Sunlight glints off of hydrocarbon seas on Saturn’s moon Titan, as seen here in near-infrared light by the Cassini spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. Arizona/Univ. Idaho
In the search for life beyond Earth, scientists have justifiably focused on water because all biology as we know it requires this fluid. A wild card, however, is whether alternative liquids can also suffice as life-enablers. For example, Saturn’s frigid moon Titan is awash in inky seas of the hydrocarbon methane.
A new study proposes that molecules called ethers, not used in any genetic molecules on Earth, could ...
A eukaryotic cell illustration used to teach students critical thinking skills. Credit: Byung-Ho Kang of the University of Florida
Astrobiology Students Use Art to Develop Critical Thinking Skills
Consider the process that goes into creating a painting — the attention to detail, the need to interpret the world around you. A scientist goes about his or her work using many of the same skills. This concept is the focus of a recent study that describes the development and implementation of a learning module that introduces astrobiology students to the concepts of creative and scientific inquiry.
The study, “Developing ...
Despite being similar sizes, Earth (right half) and Venus (left half) have different surface conditions, a fact that has implications in the search for an Earth-like exoplanet. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ames
In order to weed out Venus-like planets from those that would be more habitable, scientists proposed the establishment of a “Venus zone” around stars, a region where the atmosphere could be consumed by a runaway greenhouse effect that super-heats its planets. So far, the team of scientists has identified 43 potential Venus analogs, and think that even more exist.
One of the researchers, Stephen Kane of ...
The Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon2015) will be held in Chicago, Illinois, on June 15–19, 2015. The Preliminary Program has been posted to the AbSciCon website. There are also several key dates coming up soon. The deadline for hotel reservations at the group rate is May 15, and the deadline for registration at the reduced rate is May 18.
Several additional activities to be aware of:
Sunday, June 14: Online Learning Workshop – An Afternoon of Exploration: The Future of Science Education, 12:30 – 4:30pm
The presenters are: President’s Professor Ariel Anbar & Exploration Architect Lev Horodyskyj, School of Earth and Space Exploration at ASU. Click here to register for free.
Sunday, June 14: Astrobiology Research Data Management Workshop, 1:00 – 5:00pm
In the last decade the ...May 11, 2015 / Written by: Julie Fletcher
This 3-D sketch shows a cross-section of the Mariana Arc with some of its main structures and features. Credit: NOAA
Astrobiologists studying microbial genomics in populations from the Mariana Arc have provided new information about the diversity and adaptation of microorganisms in the deep sea.
Microorganisms that live deep below the Earth’s oceans can provide important insights about the potential for life in subsurface oceans on icy worlds. The adaptations they use to survive can also help astrobiologists understand the mechanisms that allow living organisms to inhabit some of the most extreme conditions on Earth.
The paper, “Strain-level genomic ...May 8, 2015 / Written by: Aaron Gronstal
Silver Lake is a dry lake bed in the Mojave Desert. The Mojave has long been studied as a geological analogue to ancient Mars. Image Credit: NASA Spaceward Bound, Ben Haller
Astrobiologists have revealed new details about hypolithic cyanobacteria living in a range of different rock types from the Silver Lake region of the Mojave Desert. This area of the Mojave has been studied as a geological analog to Mars, and has several different rock types colonized by hypoliths. The results show that the cyanobacteria Chroococcidiopsis is able to colonize dry environments in a variety of rocks and with varying ...May 7, 2015 / Written by: Aaron Gronstal
Sam Bowring (MIT) and Sara Seager (MIT) have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Credit: MIT
The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has announced the election of 84 new members, including two members of the NASA Astrobiology community.
Geologist Samuel Bowring is a current member of the NASA Astrobiology Institute team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Bowring is a professor in MIT“s Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Science.May 7, 2015 / Written by: Aaron Gronstal
A view of Antarctica's Taylor Valley. The Antarctic Dry Valleys are considered one of the most Mars-like environments on Earth. Credit: Peter West, National Science Foundation
Astrobiologists have provided new data about microorganisms that live in the permafrost of Antarctica’s Dry Valleys. Using molecular techniques alongside culturing, the team studied bacterial communities from Taylor Valley and identified psychrophiles, or organisms that are able to remain active at low temperatures. In the laboratory, bacteria collected from the Taylor Valley permafrost remained active down to −5 °C (with peak activity at 15 °C).
This work was supported by the Astrobiology ...May 5, 2015 / Written by: Aaron Gronstal
Octopus Spring in Yellowstone National Park. Credit: David Strong, Penn State University
Researchers supported in part by the Exobiology & Evolutionary Biology element of the NASA Astrobiology Program have isolated a new 'acid-loving’ microorganisms from cyanobacterial microbial mats associated with Octopus Spring in Yellowstone. Chloracidobacterium thermophilum strain B is an anoxygenic photoheterotroph, a member of the phylum Acidobacteria, and moderately thermophilic.
The paper, “Chloracidobacterium thermophilum gen. nov., sp. nov.: an anoxygenic microaerophilic chlorophotoheterotrophic acidobacterium,” was published in the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology.May 4, 2015 / Written by: Aaron Gronstal
Scientists are providing new insights into the role mutations play in the evolution of microbial populations. Researchers examined the relationship between different, beneficial mutations in a population, and how organisms survive when one or more of the mutations are present in a single organism.
The study, “ The Valley-of-Death: Reciprocal sign epistasis constrains adaptive trajectories in a constant, nutrient limiting environment,” was published in the journal Genomics.
The research was supported in part by the Exobiology & Evolutionary Biology element of the NASA Astrobiology Program.
Source: [Genomics]May 1, 2015 / Written by: Aaron Gronstal
Researchers subjected populations of Pleodorina starrii to selective pressures in mixed environments and studied their response. Above is a micrograph of Pleodorina starrii. Image Credit: © Matthew D. Herron, University of Arizona
By studying colonies of volvocine green algae, astrobiologists have uncovered new clues about how cells gained the ability to differentiate into functional types, a critical step in the evolution of multicellular organisms.
The paper, “Fitness trade-offs and developmental constraints in the evolution of soma: an experimental study in a volvocine alga,” was published in the journal Evolutionary Ecology Research.
This work was supported in part by the NASA Astrobiology ...April 30, 2015 / Written by: Aaron Gronstal
An artist depiction of a cryobot tunneling through ice. Credit: Copyright Stone Aerospace, presented at AbSciCon 2012
Researchers are developing a protoype cryobot that could help astrobiologists explore icy worlds in the Solar System as well as some of the most extreme environments on Earth. Technologies developed for VALKYRIE (Very-deep Autonomous Laser-powered Kilowatt-class Yo-yoing Robotic Ice Explorer) could allow robots to explore beneath the ice caps of planets, or glaciers here on Earth. One element of the design includes using a high-energy laser to power the ice explorer.
Details about the 4-year effort are presented in the paper, “Progress towards ...April 29, 2015 / Written by: Aaron Gronstal
Scanning electron microscopy image of a MOWS specimen, which is about 4 mm in total length. Image taken by Phoebe Cohen
Researchers supported in part by the Exobiology & Evolutionary Biology element of the NASA Astrobiology Program have discovered new and unusual fossils in Mongolia. The structures, known as macroscopic organic warty sheets (MOWS), could be the remains of fungal biofilms, or even previously unknown organisms that are now extinct. However, the team believes that multiple lines of evidence indicate that the MOWS are the remnants of ancient marine algae.
Regardless of the organisms responsible for their production, the discovery of MOWS increases our understanding of biological diversity during a period of Earth’s history known as the Cryogenian glacial interlude (662–635 million years ago). The discovery also shows that macroscopic and morphologically complex multicellular organisms were present in the Cryogenian.
The study, “Fossils of putative marine algae from the cryogenian glacial interlude of Mongolia,” was published in the journal Palaios.
Source: [Palaios]April 29, 2015 / Written by: Aaron Gronstal
Nathalie A. Cabrol diving and sampling in the Licancabur lake at 5,917 m elevation in the volcano’s crater. Photo Credit: The High Lakes Project: The SETI Institute Carl Sagan Center/NASA Ames/ NAI
Astrobiologist Nathalie Cabrol recently spoke about her work in remote field sites, including high-altitude lakes in the Andes, at the TED2015 conference. In her talk, Cabrol discusses how this work could help scientists search for signs of life on Mars.
Cabrol’s TED Talk, “Nathalie Cabrol: How Mars might hold the secret to the origin of life,” is now available to watch from TED.com ...April 28, 2015 / Posted by: Aaron Gronstal
Dickinsonia fossil from Nilpena, South Australia. Black arrow points to lifted portion of the specimen and is pointed in the direction the waves would have moved during the Ediacaran. Credit: Droser Lab, UC Riverside.
Scientist supported in part by the NASA Astrobiology Institute have discovered that certain specimens of fossil Dickinsonia appear incomplete because they were lifted from the sea floor by ancient ocean currents, allowing sand to fill in the gap. The results suggest that Dickinsonia was mobile and not attached to the sea floor.
The study, “Dickinsonia liftoff: Evidence of current derived morphologies,” was published in the journal ...April 28, 2015 / Posted by: Aaron Gronstal
- August 5 - Abstract Submission Deadline for American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting
- August 5 - Direct Imaging of Habitable Exoplanets (Session P003) Abstract Submission Deadline for American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting
- August 11 - Abstract Submission Deadline for Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG) Meeting
- August 11 - Abstract Submission Deadline for Geological Society of America (GSA) 2015 Annual Meeting
- August 15 - Registration Deadline for The Outer Planets Assessment Group (OPAG) Meeting
- August 20 - Abstract Submission Deadline for Astrobiology and Planetary Atmospheres 2015
- August 21 - Summer School at Moletai Observatory: "Formation and Evolution of Planetary Systems and Habitable Planets"
- August 24 - Berkner Autumn Program 2015
- September 2 - NRC Committee on Achieving Science Goals with CubeSats Symposium
- September 6 - Registration Deadline for Astrobiology and Planetary Atmospheres 2015
- September 15 - Registration Deadline for International Meeting: Missions to Habitable Worlds