These are the discovery images of 2012 VP113. Three images of the night sky, each taken about two hours apart, were combined into one. The first image was artificially colored red, second green and third blue. 2012 VP113 moved between each image as seen by the red, green and blue dots. The background stars and galaxies did not move. Credit: Courtesy Scott Sheppard and Chad Trujillo
Astronomers have spotted a new dwarf planet named 2012 VP113, the discovery of which extends the edge of the known Solar System. 2012 VP113 is likely to be just one of the thousands of ...March 26, 2014 / Written by: Aaron Gronstal
This scanning electron microscope image of a polished thin section of a meteorite from Mars shows tunnels and curved microtunnels. Image Credit: NASA
Scientists at NASA’s Johnson Space Center and JPL have recently found evidence of past water movement throughout a Martian meteorite, reviving debate in the scientific community over life on Mars.
In 1996, a group of scientists at Johnson led by David McKay, Everett Gibson, and Kathie Thomas-Keprta published an article in Science announcing the discovery of biogenic evidence in the Allan Hills 84001(ALH84001) meteorite.
In this new study, Gibson and his colleagues focused on structures ...
Lenticulae terrain on the surface of Europa. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/University of Colorado
Researchers at the Centro de Astrobiología (CAB) in Spain have used laboratory experiments to show that water, salts and gases dissolved in Europa’s ocean could rise to the surface to create geological features. The study might help explain how reddish materials at the surface are formed.
Images of Europa from missions like Galileo and Voyager revealed red-tinged materials associated with fractures in the moon’s icy surface. Astrobiologists have long wondered if these reddish marks are evidence that materials can be transported between ...March 24, 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
Artist's conception of an exoplanet. Art by Karen Teramura.
The discovery and characterization of exoplanets is one of the most exciting and fast-changing areas in modern astronomical research. As a result, Astronomy 101 instructors have had trouble keeping up with the flow of new techniques, instruments and discoveries. To help, NASA missions, educational projects around the country, and scientists themselves have produced a wide range of materials that astronomy instructors (and their students) can use to learn about the latest developments. This annotated guide is designed to highlight useful materials on the web and in print. It was produced ...March 20, 2014 / Written by: Daniella Scalice
This artist’s impression shows the planet orbiting the star Alpha Centauri B, a member of the triple star system that is the closest to Earth. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada
Earth is the only known example of an inhabited planet in the Universe, so the search for alien life has focused on Earth-like worlds. But what if there are alien worlds that are even more habitable than Earth-like planets?
A recent paper in the journal Astrobiology examines the potential for so-called “superhabitable” worlds. One such planet might even exist around the stellar system closest to Earth: Alpha Centauri B.
Red volcano sponge (Acarnus erithacus). Image Credit: SIMoN/MBNMS
A new study published recently in PNAS explores the relationship between the origin of animals and the oxygen content of the atmosphere. A rise in the oxygen content of the atmosphere and oceans is one of the most popular explanations for the relatively late and abrupt appearance of animal life on Earth.
The authors challenge the widely held view that low levels of atmospheric oxygen delayed the origin of animals. Their study suggests that the last common ancestor of animals could have thrived in oxygen levels significantly lower than those we ...March 17, 2014 / Posted by: Daniella Scalice
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
A simulated hydrothermal chimney wall , made of iron sulfide precipitates, formed in a fuel cell apparatus (JPL). Electron microscopy shows porosity – where ions flow across the membrane – and crystal formation, which act as electrodes in this “geochemical fuel cell”. Credit: Barge et al. 2014
Astrobiologists supported by the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) have demonstrated a new way to study the origin of life: fuel cells.
On Earth, hydrothermal vents on the seafloor act as “geochemical fuel cells.” Living cells also generate energy through processes that are similar to fuel cells. To this end, the team used a lab-grown hydrothermal chimney ...March 14, 2014 / Written by: Aaron Gronstal
Two cards from the activity. Credit: ASU
This hands-on/minds-on lesson can engage learners in a variety of settings, showing them how scientists use Earth-based bacteria to investigate the potential for lilfe on Mars.
Working in teams, students gain knowledge about the various types of extremophiles found on Earth and use that information to correlate to Mars’ environmental conditions, both past and present. Students will then determine the most likely and interesting landing site candidates for future Mars exploration, specific to searching for potential extremophiles.
Source: [Arizona State University]March 12, 2014 / Posted by: Daniella Scalice
An Earthlike moon orbiting a gas giant host planet. Credit: NASA
According to a new study, heat radiating from gas giant planets could pose a problem for otherwise habitable exomoons in distant solar systems.
Over 1000 extrasolar planets have now been identified, but most are gas giants and not rocky planets like Earth. Astrobiologists have wondered if a gas giant orbiting in the habitable zone of its host star could host rocky moons that are suitable for life as we know it. The new study, which includes work from the NASA Virtual Planetary Laboratory at the University of Washington, examines ...
Join Seth Shostak and his guests over the airwaves for one hour every Friday (or anytime via podcast) and you’ll be glad you did! The Big Picture Science radio show, produced by the SETI Institute, takes listeners on a journey with modern science research through lively and intelligent storytelling. A special astrobiology collection is available.
What came before the Big Bang? How does memory work? Will our descendants be human or machine? What’s the origin of humor? We ponder these questions daily … and expound on them weekly.
Big Picture Science takes on big questions by interviewing leading researchers ...March 7, 2014 / Written by: Daniella Scalice
Amino acids are fundamental to life as the building blocks with which cells construct proteins according to genetic instructions. However, the 20 amino acids of the standard genetic code represent a tiny fraction of the number of amino acid chemical structures that could plausibly play such a role, both from the perspective of natural processes by which life emerged and evolved, and from the perspective of human-engineered genetically coded proteins.
Until now, efforts to describe the structures comprising this broader set, or even estimate their number, have been hampered by the complex properties of organic molecules. In a new study ...March 5, 2014 / Posted by: Daniella Scalice
Eric Herbst. Credit: University of Virginia
On March 10, Eric Herbst of the University of Virginia will present the next Astrobiology Director’s Seminar: The Formation of Complex Organic Molecules in Star-Forming Regions.
Please join us at 11 am PDT. Connection details are available here.March 5, 2014 / Written by: Aaron Gronstal
New light has been shed on our understanding of Earth’s early crust thanks to a new study in Nature Geoscience by NAI-funded researchers at the University of Wisconsin.
During the Hadean eon, between Earth’s formation and 4 billion years ago, the Earth differentiated into a core, mantle and crust. The planet was also resurfaced by bombardment of planetesimals and asteroids, as well as some form of plate tectonics. As a result, few rocks of Hadean age remain. Every scrap of material older than 4 billion years is therefore of great interest.
The oldest preserved crust was previously thought ...