NAI

  1. Spirit Stuck but Still Sleuthing


    NASA’s Mars rover Spirit is having traction trouble in the martian soil. Although stuck, the rover is taking advantage of the situation by learning more about Mars’ environmental history.

    Source: [astrobio.net]

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  1. Salt Discovered in Saturn’s Outermost Ring


    For the first time, scientists working on NASA’s Cassini mission have detected sodium salts in ice grains of Saturn’s outermost ring. Detecting salty ice indicates that Saturn’s moon Enceladus, which primarily replenishes the ring with material from discharging jets, could harbor a reservoir of liquid water — perhaps an ocean — beneath its surface.

    Cassini discovered the water-ice jets in 2005 on Enceladus. These jets expel tiny ice grains and vapor, some of which escape the moon’s gravity and form Saturn’s outermost ring. Cassini’s cosmic dust analyzer has examined the composition of those grains and found ...

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  1. Nickel: The New Biomarker


    Members of NAI’s team at Penn State and their colleagues have a new paper in PNAS exploring the viability of using isotopes of the element nickel as biomarkers. Nickel is an important trace nutrient for methanogens, which preferentially use one isotope of nickel over another in their metabolic processes. Nickel, unlike iron, doesn’t seem to go through significant redox changes without a biological tie, therefore considering it as a biomarker is less complicated and potentially more reliable. Testing ancient sediments and observing nickel isotopic fractionation could pinpoint where and when methanogens arose.

    Source: [Penn State press release]

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  1. Rock Bands Spin an Oxygen Record


    The rise of oxygen on early Earth may have been caused by a microbial changing of the guard between methane-producers and oxygen-producers. This swap may have been initiated by a drop in the ocean’s nickel abundance. Continuing studies of the world’s largest iron ore deposits could cement the case.

    Source: [Astrobiology Magazine]

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  1. Increasing the Lifespan of Life on Earth


    According to a new study from NAI’s Virtual Planetary Laboratory Team and colleagues at Cal Tech, the lifespan of Earth’s biosphere could be prolonged, even as the Sun’s luminosity increases and threatens to wipe out all life on Earth. Published earlier this month in PNAS, the study points to the substantial reduction of the total pressure of Earth’s atmosphere, achieved by removing massive amounts of nitrogen from it. This would regulate the surface temperatures, allow carbon dioxide to remain in the atmosphere to support life, and could tack an additional 1.3 billion years onto Earth ...

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  1. The New Astrobiology Magazine


    Is there life on other planets? What are the latest findings on Mars? Astrobiology Magazine has been reporting the latest and most exciting developments in science related to astrobiology since 2000. Now, Astrobiology Magazine has designed a completely new website in order to provide the best possible experience for viewers. The site can now be viewed at http://www.astrobio.net.

    Source: [Astrobiology Magazine]

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  1. Expanding Horizons in Montana


    “Microbial Bingo” was the name of the game in a recent outreach event for more than 50 junior high-aged girls from across Montana. The girls came to Montana State University’s astrobiology laboratories this Spring for “That’s Hot! Investigating the Edge of Life” as part of the national program called Expanding Your Horizons. The girls learned about MSU’s research in Yellowstone National Park, and how astrobiology might give us new insights into the early earth as well as life on other planets. The girls then became scientists themselves, using observational data in a race to fill bingo cards ...

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  1. Nascence Man


    NAI scientist Mike Russell is the subject of a recent Nature News Feature which likens his work on the origin of life to the alchemists of yore. His research, however, involves transforming elements not into gold, but into the 'stirrings of life.’ The article describes the equipment in his lab as 'the biological equivalent of a particle accelerator,’ as he is using two linked containers to attempt to recreate the first moments of life on Earth. One contains a liquid proxy for the Earth’s early oceans, and the other holds a liquid proxy for hydrothermal vents that might have ...

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  1. Timetree of Life


    Scientists and non-scientists now have easy access to information about when living species and their ancestors originated, information that previously was difficult to find or inaccessible. Free access to the information is part of the new Timetree of Life initiative developed by NAI’s Blair Hedges, professor of biology with the Penn State Astrobiology Research Center, and Sudhir Kumar, a professor of life sciences at Arizona State University.

    The Timetree of Life project debuted with the simultaneous release of a book titled The Timetree of Life (Oxford University Press), which is written by a consortium of 105 experts on specific ...

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  1. Sphere


    A team of researchers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute conducted the first field test earlier this year of a new configuration of Deep-ESP. The device is designed to perform long-term studies of how deep-sea ecosystems respond to environmental changes.

    The Deep-ESP project – ESP stands for Environmental Sample Processor – will provide scientists with a view of how deep-sea ecosystems respond over time to changes in environmental conditions.

    Source: [Astrobiology Magazine]

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  1. Program Solicitation in Environmental Chemical Sciences



    The National Science Foundation (NSF) has released a solicitation for proposals through the Environmental Chemical Sciences (ECS) Program. ECS supports basic research concerning chemical processes that affect our environment. In particular, the program seeks to fund laboratory research that concerns molecular phenomena on environmental surfaces and interfaces, and projects that will aid in predicting environmental phenomena at the molecular scale.

    Understanding the chemical processes that underlie the Earth’s environment can aid astrobiologists in determining the basic conditions that gave rise to life and the fundamental principles that make the Earth’s environment habitable for life.

    For information regarding program ...

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  1. The Search for Life on Earth


    The search for life on other worlds could prove that Earth is not the only planet capable of supporting biology. If we found life that was completely different from life on Earth, the discovery would be even more profound because it would mean that there are multiple ways in which living systems can originate and function. But what if a second genesis of life, a type of life unrelated to DNA-based life, is here on Earth? Some scientists believe we should also be searching closer to home.

    Source: [Astrobiology Magazine]

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  1. Astrobiology Night at the Ballpark


    This past weekend, minor-league baseball fans in Madison, Wisconsin got treated to an out of this world experience at the local Madison Mallards game. NAI’s Wisconsin Astrobiology Research Center (WARC) sponsored 'Astrobiology Night’ at the ballpark, and delivered a fun and educational experience for the 6250 fans in attendance.

    A rover delivered the ball to WARC researcher Eric Roden who threw out the first pitch, but that was just the beginning of the festivities. Kids and families played with extremophile trading cards and special frisbees with an astrobiology timeline printed on them. The fans also enjoyed demonstration tables where ...

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  1. A New Way to Keep Clean


    It is almost impossible to get a spacecraft completely clean before launch. Therefore, missions to other planets carry some risk of forward contamination – where microorganisms from Earth travel along with the spacecraft to its destination. This is a big problem in the search for life on planets like Mars, because you don’t want to contaminate the site you’re going to be studying. To help combat this problem, a team of scientists funded by a NASA ASTEP award have developed a new cleaning protocol that could be used for future missions to Mars and beyond.

    Source: [Astrobiology Magazine]

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  1. Calling the Planetary Police


    Today’s astrobiologists face a difficult task when building a contamination-free spacecraft. By the rules of planetary protection, the more likely a location is to harbor life, the more difficult it is to visit. Researchers are now working on new ways of sterilizing spacecraft built on Earth in the hopes that soon no place in the solar system will be off limits for exploration. A special feature concerning their work was recently published in the journal Nature.

    Source: [Nature]

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