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
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 ...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
- September 2 - NRC Committee on Achieving Science Goals with CubeSats Symposium
- 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 - Abstract Submission Deadline for K2 Science Conference (K2SciCon)
- September 18 - Early Registration 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)