1. NASA Astrobiology NPP Alumni Seminar Series: Sara Walker

    Sara Walker, assistant professor at Arizona State University. Credit: BEYOND, ASU Sara Walker, assistant professor at Arizona State University. Credit: BEYOND, ASU

    On February 3, 2014, Sara Walker of Arizona State University (ASU) will present the first in a series of seminars from alumni of the NASA Astrobiology NASA Postdoctoral Program (NPP). In her talk, “Information Hierarchies, Chemical Evolution and the Transition From Non-Living to Living Matter,” Walker will discuss topics related to the emergence of life… and how to define ‘almost life.’

    Sara Walker is an assistant professor at the BEYOND Center in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at ASU. Walker specializes in theoretical physics and astrobiology, and ...

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  1. David Grinspoon: Science and a Wisely Managed Earth

    Dr. David Grinspoon delivered the 2013 Carl Sagan Lecture presented at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. An outgrowth of his work as the first NASA—Library of Congress Baruch S. Blumberg Chair in Astrobiology, the talk is entitled “Terra Sapiens: The Role of Science in Fostering a Wisely Managed Earth.”

    Click here to watch a video of Dr. Grinspoon’s lecture.

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  1. The Oldest Signs of Life on Earth

    An example of wrinkle mats at the Dresser Formation. Credit: Wikicommons An example of wrinkle mats at the Dresser Formation. Credit: Wikicommons

    Scientists studying geological structures in Australia have found evidence of microbial life in 3.48 billion-year-old rocks. Their discovery could represent the oldest biosignatures yet identified on Earth.

    Nora Noffke of Old Dominion University first spotted what looked like a microbially-induced sedimentary structure (or MISS) while visiting Australia in 2008. The MISS structures were found in Western Australia’s Dresser Formation, which contains some of the oldest known rocks on Earth’s surface. The Dresser Formation is an active research site for scientists studying the ancient environment of Earth ...

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  1. The Evolution of Multicellularity: An Update

    The transition to multicellularity was one of a few major events in life’s history that created new opportunities for more complex biological systems to evolve. As this transition fundamentally changes what constitutes an individual, dissecting the steps in this transition remains a major challenge within evolutionary biology.

    Compared with other major transitions in evolution that occurred just once (for example, the origin of eukaryotes), multicellularity has evolved repeatedly. Most origins of multicellularity are ancient and transitional forms have been lost to extinction, so little is known about the potential for multicellularity to evolve from unicellular lineages, or the route ...

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  1. NAI CAN-7 Released

    Please note that, in order to include the new director of the NAI in the CAN Cycle 7 process and to make selection with full knowledge of FY14 budgets the Step-2 proposal due date is changed to April 30, 2014. NASA expects that decisions for the Step 1 proposals will be made on or before Dec 18, 2013. In addition, a number of links to NAI websites have been corrected. The full text of the CAN is available electronically at

    The Step-1 proposal due date changed from November 4, 2013 to November 18, 2013 due to ...

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  1. Forming a Definition for Life

    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 a seemingly simple question that leads to complex answers and heated philosophical and scientific arguments. Some focus on metabolism as the key to life, others on genetics. If ...

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  1. Warming the Early Earth for Life

    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 a dash of methane, could have helped warm the Earth so that water remained in liquid form at the surface.

    Liquid water is thought to be essential for the origins of life as ...

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

    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 control on microbial communities in many ...

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  1. Life Beneath Glacial Ice

    Despite the fact that Earth has experienced widespread glaciation throughout its history and that 11% of Earth’s surface today is covered with ice, active microbial communities in subglacial systems have yet to be fully characterized. Astrobiologists at Montana State University funded by NASA’s Exobiology Program have completed a study describing the presence of active, endogenous communities of microorganisms living beneath Robertson Glacier, Alberta, Canada.

    Molecular techniques have revealed that the communities are more diverse than glacial surface communities, and are making active contributions to the global carbon cycle. The study appears in the March, 2013 issue of the ...

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  1. The Next Step for Astrobiology’s Roadmap

    The Astrobiology Program has completed the first step in creating a new Astrobiology Roadmap. The next phase in outlining the future direction for astrobiology research and technology development at NASA is set to begin next week.

    Roughly every ten years, the Astrobiology Program updates NASA’s official Astrobiology Roadmap. This document provides guidance for research funded by the program in areas that encompass space, Earth and biological sciences.

    In writing the 2013 Astrobiology Roadmap, NASA’s Astrobiology Program decided to take a new approach by asking the global astrobiology community to take part in the process. A dedicated website and ...

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  1. Roadmap Astrobiology’s Future

    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.

    At a face-to-face meeting from June 17 to 20 a series of concept documents on future astrobiology research topics were developed and posted ...

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  1. Rethinking Early Atmospheric Oxygen

    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 determine when the GOE occurred. The isotopes form when solar energy interacts with sulfur dioxide in low-oxygen conditions. Their presence in ...

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  1. TIME Magazine Features Nader Haghighipour

    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 Keck Observatory on top of Mauna Kea and Keck Headquarters in ...

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  1. Oxygen-Poor Ocean Challenged Evolution of Early Life

    A team of astrobiologists supported in part by the NASA Exobiology program have uncovered new information about Earth’s early oceans during a period of time that was critical to the evolution of complex life. Their work is helping scientists determine the conditions present in the ocean after oxygen first accumulated in the Earth’s atmosphere, and how these conditions relate to the rise of eukaryotes.

    The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences under lead author Christopher T. Reinhard.

    Source: [University of California, Riverside]

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  1. NASA Seeks New Director for the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI)

    The ideal candidate will be an internationally recognized scientist with proven experience in leading large, multi-disciplinary, multi-site research programs or projects, possessed with a vision for leading the Institute into the future. Established in 1998 as part of NASA’s Astrobiology Program, the NAI is a collaboration between NASA, US academic institutions, and foreign institutions, governments and research organizations – and is composed of over 800 US scientists and hundreds of researchers abroad. The NAI, currently headquartered at NASA Ames Research Center in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley, functions as a virtual institute, its members linked by modern information ...

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