NAI

  1. Vatican Hosts Study Week on Astrobiology


    This past week in Rome as part of the International Year of Astronomy, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences hosted a Study Week on Astrobiology, an interdisciplinary event during which “cloistered astrobiologists confronted each other’s fields of research” and dialogued about the connections. The participants included many from the extended astrobiology community, including John Baross, David Charbonneau, Roger Summons, Andy Knoll, Chris Impey, Jonathan Lunine, Jill Tarter, Sara Seager, and Giovanna Tinetti.

    “The questions of life’s origins and of whether life exists elsewhere in the universe are very suitable and deserve serious consideration,” said the Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes ...

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  1. Taking a Bite of Antarctic Ice


    Members of NASA’s IceBite team will spend the next six weeks studying the only place on Earth where the terrain resembles that of the Phoenix landing site on Mars. The place: a mile above sea level in Antarctica’s McMurdo Dry Valleys. The ultimate goal: to test ice-penetrating drills for a future mission to the martian polar north. Astrobio.net will be providing a direct link to scientists involved in the expedition, so now you can ask the scientists questions while they’re in the field.

    Source: [astrobio.net]

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  1. Dr. Linda Billings Recieves Lifetime Achievement Award


    Women in Aerospace recently awarded Dr. Linda Billings the Lifetime Achievement Award for more than 25 years of excellence in communicating with the public about the nation’s space program. As a journalist, she has covered energy, environment, and labor relations as well as aerospace. As a researcher, she has worked on communication strategy, media analysis, and audience research for NASA’s astrobiology, Mars exploration, and planetary protection programs. Her research has focused on the role that journalists play in constructing the cultural authority of scientists, the rhetorical strategies that scientists and journalists employ in communicating about science, and the ...

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  1. Discoveries in the Deep


    Scientists from NASA and the Canadian Space Agency have been using Pavilion Lake as a testing ground for the future human exploration of other worlds. Pavilion Lake, in British Columbia, Canada, is home to a biological mystery. Microbialites, coral-like structures built by bacteria, in a variety of sizes and shapes, carpet the lakebed. That’s unusual for a freshwater lake like Pavilion. Exploration of Pavilion Lake is helping biologists understand this unique environment – and it’s also helping astronauts prepare for future human exploration of other worlds.

    Source: [astrobio.net]

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  1. Ethics of Space Exploration


    Last week, the Santa Clara University Markkula Center for Applied Ethics hosted a panel to discuss Challenges Raised by Life in Space. Today on KQED’s radio show The Forum, host Michael Krasney interviews some of those panelists for a national audience. They discuss a range of topics from the value and moral standing of the diversity of potential life elsewhere in the universe, to the modification of extraterrestrial ecosystems to suit human needs, to possible forward contamination of other planets through exploration.

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  1. Eigenbrode Earns Chief Technologist’s Top Prize


    NASA Goddard scientist Jennifer Eigenbrode has been selected as the recipient of the 2009 IRAD Innovator of the Year award. Her work has added important capabilities to the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument, which will be included on the upcoming Mars Science Laboratory (MSL). Dr. Eigenbrode’s work will allow MSL to analyze large carbon molecules if they are discovered on Mars, and could play an important role in determining the potential for past or present life on the Red Planet.

    When MSL reaches Mars in 2012, the rover will analyze samples of martian soil and rock drillings to ...

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  1. Success in Monterey Bay Canyon


    NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientists in the Planetary Protection group, led by Dr. Kasthuri Venkateswaran, teamed up with microbiologists and geochemists from Harvard University in the laboratories of Dr. Colleen Cavanaugh and Dr. Peter Girguis to deploy the NASA Hydrothermal Vent Biosampler (HVB) on the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Vessel Pt. Lobos using the remotely operated vehicle Ventana.

    The NASA HVB is able to collect large-volume samples of hydrothermal vent fluid. It can operate in extreme temperatures reaching 400°C and at depths of up to 6,500 meters. The HVB allows astrobiologists to collect 'pristine’ samples of vent fluids ...

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  1. Can Darwin Help Us Find Life Elsewhere?


    UK’s The Register covered an NAI-sponsored event last week in Mountain View, CA near NASA Ames Research Center. The last in a year-long, evolution-themed series of public lectures helping celebrate the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first use of the telescope and the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s On The Origin of Species, this lecture was entitled The Evolution of Astrobiology, and was given by John Baross from the University of Washington.

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  1. Astrobiologists Reproduce RNA Component in Laboratory


    NASA astrobiologists studying the origin of life have reproduced uracil, a key component of RNA, in the laboratory. They discovered that an ice sample containing pyrimidines exposed to ultraviolet radiation under space-like conditions produces this essential ingredient of life. The study appears in the September issue of Astrobiology.

    “We have demonstrated for the first time that we can make uracil, a component of RNA, non-biologically in a laboratory under conditions found in space,” said Michel Nuevo, research scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center. “We are showing that these laboratory processes, which simulate occurrences in outer space, can make a ...

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  1. Oxygen Production in Earth’s Early Oceans Predates the Great Oxidation Event


    It is widely accepted that around 2.4 billion years ago, the Earth’s atmosphere underwent a dramatic change when oxygen levels rose sharply. Called the “Great Oxidation Event” (GOE), the oxygen spike marks an important milestone in Earth’s history, the transformation from an oxygen-poor atmosphere to an oxygen-rich one paving the way for complex life to develop on the planet.

    Two questions that remain unresolved in studies of the early Earth are when oxygen production via photosynthesis got started and when it began to alter the chemistry of Earth’s ocean and atmosphere.

    A research team that includes ...

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  1. 'Ultra-Primitive’ Particles Found in Comet Dust


    Dust samples collected by high-flying aircraft in the upper atmosphere have yielded an unexpectedly rich trove of relicts from the ancient cosmos, report scientists from NAI’s Carnegie Institution of Washington team in Earth and Planetary Science Letters. The stratospheric dust includes minute grains that likely formed inside stars that lived and died long before the birth of our sun, as well as material from molecular clouds in interstellar space. This “ultra-primitive” material likely wafted into the atmosphere after the Earth passed through the trail of an Earth-crossing comet in 2003, giving scientists a rare opportunity to study cometary dust ...

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  1. Diving Through a Microbial Landscape


    The ice-covered lakes of Antarctica’s McMurdo Dry Valleys have long been of interest to astrobiologists. These remote and extreme environments harbor unique microbial ecosystems that could provide clues about how life might survive on other worlds – such as Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa. Recently, a team of scientists funded by the NASA Exobiology Program began exploring the unique habitat of the ice-crusted Lake Joyce.

    Lake Joyce is of special interest, because it’s waters harbor carbonate structures known as microbialites. These unique structures are formed with layers of cyanobacteria. The research team is interested in how these organisms are ...

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  1. Ribosomes as Ancient Molecular Fossils


    Members of NAI’s team at Georgia Tech have a new paper in Molecular Biology and Evolution describing an analysis of ribosomal structure and sequence. Their approach chronicles the ribosome’s evolution, effectively interpreting the ribosome as a fossil. Using the highest resolution structures available, of two species that represent disparate regions of the evolutionary tree, they have sectioned the large subunit of each ribosome into concentric shells, like an onion, using the site of peptidyl transfer as the origin. Their results suggest that the structure and interactions of both RNA and protein can be described as changing, in an ...

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  1. Ice in the Solar System…in Your Classroom


    Exploring Ice in the Solar System is a series of lessons for K-5 classrooms developed by the NAI Carnegie Institution of Washington Team and the NASA MESSENGER mission. Twelve lessons span topics from ice in everyday life, to exploring ice in the polar regions of Earth, to icy places on Mars and Europa, to life in ice. Each standards-aligned lesson consists of substantive background information, inquiry-based activities, teaching tips, resources, a photo gallery, and strategies for differentiated instruction and evaluation.

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  1. Spotting Spores


    Adrian Ponce, deputy manager for JPL’s planetary science section, has devised a new microscope-based method to quickly validate — from days to minutes — a spacecraft’s cleanliness. The method will help in decontaminating spacecraft before launch, and could have medical and pharmaceutical uses on Earth.

    Source: [JPL]

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