An artist's impression of a planet-forming disk. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle (SSC)
A team of astrobiologists supported by the NAI has shed new light on the mechanisms that fractionate carbon isotopes in planetary bodies. Their work shows that significant fractionation of carbon isotopes in nature may be the result of diffusion in iron-nickel metal, which is found inside planets and meteorites.
Carbon is all around us. Life on Earth is carbon based, but the element is also abundant in the composition of planets and meteorites. By studying how different isotopes of carbon are formed, astrobiologists are able to ...March 3, 2014 / Written by: Aaron Gronstal
Interested in using astrobiology to teach math? Already teaching astrobiology and want to bring in some math problem sets? This resource is for you! The Astrobiology Math booklet was developed by Dr. Sten Odenwald at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center as part of the Space Math at NASA project.
The booklet contains 75 problems, introducing many topics in astrobiology. It covers concepts in evolution, the detection of extra-solar planets, habitability, Drake’s Equation, and the properties of planets such as temperature and distance from their star.February 28, 2014 / Written by: Daniella Scalice
The artist concept depicts multiple-transiting planet systems, which are stars with more than one planet. The planets eclipse or transit their host star from the vantage point of the observer. This angle is called edge-on. Credit: NASA
On Wednesday, NASA’s Kepler missions announced that 715 new planets have been verified in orbit around 305 stars. The discovery includes multiple planet systems similar to the Solar System, and marks a significant increase in the number of small-sized planets known to orbit distant stars.
Four of the planets are less than 2.5 times the size of Earth and orbit within ...February 27, 2014 / Written by: Aaron Gronstal
Tullis Onstott of Princeton University opens a borehole in a section of rock wall in a South African mine. Image credit: Lisa M. Pratt / The Trustees of Indiana University / NASA / National Science Foundation
It seems like anywhere you look on Earth, microorganisms are there – even kilometers beneath the Earth’s surface where sunlight never reaches. Scientists are just beginning to understand Earth’s deep subsurface biosphere, but a new study supported by the NAI might help determine just how far down microbes can go on our planet. The results could also shed light on the potential for life’s origins ...February 27, 2014 / Written by: Aaron Gronstal
Is intelligence inevitable? How altruistic will aliens be (or will they just wipe us out)? These are just some of the questions posed at a Library of Congress astrobiology discussion on January 28, 2014. Moderated by Washington Post reporter Joel Achenbach, NASA/Library of Congress Astrobiology Chairs David Grinspoon and Steven Dick addressed the topic of “Searching for Life in the Universe: What Does it Mean for Humanity?”
Grinspoon said it seems likely life is widespread throughout the universe because it originated so quickly on Earth. Soon after our planet settled down from its own tumultuous origins, life appeared.
Attention students! On February 27th, join this very special opportunity to meet and interact with one of Curiosity’s drivers—JPL’s Vandi Tompkins—ask questions about her life and career, and especially what it’s like to drive the rover. For more information, visit the NBN Mars Lab website.
Source: [NBN Mars Lab]February 24, 2014 / Posted by: Daniella Scalice
Effective April 7, 2014, Michael Meyer will serve on a one-year detail assignment as the interim director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
NAI is a virtual, distributed organization of competitively-selected teams that integrate astrobiology research and training programs in concert with the national and international science communities. It is supported by the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
NAI’s missions are to carry out, support, and catalyze collaborative, interdisciplinary research; to train the next generation of astrobiology researchers; to provide scientific and technical leadership on astrobiology investigations ...February 24, 2014 / Posted by: Daniella Scalice
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 ...February 22, 2014 / Posted by: Aaron Gronstal
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 ...February 21, 2014 / Posted by: Daniella Scalice
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 ...February 21, 2014 / Posted by: Daniella Scalice
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 ...February 20, 2014 / Written by: Aaron Gronstal
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 ...February 18, 2014 / Posted by: Daniella Scalice
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 ...
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 ...February 13, 2014 / Posted by: Aaron Gronstal
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]February 12, 2014 / Posted by: Daniella Scalice