NAI

  1. Mars Rover Provides Clues to Mars’ Past Atmosphere


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    Lab demonstration of the measurement chamber inside the Tunable Laser Spectrometer, an instrument that is part of SAM on NASA’s Curiosity rover. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    New results from the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) investigation on NASA’s Curiosity rover have been reported in two papers in the journal Science. Curiosity has been using SAM to study the atmospheric composition on Mars, and is revealing new clues about how the planet lost much of its original atmosphere.

    The findings come from atmospheric samples collected in the first 16 weeks of Curiosity’s mission. The samples were analyzed with ...

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  1. New Evidence for a Martian Ocean


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    Comparison of exhumed delta in sedimentary rocks on Mars (left) with a modern delta on Earth (right). On the left, a shaded relief map shows elevated, branching, lobate features in Aeolis Dorsa, Mars, interpreted as resistant channel deposits that make up an ancient delta. These layered, cross-cutting features are typical of channelized sedimentary deposits on Earth and here are indicative of a coastal delta environment. Credit: DiBiase et al./Journal of Geophysical Research/2013 and USGS/NASA Landsat

    Scientists studying data from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have discovered new evidence that Mars may have once had a vast ocean ...

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  1. Water on Moon’s Surface Hints at Water Below


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    This 70mm handheld camera’s view of the moon, photographed during the Apollo 16 mission’s lunar orbit, features Crater Bullialdus, located at approximately 20 degrees south latitude and 20.8 west longitude. Credit: NASA

    Scientists supported by NASA have detected water locked in mineral grains on the Moon. The findings hint at unknown water sources deep below the lunar surface. Data for the study came from the NASA-funded Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) instrument aboard the Indian Space Research Organization’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft.

    Chandrayaan-1 used M3 from orbit to remotely detected magmatic water in the central peak of the Moon ...

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  1. Solar System’s Youth Gives Clues to Planet Search


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    Modeling results show where the injected gas and dust ended up only 34 years after being injected at the disk’s surface. It was injected 9 astronomical units from the central prostar and is now in the disk’s midplane. The outer edge shown is 10 astronomical units from the central prostar. Mixing and transport are still underway and the underlying spiral arms that drive the mixing and transport can be seen. Credit: Image courtesy of Alan Boss

    New theoretical models show how an outburst event in the Sun’s formative years could have affected our solar system’s development ...

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  1. Happy Anniversary Spitzer!


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    A montage of images taken by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope over the years. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    NASA Astrobiology celebrates the 10th anniversary of NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and is grateful for all the contributions it has made to astrobiology!

    Ten years after a Delta II rocket launched NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, lighting up the night sky over Cape Canaveral, Fla., the fourth of the agency’s four Great Observatories continues to illuminate the dark side of the cosmos with its infrared eyes.

    The telescope studied comets and asteroids, counted stars, scrutinized planets and galaxies, and discovered ...

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  1. Exploring the World of Life Underground


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    Jan Amend, professor of earth sciences and biological sciences in USC Dornsife, leads an interdisciplinary team of researchers in an investigation into what life teems within Earth’s subsurface biosphere. Their approach could become a template for collecting evidence of life or past life on extraterrestrial planetary bodies such as Mars. Credit: USC/Michelle Salzman

    Future life-seeking missions on other worlds may be in for a tough time if all evidence of past or present life is below the surface. In a talk at given for the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI ) Astrobiology Lecture Series, Jan Amend discussed how his ...

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  1. Ancient Snowfall on Mars


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    Image of valley networks on Mars captured by the Mars Mars Odyssey spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA

    A new study supported in part by NASA has identified a potential origin for ancient water on Mars that was responsible for carving valley networks that branch across the planet’s surface. Scientists identified four water-carved valleys on Mars that were likely caused by runoff from 'orographic’ precipitation. This type of precipitation occurs when moist, prevailing winds blow over mountains and are pushed upward, resulting in snow or rainfall. The research was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters

    Studying the nature of liquid ...

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  1. Ice and Extrasolar Planet Climate


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    This artist’s concept illustrates a planet orbiting a red dwarf star. NASA

    In a bit of cosmic irony, planets orbiting cooler stars may be more likely to remain ice-free than planets around hotter stars. According to a new study co-funded by the NASA Astrobiology Institute and published recently in Astrobiology, this is due to the interaction of a star’s light with ice and snow on the planet’s surface.

    Stars emit different types of light. Hotter stars emit high-energy visible and ultraviolet light, and cooler stars give off infrared and near-infrared light, which has a much lower energy ...

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  1. Serpentinization of Ocean Crust: Life’s Mother Engine?


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    Shelf-like “flange” structures jut from the wall of one of the spires in the Lost City hydrothermal field. Image credit: IFE URI-IAO, Lost City Science Party, and NOAA

    In a new study published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, NAI-funded scientists advance a theory about life’s origins based on the idea of “reservoir-mediated energy.” This paradigm—in cells—involves constantly filling up and depleting a kind of chemical reservoir that is created by pushing a lot more protons onto one side of a membrane than the other—just like pumping water uphill to fill a lake behind ...

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  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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