Of all the exoplanets being discovered, how many so-called potentially 'habitable’ worlds are really capable of hosting life? Image Credit: PHL@UHR Aricebo
In part eight of the 2012 AbSciCon plenary session, 'Expanding the Habitable Zone: The Hunt for Exoplanets Now and Into the Future,’ the panelists debate whether the many press releases about the possible habitability of new-found planets risk “crying wolf”. What are astrobiologists doing right and what are they doing wrong when communicating exoplanet discoveries to the public?
Source: [astrobio.net]June 7, 2013 / Posted by: Aaron Gronstal
Members of the Icebreaker Life mission team try to stay warm during drill automation testing at the University Valley, Antarctica, Mars-analog site. Credit: NASA
In the search for past or present life on Mars, current and past missions have only scratched the surface. Astrobiologists supported by the NASA ASTID and ASTEP programs are now developing technology that could dig deeper. The Icebreaker Life mission to Mars would drill down about 3 feet and scan the ice shavings for biosignatures. The mission is based on the same design as NASA’s Phoenix lander, and would land near the Phoenix site. The ...
Clusters of spheroidal microfossils of the FQ in transmitted optical light (A) and in reflected light (B). Credit: CH House et al. (2013)
Astrobiologists supported in part by the NASA Astrobiology Institute have found evidence that structures found in ~3 billion year old (Ga) quartzite may be biological in origin. The potential microfossils were identified in Farrel Quartzite from Australia, but determining whether or not they are biogenic in origin has been difficult.
The team performed isotopic analysis of the structures, and their results indicate that the spindle-like structures were formed by planktonic microorganisms. The study also suggests that the ...
Artist’s illustration of a Super-Earth planet Gliese 667C c (4.54 Earth masses), compared to Earth and Mars. Credit: PHL@UPR Aricebo
At the 2012 Astrobiology Science Conference, Astrobiology Magazine hosted a plenary session titled: “Expanding the Habitable Zone: The Hunt for Exoplanets Now and Into the Future.” In part seven, the audience asks questions and makes comments about exoplanet missions and development.
The session was hosted by David Grinspoon, Curator of Astrobiology at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Participants included: * Dr. Dirk Schulze-Makuch, Professor at the School of Earth and Environmental Science at Washington State University ...May 28, 2013 / Posted by: Aaron Gronstal
Artist’s concept of a planet where one side always faces its star, with the dark side covered in ice. Image Credit: Beau/TheConsortium
Because they are often tidally locked to their parent star – producing permanent day and night sides – some alien worlds orbiting red dwarf stars might resemble giant eyeballs. The night side would be a frozen, white shell, and the day side would host a giant ocean of liquid water constantly basking in the warmth of its star. Researchers, supported in part by the NASA Astrobiology Institute, are now proposing experiments to simulate these distant planets and see ...May 24, 2013 / Posted by: Daniella Scalice
Chiaolong Hsiao (left) and professor Loren Williams examine on a light box a polyacrylamide gel surrounded by an iron solution to determine whether RNA is stable in the iron solution. Georgia Tech Photo: Gary Meek
Astrobiologists supported in part by the NAI have made an important discovery about the activity of Ribonucleic acid (RNA) on the early Earth. RNA acts as a catalyst for many cellular reactions, and is essential for life as we know it. The functionality of RNA, which played a central role in ancient biology, depends on how it bends, folds and assembles with cations like magnesium ...May 21, 2013 / Posted by: Aaron Gronstal
The Astrobiology Roadmap charts the future directions of astrobiology research and, by joining our community, you can participate in creating it! Credit: NASA
It’s time to chart the future directions of astrobiology research and you can participate. NASA is hosting a series of on-line hangouts and discussions focusing on broad themes in astrobiology: Planetary Conditions for Life, Prebiotic Evolution, Early Evolution of Life and the Biosphere, Evolution of Advanced Life, and Astrobiology for Solar Systems Exploration. The online conversations will then be used as the starting point for an in-person/virtual meeting to draft an outline for the Roadmap ...
Field sampling of a pyrite-rich black shale outcrop. Credit: Chu Research Group, Institute of Geology and Geophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences
Astrobiologists supported in part by the Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology program have discovered that the biological oxygen cycle of the early Earth may have been more dynamic than previously thought. Complex life on Earth needs oxygen to survive. However, it wasn’t until the “Great Oxidation Event (GOE),” some 2.4 billion years ago that oxygen became a significant component of our planet’s atmosphere.
Previously, geologists had used the presence of sulfur isotopes in the rock record to ...May 20, 2013 / Posted by: Aaron Gronstal
Nader Haghighipour at the W.M. Keck Observatory. Credit: TIME Video
Recently, TIME Magazine featured astrobiologist Nader Haghighipour an online interview at TIME Video. Haghighipour, is an associate astronomer at the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy. In the video, he talks about life as an astronomer at the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, and the dedication it takes to hunt for habitable, extrasolar worlds.
Identifying extrasolar planets at Keck is not a simple case of looking through the lens and spotting distant worlds. The process involves a large crew of people who are based at both the ...May 17, 2013 / Posted by: Aaron Gronstal
Following a three-year competition, NASA recently selected the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) project at MIT for a planned launch in 2017. Image Credit: MIT KAVLI Institute for astrophysics and space research
In part six of the 2012 AbSciCon plenary session, “Expanding the Habitable Zone: The Hunt for Exoplanets Now and Into the Future,” panelists discuss the exciting possibilities of future missions. Topics range from the recently-selected TESS Explorer-class mission, to concepts of a hundred-year Starship. Although future missions face technological and financial challenges, there are many exciting developments on the horizon for astrobiologists who are in the hunt for ...May 15, 2013 / Posted by: Aaron Gronstal
Please join us in congratulating NAI Principal Investigator Ariel Anbar of Arizona State University who was recently named a 2013 ASU President’s Professor. He is one of three ASU faculty receiving the honor this year.
President’s Professorships honor faculty members who have made substantial contributions to undergraduate education at ASU. The awardees are chosen based on a variety of criteria: mastery of subject matter, enthusiasm and innovation in the learning and teaching process, ability to engage students both within and outside the classroom, ability to inspire independent and original thinking in students and to stimulate students to do ...May 13, 2013 / Posted by: Daniella Scalice
Map of Juan de Fuca Ridge relative to Western United States. Modified from: Swanson, et al., (1989). Credit: Lyn Topinka / USGS
Astrobiologists supported in part by the NASA Astrobiology Institute have provided new information about microbial communities below the ocean floor on the flanks of mid-ocean ridges. The team drilled into 3.5 million year-old basalt near the Juan de Fuca Ridge off the coast of Washington state. In the samples they collected, they discovered clear signs of an active microbial ecosystem.
Studying how life survives in subsurface environments below Earth’s ocean can provide important insights into life’s ...May 10, 2013 / Posted by: Aaron Gronstal
Astrobiologists funded in part by the NASA Astrobiology Institute have uncovered new information about the role of metalloenzymes in the origins of life. Metalloenzymes are enzymes where metals act as a co-factor or are incorporated as part of the molecule. Phylogenetic analysis of metalloenzymes involved in chemiosmosis suggests that they may have been present in the Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA) of life on Earth.
The paper was published as part of a Special Issue of the journal Biochimica et Biophysica Acta entitled: Metals in Bioenergetics and Biomimetics Systems.May 9, 2013 / Posted by: Aaron Gronstal
NASA engineer Ernie Wright looks on as the first six flight-ready James Webb Space Telescope’s primary mirror segments are prepped for final cryogenic testing at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. Credit: NASA/MSFC/David Higginbotham
At the 2012 Astrobiology Science Conference, a panel of exoplanet scientists held a lively discussion about some of the most important issues facing the search for and understanding of planets orbiting far-distant stars. In part five of this series, the panelists discuss the Decadal Survey and its influence on exoplanet missions. They address questions ranging from policy to engineering that affect the current ...May 8, 2013 / Posted by: Aaron Gronstal
This shows starlight on planets relative to sunlight on the Earth. Credit: Chester Harman
A new study supported in part by the NASA Astrobiology Institute shows that the number of potentially habitable planets in the Universe could be greater than previously thought. The study focuses on Earth-sized planets in the habitable zones of low-mass stars.
When making a conservative estimate, the researchers expect that if you looked at the ten closest small stars to Earth, you would find about four planets. Furthermore, they believe the distance to our nearest potentially habitable planet is about seven light years – half the distance ...May 6, 2013 / Posted by: Aaron Gronstal
- Mar 10 - Director's Seminar: The Formation of Complex Organic Molecules in Star-Forming Regions
- Mar 17-21 - Lunar and Planetary Science Conference
- Mar 17-21 - Search for Life Beyond the Solar System: Exoplanets, Biosignatures & Instruments
- April 1 - Application Deadline for NASA Astrobiology Early Career Collaboration Award