NAI

  1. Space Dust Carries Water and Organic Carbon


    Water forms on interplanetary dust particles due to space-weathering from the solar wind. Hydrogen ions in the solar wind react with oxygen atoms in the dust to form tiny water-filled vesicles(blue). Water forms on interplanetary dust particles due to space-weathering from the solar wind. Hydrogen ions in the solar wind react with oxygen atoms in the dust to form tiny water-filled vesicles(blue). Credit: John Bradley, UH SOEST/ LLNL

    Could Space Dust have Delivered Life’s Ingredients to Earth?

    For the first time, scientists have detected water molecules on the surface of interplanetary dust particles. The water forms in tiny bubbles when solar wind irradiates and damages the dust grains floating through space.

    Previous research had shown that space dust also contains organic carbon—another key ingredient for life. Taken together ...

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  1. Gemini’s First Light Reveals Extrasolar System!


    Gemini Planet Imager's first light image of the light scattered by a disk of dust orbiting the young star HR4796A. This narrow ring is thought to be dust from asteroids or comets left behind by planet Gemini Planet Imager's first light image of the light scattered by a disk of dust orbiting the young star HR4796A. This narrow ring is thought to be dust from asteroids or comets left behind by planet formation; some scientists have theorized that the sharp edge of the ring is defined by an unseen planet.

    After nearly a decade of development, construction and testing, the world’s most advanced instrument for directly imaging and analyzing planets orbiting around other stars, the Gemini Planet Imager, is pointing skyward and collecting light from distant worlds. Read the full story here.

    Source: [Lawrence ...

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  1. NAI Director’s Seminar Series: Henderson Cleaves


    Voyager Views Titan's Haze. There is a lot of interesting chemistry occurring in Titan's dense atmosphere. Credit: Voyager Project, JPL, NASA Voyager Views Titan's Haze. There is a lot of interesting chemistry occurring in Titan's dense atmosphere. Credit: Voyager Project, JPL, NASA

    Henderson (Jim) Cleaves of the Carnegie Institution of Washington will present the next talk in the NAI Director’s Seminar Series on February 10 at 11:00 AM PST.

    Amino Acid Analysis of Titan Tholins and Comparison With Other Prebiotic Reaction Systems

    Titan’s atmospheric chemistry produces a host of discrete organic chemical products. It is likewise well known than Miller-Urey type reactions produce a host of complex discrete organic products. We have examined various complex reaction ...

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  1. Size Mattered in Prehistoric Seas


    Fossil remains of Ediacara biota. Credit: Courtesy of Marc Laflamme Fossil remains of Ediacara biota. Credit: Courtesy of Marc Laflamme, University of Toronto

    A team of researchers, including members of the MIT Node of the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI), have revealed new insight into why organisms on the ancient Earth began to grow larger. Life began on our planet as single-cell microorganisms, but today the Earth supports a diverse array of multicellular life. The new study could help explain the advantages that early organisms gained from an increase in size.

    The study, published in Current Biology, shows how primitive organisms called Ediacara became larger to help access nutrients in ocean ...

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  1. New Technique Could Be Used to Search Space Dust for Life’s Ingredients


    This equipment is used by Goddard's Astrobiology Analytical Lab to analyze very small samples. On the right is the nanoelectrospray emitter, which gives sample molecules an electric charge and transfe This equipment is used by Goddard's Astrobiology Analytical Lab to analyze very small samples. On the right is the nanoelectrospray emitter, which gives sample molecules an electric charge and transfers them to the inlet of the mass spectrometer (left), which identifies the molecules by their mass.

    NAI-funded astrobiologists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center have successfully completed a proof-of-concept study of a new technique to analyze extremely small samples of material such as from asteroids, comets, and IDPs for the presence of biomolecules such as amino acids, components used to make DNA, and other biologically important molecules like ...

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  1. Cooking Up Life’s Origin — the Safer Way


    The original box containing archived spark discharge samples prepared by Stanley Miller in 1958. The label shows Miller’s original writing: p 114 refers to his notebook. Credit: Jeffrey Bada and Rober The original box containing archived spark discharge samples prepared by Stanley Miller in 1958. The label shows Miller’s original writing: p 114 refers to his notebook. Credit: Jeffrey Bada and Robert Benson/Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California at San Diego

    Back in 1953, Stanley Miller, working at the University of Chicago with Harold Urey, showed how easily one could cook up life’s building blocks by simulating the conditions on early Earth.

    But while the success of the Miller-Urey experiment kicked off an entire field of research, Miller had one basic piece of advice for anyone who ...

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  1. Astrobiology Future Webinars – Next Steps


    As we are rapidly approaching the end of the end of this stage of the Astrobiology Strategy planning, we would like to thank everyone that has participated as a presenter or author, commented on a white paper or at a webinar, or even just listened in to one of the presentations. If you have not yet had the opportunity to listen to a particular webinar or comment on a particular white paper, they are all available on the website astrobiologyfuture.org. However, please visit the website soon, as we will be closing the papers to comments on Friday, February 14th ...

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  1. Properties of PAH’s


    NGC 7023: The Iris Nebula, Image Credit & Copyright: Jim Misti (acquisition), Robert Gendler (processing) NGC 7023: The Iris Nebula, Image Credit & Copyright: Jim Misti (acquisition), Robert Gendler (processing)

    Astrobiologists at NASA Ames Research Center funded by the NASA Astrobiology Institute have recently published a study on the analysis of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, or PAH’s, in the Iris Nebula. Their analyses of individual PAH spectra have allowed them to see how different types of PAH’s map to different areas of the nebula, and also how PAH behavior changes with respect to changes in the local environment.

    Source: [The Astrophysical Journal]

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  1. New Book Explains Astrobiology to a General Audience


    In the late 1990s, the University of Washington created what was arguably the world’s first graduate program in astrobiology, aimed at preparing scientists to hunt for life away from Earth. In 2001, David Catling became one of the first people brought to the UW specifically to teach astrobiology.

    Catling, a UW professor of Earth and space sciences, is the author of Astrobiology: A Very Short Introduction, the 370th offering in the Oxford University Press series of “very short introduction” books by experts in various fields. Catling was commissioned by editors to write the book, which was published in the ...

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  1. A New Astrobiology Network in Spain


    REDESPA is a new Planetology and Astrobiology network in Spain, led by a Board of 40 experts from different disciplines and from more than a dozen Spanish organizations including the Spanish National Research Council, National Institute of Aerospace Technology, Centro de Astrobiología, National Astronomic Observatory, and Science Museum of Castilla-La Mancha. REDESPA’s mission is to share information and be an open platform about scientific subjects as well as educational, ethical, and societal issues. In the context of REDESPA, we have also launched a specific chapter for young researchers (JIPA: Jóvenes Investigadores en Planetología y Astrobiología). The Membership registration in ...

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  1. Ahoy! First Ocean Vesicles Spotted


    Scientists iat MIT documented the first extracellular vesicles produced by ocean microbes. The arrow in the photo above points to one of these spherical vesicles in this scanning electron micrograph s Scientists iat MIT documented the first extracellular vesicles produced by ocean microbes. The arrow in the photo above points to one of these spherical vesicles in this scanning electron micrograph showing Prochlorococcus cyanobacteria. Image Credit: Steven Biller/Chisholm Lab

    Marine cyanobacteria — tiny ocean plants that produce oxygen and make organic carbon using sunlight and CO2 — are primary engines of Earth’s biogeochemical and nutrient cycles. They nourish other organisms through the provision of oxygen and with their own body mass, which forms the base of the ocean food chain.

    Now NASA Astrobiology Institute-funded scientists at MIT have discovered another dimension ...

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  1. Water Detected on Dwarf Planet Ceres


    Dwarf Planet Ceres, Artist's Impression Dwarf Planet Ceres, Artist's Impression

    Scientists using the Herschel space observatory have made the first definitive detection of water vapor on the largest and roundest object in the asteroid belt, dwarf planet Ceres.

    “This is the first time water vapor has been unequivocally detected on Ceres or any other object in the asteroid belt and provides proof that Ceres has an icy surface and an atmosphere,” said Michael Küppers of ESA in Spain, lead author of a paper in the journal Nature.

    Herschel is a European Space Agency (ESA) mission with important NASA contributions. Data from the infrared observatory ...

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  1. In the Eye of the Beholder


    A TextureCam analysis of a Mars image is able to distinguish rocks from soil. Credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech/Cornell A TextureCam analysis of a Mars image is able to distinguish rocks from soil. Credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech/Cornell

    Researchers supported by the ASTID element of NASA’s Astrobiology program are designing algorithms and instruments that could help future robotic missions make their own decisions about surface sites to explore on other planets. One such instrument is the TextureCam, which is currently being tested with Mars in mind. The technology will improve the efficiency of planetary missions, allowing rovers to collect more data and perform more experiments in less time.

    “Roughly speaking, instead of telling the rover to “drive over ...

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  1. Astrobiology Graphic History – Issue #4!


    Panels from Astrobiology: The Story of our Search for Life in the Universe, Issue #4. Credit: NASA Astrobiology Panels from Astrobiology: The Story of our Search for Life in the Universe, Issue #4. Credit: NASA Astrobiology

    The fourth issue of the Astrobiology Graphic History book is now available! Download the digital version here (or the mobile-optimized version here)!

    Issue #4 maintains the gorgeous look and feel of the series, and continues the captivating story of Exo and Astrobiology. This installment explores astrobiology’s role in missions to the outer Solar System. See how science helped shape the exploration of gas giants and icy worlds beyond our system’s main asteroid belt.

    While spacecraft plied the distant corners of ...

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  1. NASA Astrobiology NPP Alumni Seminar Series: Sara Walker


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

    On February 3, 2014, Sara Walker of Arizona State University (ASU) will present the first in a series of seminars from alumni of the NASA Astrobiology NASA Postdoctoral Program (NPP). In her talk, “Information Hierarchies, Chemical Evolution and the Transition From Non-Living to Living Matter,” Walker will discuss topics related to the emergence of life… and how to define ‘almost life.’

    Sara Walker is an assistant professor at the BEYOND Center in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at ASU. Walker specializes in theoretical physics and astrobiology, and ...

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