It is in dense clouds of interstellar dust, gas, and ice like the Keyhole Nebula (above) that new stars and planetary systems are formed. This image of the Keyhole nebula comes from the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: NASA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STSci), Hubble Space Telescope WFPC2, STSci-PRC00-06
Glycerol is a key building block of cell membranes, but scientists have not been able to explain its existence on early Earth. A study supported in part by the Exobiology & Evolutionary Biology element of the NASA Astrobiology Program shows that glycerol might form when ionizing radiation interacts with interstellar ices.
Following this radiation-induced formation of glycerol, interstellar grains can then be incorporated into the building material of solar systems. From here, the team believes that comets and meteorites could serve to deliver the glycerol to habitable planets like the early Earth.
The study, “Synthesis of Prebiotic Glycerol in Interstellar Ices,” was published in the journal Angewandte Chemie.
Source: [Angewandte Chemie]May 26, 2015 / Written by: Aaron Gronstal
NASA’s Curiosity rover has detected methane on Mars. Could the gas be coming from the rover itself? Credit: NASA/JPL
Is the Red Planet giving off methane?
The question has taunted scientists for nearly 50 years, ever since the Mariner 7 spacecraft detected a whiff of the gas near Mars’ south pole. Researchers retracted the finding a month later after realizing that the signal was in fact coming from carbon dioxide ice.
Then in 2003 and 2004, earthbound telescopes and orbiting spacecraft rekindled the mystery with reports of large methane clouds in Mars’ atmosphere. Most of ...
Derek Briggs awarded Paleontological Society Medal. Credit: YaleNews
The Paleontological Society named Derek Briggs its 2015 Paleontological Society Medalist for his work in the taphonomy, preservation and evolutionary significance of exceptionally preserved fossil biotas.
Briggs is a member of the NAI CAN-6 team at MIT, serving as a Co-I for the Foundations of Complex Life research project. He is also a professor of geology and geophysics at Yale University and curator of the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. His previous honors include the Premio Capo d’Orlando, the Lyell Medal, the Boyle Medal, and Humboldt Research Award.
More information ...May 21, 2015 / Written by: Miki Huynh
Astrobiology: The Story of our Search for Life in the Universe. Credit: NASA Astrobiology Program
Today, May 21st, NASA Astrobiology joins The Cartoon Art Museum in downtown San Francisco as they explore the theme of outer space through the medium of comic art. Visitors to this Third Thursday event will be able to pick up copies of the Astrobiology graphic history series by Aaron Gronstal in an exhibit featuring both works of science and science fantasy.
The event takes place 5:00-8:00PM and is free and open to the public.
Established in 1984, the Cartoon Art Museum displays and ...
The Mid-Cayman rise is an undersea ridge in the Caribbean Sea located at the tectonic boundary of the North American Plate and the Caribbean Plate. Credit: NOAA
By studying shrimp near hydrothermal vents, astrobiologists are learning about the sources of carbon in ecosystems of the Mid-Cayman rise.
Most life on Earth uses organic carbon produced by photosynthesis, a process that relies on energy from the Sun. However, in the dark depths of Earth’s oceans, hydrothermal vents support microorganisms that are able to produce organic carbon through chemosysnthesis. These microbes provide food for entire ecosystems that can survive independent of the ...May 20, 2015 / Written by: Aaron Gronstal
Sunset on Saturn’s moon Titan reveals the atmosphere around the moon as seen from the night side with NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI
With more than a thousand confirmed planets outside of our solar system, astronomers are attempting to identify the atmospheres of these distant bodies to determine if they could possibly host life.
Yet, viewing a body so far away remains a challenge. Astronomers are honing their technique in exoplanet observation with an object we know much more about in our own solar system — Saturn’s moon, Titan. The process should help ...
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 ...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 variation ...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 Science ...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
- September 6 - Registration Deadline for Astrobiology and Planetary Atmospheres 2015
- September 11 - Application Deadline for Eugene M. Shoemaker Impact Cratering Award
- September 15 - Registration Deadline for International Meeting: Missions to Habitable Worlds
- September 18 - Early Registration Deadline for K2 Science Conference (K2SciCon)
- September 18 - Abstract Submission Deadline for K2 Science Conference (K2SciCon)
- September 18 - Deadline for Simons Collaboration on the Origins of Life 2016 Postdoctoral Fellowships
- September 25 - Early Registration Deadline for Paneth Kolloquium: First 10 Million Years of the Solar System
- September 28 - Registration Deadline for Geological Society of America (GSA) 2015 Annual Meeting
- October 1 - Application Deadline for NASA Astrobiology Program Student Early Career Collaboration Awards
- October 5 - Astrobiology Graduates in Europe (AbGradE) Mission Design Workshop
- October 6 - Registration Deadline for Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG) Meeting
- October 6 - Registration Deadline for 2nd International Planetary Caves Conference
- October 12 - 66th International Astronautical Congress (IAC 2015)
- October 16 - Abstract Submission Deadline for 2016 Gordon Research Conference & Seminar "Origins of Life"