1. Astrobiology in the Comics

    Today’s “Prickly City” comic strip features the work of Norbert Schorghofer of NAI’s University of Hawai’i Team. Apparently, understanding the history of ice ages on Mars doesn’t have a positive effect!

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  1. Coping With Contamination

    Carol Stoker is the principal investigator for the Mars Analog Research and Technology Experiment (MARTE). MARTE has just begun its second field season drilling into the subsurface near the headwaters of the Río Tinto in Spain, searching for novel forms of microbial life. In a four-part interview with Astrobiology Magazine Managing Editor Henry Bortman, conducted just before Stoker left for Spain, she explained what MARTE hopes to accomplish. In this third part, Stoker described how the MARTE team avoided contaminating their drill-core samples.

    Astrobiology Magazine (AM): When you drilled last year at Río Tinto, how did you know for sure ...

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  1. Astrobiotechnology Chip Successfully Launched

    Andrew Steele of NAI’s CIW Team, a leader in astrobiotechnology for many years, is behind this current experiment, called the “Life Marker Chip.” A collection of immunoassays which have the potential to detect trace levels of biomarkers in the Martian environment, it launched earlier this week on ESA’s BIOPAN 6 experiment platform. The craft will spend 12 days in orbit, during which time the onboard experiments, including the Chip, will be exposed to microgravity.

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  1. Astrobiology and the Arts

    The University of Arizona NAI Team and their “Astrobiology and the Sacred” project present “Astrobiology and the Arts,” a two-day symposium next week featuring readings of new fiction, panel discussions, music and dance performances, multimedia presentations, and lectures from the nexus of these two grand endeavors.

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  1. Martian Ice Ages

    Norbert Schorghofer of NAI’s University of Hawai’i Team has a new paper in this week’s Nature describing a climate model he developed which accounts for the advance and retreat of the subsurface martian ice layers. The model reveals forty major ice ages over the past five million years, and explains the present distribution of subsurface ice on Mars. His findings outline expectations of ice stratigraphy at the NASA Mars Phoenix Mission’s landing site.

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  1. The Encyclopedia of Life

    This week’s issue of Nature features an interview with David “Paddy” Paddington of NAI’s Marine Biological Laboratory Team discussing his involvement with the Encyclopedia of Life project. Debuting in early 2008, the EOL will be a living catalogue of biodiversity, with one webpage for each of Earth’s 1.8 million species.

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  1. What Is Life? Definition vs. Theory

    NAI’s “Philosopher in Residence” Carol Cleland of the University of Colorado Team is featured in this thought provoking article from SEED magazine. It gives a history of the problem of defining life, from Schrodinger’s “that which avoids the decay into equillibrium,” through the molecular revolution, and examines it in the context of ALH84001.

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  1. MISSIONS – Phoenix Takes Flight

    NASA’s Phoenix lander heads for Mars’s frozen north.

    Phoenix is on its way to Mars. The latest spacecraft in NASA’s program of Mars exploration launched from Cape Canaveral on August 4 of this year, and is scheduled to land in the planet’s northern polar region on May 25, 2008. Its findings will help scientists answer a critical question about the Red Planet: was it ever habitable?

    Phoenix is in many ways similar to the two Viking landers sent to Mars by NASA in the 1970s. Like Viking, Phoenix will stay put once it lands. And like Viking, it will ...

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  1. Subaerial Volcanoes Shift Oxygen Levels on Early Earth

    Biomarkers in rocks prior to the rise in Earth’s atmospheric oxygen 2.5 billion years ago show cyanobacteria released oxygen at the same levels as today. What was happening to that oxygen? A new paper in this week’s Nature from NAI’s Penn State Team proposes that the rise of atmospheric oxygen occurred because the predominant sink for oxygen—enhanced submarine volcanism—was abruptly and permanently diminished during the Archaean–Proterozoic transition by a shift from predominantly submarine volcanism to a mix of subaerial and submarine volcanism.

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  1. Water Vapor Observed in Young Star System

    NAI Postdoctoral Fellow Elise Furlan from NAI’s UCLA Team is co-author on a new paper in Nature this week reporting the development of a protoplanetary disk. Using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, observations were made of water vapor within the emerging system’s natal cloud. Lead author Dan Watson of the University of Rochester said, “For the first time, we are seeing water being delivered to the region where planets will most likely form.”

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  1. New Enzymes in the Laboratory

    A new paper in Nature this week from NAI’s NASA Ames Research Center Team describes a new technique they’ve developed through which completely new enzymes can be evolved in the laboratory. The process does not require prior understanding of how the enzymes will work, but uses product formation as the sole selection criterion.

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  1. Potential Origin of Primordial Protein Enzymes

    Life on earth is facilitated by a multitude of enzymes that catalyze essential chemical reactions. The vast majority of today’s enzymes are proteins, yet looking at the complex and intricate structures of natural enzymes it is hard to imagine how the first enzymes emerged.

    However, new experiments by Seelig and Szostak, show that small, simple enzymes can evolve rather easily. In the August 16, 2007 issue of Nature, they describe the generation of an artificial enzyme by simulating evolution in a test tube. The researchers at first produced a random library of 4 trillion small protein molecules that were ...

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  1. Exoplanet Water Vapor and Weird Life

    A new article in the Wall Street Journal ties together new discoveries from the frontiers of astrobiology science. The author speculates that “Our knowledge of the universe we call home — and the search for water worlds hospitable to life — is expanding almost as quickly as the cosmos itself.”

    Source: [Wall Street Journal]

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  1. Hydrocarbons on Saturn’s Moon Hyperion

    NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has revealed for the first time surface details of Saturn’s moon Hyperion, including cup-like craters filled with hydrocarbons that may indicate more widespread presence in our solar system of basic chemicals necessary for life.

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  1. Looking for Life in All the Right Places

    This new video from JPL shows how NASA astrobiologists are gathering exciting clues that will help them pick the best spots to search for possible signs of life beyond Earth.

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