How do we define “life?” This fundamental question has remained largely philosophical, because it has been asked for so long, by so many, and with so few concrete conclusions.
In this seminar, produced by the NASA Astrobiology Institute, Dr. Steven Benner takes a different tack. He shows how laboratory studies can create a second example of life, helping us develop a firmer scientific understanding of what life is. The challenge of “synthetic biology” is on!
Dr. Benner discusses how we are hitchhiking on rockets, rovers, and telescopes to find life elsewhere in the Solar System, and describes how his ...July 9, 2014 / Posted by: Daniella Scalice
In this fascinating interview, the Huffington Post’s Suzan Mazur talks with NAI Principal Investigator Nigel Goldenfeld, of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. They discuss the emergence of a new theory of life, the nature of the evolutionary process, the origin of life, and more.
“Our collaborative position was that the Modern Synthesis is simply not enough,” said Goldenfeld, “population genetics is not a full account of the evolution process because it manifestly does not describe evolution before genes, it does not describe evolution before there were species and the lineages. The Modern Synthesis wasn’t designed to do so.
View of the possible inner planets of the Gliese 581 system along with their star, a red dwarf. Credit: Lynette Cook
What astronomers thought were a pair of potentially life-friendly alien worlds are illusions, apparitions conjured up by a star’s intense magnetic activity, a new NAI-funded study suggests.
These new findings could one day not only help astronomers dispel more such illusory exoplanets, but discover worlds that would otherwise remain hidden, scientists added. A new video about the possible cosmic illusions also details the finding.
Astronomers have confirmed the existence of more than 1,700 planets beyond the solar system ...
Venus can be seen as a black dot eclipsing the Sun in this image from 2012. Venus orbits too close to the Sun to the planet to be habitable for life as we know it. Venus experiences a runaway greenhouse and the average surface temperatures are thought to be around 864ºF. Image Credit: NASA/SDO & the AIA, EVE, and HMI teams; Digital Composition: Peter L. Dove
Astrobiologists supported by the Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology element of the Astrobiology Program have shed new light on the future habitability of Earth. The tools they are using could also tell us about habitability around distant ...July 4, 2014 / Written by: Aaron Gronstal
Erik Fischer, a doctoral student in the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences at the University of Michigan, sets up a Mars Atmospheric Chamber in the Space Research Building on June 18, 2014. The chamber simulates the atmospheric conditions of Mars in hopes of producing water through the interaction of salt with the atmospheric conditions simulated by the chamber. The resulting research allows Astrobiologists to postulate about the potential of life on Mars. Credit: Joseph Xu, Michigan Engineering Communications & Marketing
Astrobiologists supported by the Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology element of the NASA Astrobiology Program have discovered that a salt on Mars could cause liquid water to form when it comes into contact with water ice. The study was inspired by images from NASA’s Phoenix mission, which showed what appeared to be droplets of liquid water on a leg of the lander.
Researchers determined that liquid water could be stable on Mars if it was very salty – a possibility that arose when calcium perchlorate was identified on the martian surface by missions including Phoenix and the ...July 3, 2014 / Written by: Aaron Gronstal
In a new study, scientists compared three-dimensional structures of ribosomes from a variety of species, showing where new structures were added to the ribosomal surface without altering the pre-existing ribosomal core, which originated over 3 billion years ago before the last universal common ancestor (LUCA) of life. Credit: Loren Williams/Georgia Institute of Technology.
The evolution of the ribosome, a large molecular structure found in the cells of all species, has been revealed in unprecedented detail in a new study published this week in PNAS.
In a new study co-funded by the NASA Astrobiology Institute, scientists compared three-dimensional structures of ...July 2, 2014 / Posted by: Daniella Scalice
Please join us in congratulating NAI PI Ariel Anbar on his selection as Arizona State University’s first Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor. This distinguished honor recognizes Anbar’s pioneering research and teaching.
He is one of 15 professors from 13 universities whose appointments were announced by the Maryland-based biomedical research institute on June 30. The appointment includes a five-year, $1 million grant to support Anbar’s research and educational activities.
Since the inception of the institute’s professor program in 2002, and including the new group of 2014 professors, only 55 scientists have been appointed Howard Hughes Medical Institute professors ...July 1, 2014 / Posted by: Daniella Scalice
The Coursera Massively Open On-Line Course (MOOC), Emergence of Life, is built upon the pioneering work of Carl Woese, on which the modern synthesis of the Tree of Life has been established.
No prior knowledge is required, just a willingness to learn and a desire to delve into Earth’s 4-billion-year history of Life. The course will traverse from the ancient primordial soup into the expansive and diverse Tree of Life, and how these understandings might point us towards the existence of Life elsewhere in the universe.
The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the NASA ...June 30, 2014 / Posted by: Daniella Scalice
The variability of natural systems makes it difficult to understand how organisms’ genes influence the way they look and behave, and how communities of interacting organisms arise. Using laboratory experimental evolution, this variation can be controlled.
A NASA Astrobiology Program-funded team based at the University of Montana previously showed that a single population of bacteria that was cultured in the presence of a single limiting resource evolved into a stable, three-membered community, wherein one member’s waste products are used by the others as a source of food.
In a new study, the team found that the two new members of ...June 27, 2014 / Posted by: Daniella Scalice
Left: Astrobiologist Kevin Hand prepares to deploy a rover beneath the ice of Alaska's Sukok Lake; Right: Asttrobiologist Penny Boston captures a drop of biofilm from the Cueva de Villa Luz ("cave of the lighted house") in Mexico.
An electronic signal travels from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California, to a robotic rover clinging to the underside of foot-thick ice on an Alaskan lake. The rover’s spotlight begins to glow. “It worked!” exclaims John Leichty, a young JPL engineer huddled in a tent on the lake ice nearby. It may not sound like a technological tour ...
The Bain des Japonais Spring, an intertidal hydrothermal vent on Prony Bay. Note shimmering where fluids are mixing with seawater. Credit: Roy Price
Roy Price first heard about the hydrothermal vents in New Caledonia’s Bay of Prony a decade ago. Being a scuba diver and a geologist, he was fascinated by the pictures of a 38-meter-high calcite “chimney” that had precipitated out of the highly-alkaline vent fluid.
His attraction to this South Pacific site intensified over the years, as it was later revealed that the geochemistry of the hydrothermal fluids discharging in the Bay of Prony resemble that of ...
This multidisciplinary course will cover the diversity of astrobiological subjects from different disciplines (geology, chemistry, physics, astrophysics, biology and science communication/networks). At this first stage, the course will be given in Spanish and It covers around 100 teaching hours, comprising three modules and 18 Thematic Units.
Source: [REDSPA]June 20, 2014 / Posted by: Daniella Scalice
Sugars of extraterrestrial origin have been observed in the interstellar medium (ISM), in at least one comet spectrum, and in several meteorites that have been recovered from the surface of the Earth. The origins of the sugars within the meteorites have been debated.
To explore the possibility that sugars could be generated during shock events, a new study funded by the NASA Astrobiology Program is the first set of laboratory impact experiments wherein glycolaldehyde, found in the ISM, as well as glycolaldehyde mixed with montmorillonite clay, have been subjected to reverberated shocks.
New biologically-relevant molecules, including threose, erythrose and ethylene ...June 18, 2014 / Posted by: Daniella Scalice
An artist's imagined view from planet Kepler-10b (NASA/Kepler Mission/Dana Berry)
This new article in The Atlantic profiles NAI’s Virtual Planetary Laboratory team, based at the University of Washington, Seattle and led by PI Vikki Meadows. At a recent conference hosted there called “Revisiting the Habitable Zone,” a small interdisciplinary and international group of scientists discussed the question, “What makes a planet habitable?” aka, “What makes a planet’s surface suitable for water?”
Source: [The Atlantic]
Left: Composite image of the lunar nearside showing the presence of dark areas of maria. Right: Composite image of the lunar farside showing the absence of dark areas. Image Credit: NASA
Astrobiologists have solved a 55-year-old Moon mystery known as the Lunar Farside Highlands Problem.
When looking at the Moon from Earth, one of the first things you notice are the large, dark areas of basalt seas known as maria. These dark spots are what give the Moon it’s familiar 'face.’ For centuries this was the only view of the Moon that humankind knew because the nearside always faces ...June 13, 2014 / Written by: Aaron Gronstal
- September 6 - Registration Deadline for Astrobiology and Planetary Atmospheres 2015
- September 11 - Application Deadline for Eugene M. Shoemaker Impact Cratering Award
- September 15 - Registration Deadline for International Meeting: Missions to Habitable Worlds
- September 18 - Early Registration Deadline for K2 Science Conference (K2SciCon)
- September 18 - Abstract Submission Deadline for K2 Science Conference (K2SciCon)
- September 18 - Deadline for Simons Collaboration on the Origins of Life 2016 Postdoctoral Fellowships
- September 25 - Early Registration Deadline for Paneth Kolloquium: First 10 Million Years of the Solar System
- September 28 - Registration Deadline for Geological Society of America (GSA) 2015 Annual Meeting
- October 1 - Application Deadline for NASA Astrobiology Program Student Early Career Collaboration Awards
- October 5 - Astrobiology Graduates in Europe (AbGradE) Mission Design Workshop
- October 6 - Registration Deadline for Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG) Meeting
- October 6 - Registration Deadline for 2nd International Planetary Caves Conference
- October 12 - 66th International Astronautical Congress (IAC 2015)
- October 16 - Abstract Submission Deadline for 2016 Gordon Research Conference & Seminar "Origins of Life"