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
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 ...July 4, 2014 / Written by: Aaron Gronstal
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
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 ...July 3, 2014 / Written by: Aaron Gronstal
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 ...June 27, 2014 / Posted by: Daniella Scalice
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 ...
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 ...June 18, 2014 / Posted by: Daniella Scalice
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 ...May 21, 2014 / Written by: Daniella Scalice
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 ...May 15, 2014 / Written by: Aaron Gronstal
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 ...May 13, 2014 / Written by: Daniella Scalice
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)
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 ...
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.April 15, 2014 / Written by: Aaron Gronstal
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 ...
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 ...April 2, 2014 / Written by: Aaron Gronstal
Early Career Seminar: Paula Welander
Hopanoid Biosynthesis and Function in Methanotrophic Bacteria
Paula Welander of Stanford University will be presenting the next Early Career Seminar on April 7, 2014, at 11am PDT. Welander studies molecular fossils in order to better understand how microbial communities in the past altered the Earth’s surface environment and impacted life’s evolution on our planet.
Details of Welander’s upcoming talk can be found here.
Source: [Early Career Seminars]March 31, 2014 / Written by: Aaron Gronstal
The Viking 1 lander dug trenches on Mars to collect samples for later analysis. Credit: NASA
Astrobiologists supported by the Exobiology element of NASA’s Astrobiology Program have provided new information about the survival of biosignatures on Mars. Their study also provides new insight into data from a NASA mission that was sent to the red planet almost 40 years ago.
In 1976, NASA’s twin Viking probes landed on Mars to search for signs of microbial life. The data they returned created a great deal of debate. The new study published last autumn in the journal Astrobiology reveals details ...March 21, 2014 / Written by: Aaron Gronstal
Earth’s thin atmosphere is all that stands between life on Earth and the cold, dark void of space. Credit: NASA
The next Early Career Seminar will be presented on April 14 by Mark Claire of the University of East Anglia. Claire will present research undertaken as a member of the NASA Postdoctoral Program (NPP). His work focuses on the atmospheric composition of the early Earth, and identifying constraints beyond the absence of oxygen.
Claire’s talk is part of a series of seminars where NASA Astrobiology NPP Fellows who have completed their fellowships present their results. Please join us ...March 16, 2014 / Written by: Aaron Gronstal