NAI

  1. 2014 Astrobiology Strategic Plan


    The NASA Astrobiology Program is presently engaged in creating a 2014 Strategic Plan. To ensure that it is aspirational, inspirational, and inclusive of the diversity of the astrobiology community, the Astrobiology Program engaged the services of an innovation consulting firm, KnowInnovation. The Strategic Plan enterprise was launched on May 6, 2013 with the first in a series of five hour-long webinars, each broadly focused on a topic connected to the 2008 NASA Astrobiology Roadmap but aimed at astrobiology’s future. Following each of these NASA PI-led webinars, over 500 members of the astrobiology community engaged in a spirited, week long ...

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  1. Forming a Definition for Life


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    Gerald F. Joyce, M.D., Ph.D., is a professor and investigator in the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology at the Scripps Research Institute. Credit: Scripps Research Institute

    What is life? In this interview, Gerald Joyce of the Scripps Research Institute reveals why it’s been so hard for scientists to come up with a definition that encompasses the multiple dimensions of life as we know it. Joyce’s research focuses on the origin of life, and his lab was the first to produce a self-replicating system, composed of RNA enzymes, capable of exponential growth and evolution.

    Defining 'life’ is ...

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  1. MAVEN Makes It to Cape Canaveral


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    Artist concept of MAVEN spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

    NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft has just arrived at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and is in the final stages of preparing to launch in November, 2013. One of the instruments it carries will measure charged gas particles in Mars’ upper atmosphere. The Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer will provide valuable data to help astrobiologists understand if Mars’ atmosphere was once substantial enough for liquid water to persist at the surface.

    Evidence for past liquid water on Mars has been identified from missions in orbit and on ...

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  1. If We Landed on Europa, What Would We Want to Know?


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    This artist’s concept shows a simulated view from the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    Most of what scientists know of Jupiter’s moon Europa they have gleaned from a dozen or so close flybys from NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1979 and NASA’s Galileo spacecraft in the mid-to-late 1990s. Even in these fleeting, paparazzi-like encounters, scientists have seen a fractured, ice-covered world with tantalizing signs of a liquid water ocean under its surface. Such an environment could potentially be a hospitable home for microbial life. But what if we got to land ...

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  1. John Billingham, “Father of SETI” at NASA


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    John Billingham, “Father of SETI” at NASA, and the Allen Telescope Array. Credit: SETI

    John Billingham, former Chief of the Biotechnology Division at NASA’s Ames Research Center and a founder of NASA’s SETI program, has unexpectedly passed away at the age of 83.

    Billingham led NASA’s SETI efforts from the program’s beginnings in the 1970’s through 1993. When the SETI Institute continued the program’s work, Billingham served on their Board of Trustees.

    In 2009, Billingham was honored for his work with an induction into the Ames Research Center Hall of Fame as the acknowledged ...

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  1. Genetic Clues to Extreme Radiation Resistance in Bacteria


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    Small segments of DNA (contigs) mapped against the genome of the organism used in the study (SAFR-032). Gaps in the sequence are circled. Credit: Tirumalai et. al., 2013

    Astrobiologists have uncovered new information about how spores from the bacteria Bacillus pumilus SAFR-032 survive after being deprived of water and exposed to extreme radiation. By comparing the bacteria to another closely related strain, they were able to identify candidate genes that could be responsible for the organism’s resistance to these extreme conditions.

    B. pumilus is a bacteria that was isolated from the spacecraft assembly facility at the NASA Jet Propulsion ...

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  1. A Tiny Submersible Concept for Europa’s Ocean


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    Artist concept of a miniature submarine exploring under the ice. Credit: Jonas Jonsson | Angstrom Space Technology Centre of Uppsala University

    Scientists are designing a tiny submarine that is slightly larger than two soda cans, which could be one of the first visitors to Jupiter’s icy moon Europa. The concept began at NASA JPL and Uppsala University in Sweden. The tiny submarine could help reduce mission costs, and would only require a small borehole in order to explore what lies beneath Europa’s icy shell. The submarine, named Deeper Access, Deeper Understanding (DADU), could also be used to explore watery ...

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  1. Water-Rock Reactions Could Be 'Food’ for Life


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    A new study shows that the hydration of ultramafic rocks and minerals yields hydrogen at habitable temperatures. Credit: Lisa Mayhew

    A new study has shown how low temperature chemical reactions between iron-containing minerals and water could produce hydrogen ‘food’ for microorganisms that inhabit pores and cracks in rocks below the ocean floor and parts of the continents. Previously, scientists have studied hydrogen production in rocks at temperatures too hot for life. The new study found that similar processes could occur at temperatures where microorganisms can survive. These low-temperature environments are more abundant on Earth, and the study opens up the ...

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  1. Lewis and Clark Program Scholars: Reports From the Field


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    A stromatolite on a large basalt clast from the Copper Harbor Formation on the Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan. Credit: Timothy Gallagher.

    For an astrobiologist, going into the field doesn’t have to mean going to another planet.

    There’s plenty to learn about life in the cosmos by studying what our planet has to offer. To help in this exploration, the Lewis and Clark Fund supports the field work of early career scientists. The eight awardees from last year traveled to different corners of the world, from South Africa to the Swedish Lapland. They’ve come back with data, technical ...

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  1. Warming the Early Earth for Life


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    An artist’s conception of the Earth during the late Archean, 2.8 billion years ago. Weak solar radiation requires the Earth have increased greenhouse gas amounts to remain warm. Credit: Charlie Meeks

    Astrobiologists have made a new discovery that could explain how the early Earth was warm enough for life more than 3 billion years ago, even though the Sun was 20 percent dimmer than today. The answer to the ‘faint young Sun’ paradox may come down to the atmospheric composition of the young planet. The study shows that reasonable amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, mixed with ...

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  1. No Light? No Problem for Life Under a Glacier


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    Robertson Glacier. Image Credit: Albertawow.com

    Light drives photosynthesis, the mechanism used by many microbes to create energy from the Sun. But what if you live beneath a glacier where light is scarce? Microbes in such environments create energy by interacting with and breaking down local bedrock.

    While it’s known how the microbes affect the rock, a new study in Geology from astrobiologists at Montana State University show how the rock affects the microbes. They’ve identified pyrite as a key mineral in determining microbial community structure and composition. Given how common pyrite is, it may be the dominant ...

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  1. The Asteroid Grand Challenge


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    Asteroid 1998 QE2 (and its moon) came relatively close to the Earth on May 31, 2013, at 1:59 p.m/ Pacific (20:59 UTC). The first radar images of 1998 QE2 were obtained when the asteroid was about 3.75 million miles (6 million kilometers) away from our planet. The small white dot at lower right is a moon, or satellite, orbiting asteroid 1998 QE2. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSSR

    NASA has announced a Grand Challenge focused on finding all the asteroids that could threaten life’s future on Earth – and determining what to do about them. The challenge ...

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  1. Travelogue From Young Researchers in the Field


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    Kärkevagge (which means “Valley of Boulders”) is located north of the Arctic Circle in the Sweden. This was the research site for Cassandra Marnocha, 2012 recipient of the Lewis and Clark Fund for Exploration and Field Research in Astrobiology. Credit: Cassandra Marnocha

    Astrobiology is the study of life’s potential in the Universe, but being an astrobiologist doesn’t necessarily mean studying other planets. The Earth itself can teach us a lot about life’s potential in the cosmos. To help astrobiologists explore the Earth, the Lewis and Clark Fund supports the field work of early career scientists. The eight ...

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  1. Water-Rock Reactions Could Be 'Food’ for Life on Mars


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    Lisa Mayhew, Research Associate at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Credit: CU Boulder/Mid Atlantic Ridge 2008

    Astrobiologists have found that chemical reactions between iron-containing minerals and water might produce hydrogen “food” in the pores and cracks of subsurface rocks, and under temperatures in which microorganisms can survive.

    Scientists have previously studied how rock-water reactions produce hydrogen gas in environments too hot for microorganisms, such as below hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor. The hydrogen from these systems mixes with seawater and microorganisms are able to use it when it reaches cooler pockets.

    The new study shows that rock-water ...

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  1. Autonomous Rover Drills Underground in the Atacama


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    Zoë is equipped with a one-meter drill to search for subsurface life. It’s about 9 feet long and 6 feet wide, and has a solar array atop its body, generating power with high-efficiency gallium arsenide solar cells.

    A rover named Zoë recently traveled to the dry, harsh terrain of Chile’s Atacama Desert. Equipped with a drill, cameras, spectrometers and other sensors, Zoë spent two weeks analyzing the soil from above and below the surface, providing valuable data for future missions to Mars.

    Astrobiology Magazine has exclusive coverage of the project.

    This recent excursion with Zoë is part of ...

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