April 2007

Astronomers find first habitable Earth-like planet, ESO

"Astronomers have discovered the most Earth-like planet outside our Solar System to date, an exoplanet with a radius only 50% larger than the Earth and capable of having liquid water. Using the ESO 3.6-m telescope, a team of Swiss, French and Portuguese scientists discovered a super-Earth about 5 times the mass of the Earth that orbits a red dwarf, already known to harbour a Neptune-mass planet. The astronomers have also strong evidence for the presence of a third planet with a mass about 8 Earth masses."

The NASA Astrobiology Institute is pleased to announce the selection of 18 proposals for support through the 2007 NAI Director's Discretionary Fund. These awards allocate more than $1.7M toward strategic investments that advance the science of astrobiology, demonstrate impact to NASA's space flight programs or its broader science activities, and/or contribute to NASA's role as a federal R&D agency. The members of the Institute, in collaboration with members of the larger astrobiology community, responded to this year's DDF Call for Proposals with a bold, interdisciplinary, and focused set of proposals.

Speaker: Steven D'Hondt (University of Rhode Island); Date/Time: Monday, April 30, 2007 11AM PDT

For more information and participation instructions, visit: [Source: NAI Newsletter]

Members of NAI's Virtual Planetary Laboratory Alumni Team and their colleagues have a new paper in the current issue of Astrobiology. They present a critical discussion of M star properties that are relevant for the long- and short-term thermal, dynamical, geological, and environmental stability of conventional liquid water habitable zone (HZ) M star planets. [Source: NAI Newsletter]

The European Space Agency (ESA) has issued a Call for Proposals for the First Planning Cycle of the New Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 ( It is anticipated that some U.S. investigators may wish to participate in the flight programs that will result from the advanced studies being solicited by the Call, and NASA is interested in the possibility of supporting U.S. investigator participation in future flight projects.

Irene Schneider from NAI's Penn State Team is spending two weeks at the Mars Desert Research Station in a simulated expedition to the Red Planet. The last of the 2006-2007 season's missions, the team's focus is "Emergency Preparedness" and includes simulation and protocol development for EVA (Extravehicular Activity) emergencies, radiation poisoning prevention, EVA radiation emergency protocols and an emergency air quantity/location study. Learn more at: [Source: NAI Newsletter]

Multidisciplinary work from members of NAI's SETI Institute Team and a host of collaborators across the NAI re-examines what is known at present about the potential for a terrestrial planet forming within, or migrating into, the classic liquidsurfacewater habitable zone close to an M dwarf star. Their new paper, published in the current issue of Astrobiology, presents the summary conclusions of an interdisciplinary workshop sponsored by NAI and convened at the SETI Institute in 2005. [Source: NAI Newsletter]

Differently colored plants may live on extra-solar planets, according to two new papers in the current issue of Astrobiology authored by members of NAI's Virtual Planetary Laboratory Alumni Team and their colleagues. They took previously simulated planetary atmospheric compositions for Earth-like planets orbiting various star types (including M stars), generated spectra, and found that photosynthetic pigments may peak in absorbance in the blue for some star types, and red-orange and near-infrared for others. Their results also suggest that, under water, organisms would still be able to survive ultraviolet flares from young M stars and acquire adequate light for growth - which greatly increases the scope for habitability in these systems. [Source: NAI Newsletter]

NAI Postdoctoral Fellow Sean Raymond leads a team of authors from NAI's University of Colorado, Boulder, and University of Arizona Teams, and Virtual Planetary Laboratory and University of Washington Alumni Teams in a new publication in Astrobiology. They present analysis of water delivery and planetary habitability in 5 high-resolution simulations forming 15 terrestrial planets. Their results outline a new model for water delivery to terrestrial planets in dynamically calm systems, which may be very common in the Galaxy. [Source: NAI Newsletter]

Margaret Tolbert from NAI's University of Colorado, Boulder Team, is receiving the 2007 UC-Boulder Hazel Barnes Prize. This prize is the University's most prestigious faculty award. Tolbert has earned it, UC-Boulder has announced, "for her contributions to understanding the chemistry and climate of planetary atmospheres, including past and present," and "for her teaching and research efforts with undergraduates and graduate students, 15 of whom have won prestigious NASA and Environmental Protection Agency fellowships in recent years." Congratulations Margaret! [Source: NAI Newsletter]

The following new papers have been published recently by NAI members. These and other recent NAI funded research are presented on the NAI member portal and collected in the NAI Research Highlights Archive In this archive, you can link to the papers and any press materials that may have been generated about them. If you have an upcoming or recent publication, please tell us about it as soon as possible. We will work with your institution to produce press releases, publicize the paper on the NAI website, and pre-populate your team's annual report with your publication. Please send any information to Daniella Scalice [Source: NAI Newsletter]

The Lab-On-a-Chip Application Development Portable Test System (LOCAD-PTS) is an instrument developed by the NAI Carnegie Institution of Washington Team over the past 4 years in collaboration with NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and Charles River Labs. LOCAD-PTS was flown to and recently tested aboard the International Space Station (ISS) to enable crew to monitor microorganisms and potentially hazardous chemicals within the cabin environment. The successful test is the first demonstration of this new technology, from sampling to data retrieval - by an astronaut in space. [Source: NAI Newsletter]

Presentations from the "Workshop on Science Associated with the Lunar Exploration Architecture" held in Tempe, Arizona, February 27-March 2, 2007 are available at: Presentations are still being uploaded to the website, so please continue to check the website as needed. Any questions regarding this announcement may be directed to Ms. Marian R. Norris, Science Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters, [Source: NAI Newsletter]

New work from NAI NASA Ames Research Center Team members and their colleagues published recently in PNAS suggests that the cause for much of the extended red emission, or ERE, is due to closed-shell cationic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, or PAH, dimers. Their work sheds light on the processes involved in carbonaceous dust evolution in the interstellar medium. [Source: NAI Newsletter]

Search for Habitable Planets Outside Earth's Solar System in Astrobiology

"Which planets outside of Earth's Solar System are most likely to be capable of supporting life is a question that will be the focus of both a NASA-sponsored workshop later this year and a special collection of papers in the Spring 2007 (Volume 7, Number 1) issue of Astrobiology, a peer-reviewed journal published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc."