extract from methane supports a vibrant underworld — an eclectic blanket of microbial mats, clam fields and tube worms.

    “It’s such a beautiful landscape,” says Glass, an alumnus of NASA’s Astrobiology post-doctoral ...

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  1. NAI Director’s Seminar Series: Victoria Orphan


    Victoria Orphan. Credit: mbari.org Victoria Orphan. Credit: mbari.org

    Victoria Orphan, Professor of Geobiology at the California Institute of Technology, will be presenting the next NAI Director’s Seminar on April 21, 2014, at 11AM PDT.

    Orphan is a specialist in molecular microbial ecology. She studies anaerobic microbial communities involved in carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur cycling. The title of her talk is “Methane-Based Life in a Deep-Sea Concrete Jungle.”

    For more information and details on how to join the event, click here.

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  1. From Soup to Cells: Measuring the Emergence of Life


    Sara Walker, assistant professor at Arizona State University. Credit: BEYOND, ASU Sara Walker, assistant professor at Arizona State University. Credit: BEYOND, ASU

    Astrobiologist Sara Walker is exploring ways to measure the transition from non-living to living matter. Her approach could broaden our understanding of how unique—or common—life might be in the Universe.

    The story of life’s origin is one of the great unsolved mysteries of science. The puzzle boils down to bridging the gap between two worlds—chemistry and biology. We know how molecules behave, and we know how cells work. But we still don’t know how a soup of lifeless molecules could have given rise to ...

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  1. Producing Prebiotic Chemistry by Impacting Ice


    Compounds dissociate to form functionalized aromatic hydrocarbons upon expansion and cooling to ambient conditions. Credit: Adapted from Goldman and Tamblyn, 2013. Compounds dissociate to form functionalized aromatic hydrocarbons upon expansion and cooling to ambient conditions. Credit: Adapted from Goldman and Tamblyn, 2013.

    Astrobiologists have provided new information about how comets and asteroids could have delivered prebiotic chemical compounds to the early Earth. The team studied how shock pressures can lead to the production of a number of compounds that could have been used in life’s origins. They performed their study by simulating impacts into an icy mixture rich in carbon dioxide.

    Impacts that generated only moderate pressures were needed to produce aromatic hydrocarbons when the mixture was heated, expanded and ...

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