August 2007

An international team of researchers, including members of NASA Astrobiology Institute's (NAI) Virtual Planetary Laboratory team used NASA's Spitzer Space telescope to detect the presence of water vapor on the hot Jupiter Henry Draper (HD) Catalog 189733b. (The "b" after the number indicates that the reference is to a planet circling the star with that number.)

This is significant because several attempts to detect water on such planets either failed to find compelling evidence or made it clear that their claims should not be taken as fact. An article about this study was published recently in Nature magazine. The study's primary author, Giovanna Tinetti was a 2003 NAI Postdoctoral Fellow.

NASA Arctic Mars Analog Svalbard Expedition Field Report (AMASE 2007): Arriving in Longyearbyen, Kirsten Fristad, NASA GSFC

"I became more and more excited the closer I got to Longyearbyen, Svalbard. After a busy year working in the SAM Lab at NASA Goddard I am returning to the arctic as part of the Arctic Mars Analog Svalbard Expedition, otherwise known as AMASE 07. No longer a 'newbie' to AMASE, I know I am quickly approaching long work days, sleepless nights and instrument malfunctions. I am also approaching jovial camaraderie, new experiences and the most beautiful landscapes I have ever set eyes on."

ESA AMASE student blog: Arrival at Longyearbyen, Thea Falkenbergand, ESA

"We arrived at Longyearbyen at about 14:00 yesterday with only a single suitcase missing, which fortunately turned up later when the rest of our cargo was located. About half of the expedition arrived on this flight, some with up to 200 kg overweight ;-)."

Arctic Mars Analog Svalbard Expedition
Previous AMASE postings (2006 and 2007)

  • Frigid Enceladus: an Unlikely Harbor for Life, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • UQ researchers discover some of the oldest forms of life, University of Queensland
  • A National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Research Announcement (NRA), entitled "Research and Technology Development to Support Crew Health and Performance in Space Exploration Missions" (NASANNJ07ZSA002N), has been released and is available through the NASA Research Opportunities homepage at and then linking through the menu listings "Solicitations" to "Open Solicitations."

    A special session titled "Return to Europa" will be held at the 2007 fall AGU meeting in San Francisco (Dec. 10-14) [ ]. This is an exciting opportunity for presentations on Europa research and analog studies which inform our understanding of this fascinating satellite, and which set the stage for its future exploration. The deadline for abstract submissions is September 6 at 23:59 UT (4:59 pm PDT, 7:59 pm EDT). [Source: NAI Newsletter]

    2007-2008 is the International Polar Year! NASA is helping to celebrate by organizing information, multimedia, and other resources about polar research for teachers, scientists, and the public. Learn about life in snow and ice at Earth's poles, atmospheric and climate studies, and missions exploring the polar regions of other planets. [Source: NAI Newsletter]

    The NAI Minority Institution Research Support Program is pleased to announce the selection of LeeAnne Martinez, an Associate Professor of Biology at Colorado State University - Pueblo, a Hispanic Serving Institution. Dr. Martinez plans to begin a genomic analysis of open water diatoms in the laboratory of Jim Lake, of the NAI UCLA team, to explore horizontal transfer of operational genes that may lead to the incorporation of endosymbionts by diatoms. LeeAnne's background includes nitrogen-fixation in diatom mats and this work will support current research at Colorado State-Pueblo. [Source: NAI Newsletter]

    Maggie Turnbull, a 2004 NAI Postdoctoral Fellow and now an astrobiologist at the Space Telescope Science Institute, was recently named a "Genius" by CNN for her work cataloging stars most likely to develop planets that could support life and intelligent civilizations. Congratulations Maggie! [Source: NAI Newsletter]

    This new video from JPL shows how NASA astrobiologists are gathering exciting clues that will help them pick the best spots to search for possible signs of life beyond Earth. [Source: NAI Newsletter]

    This new article from Science & Spirit magazine cogitates on 'following the water' in the search for life elsewhere, and the relationship between water and enlightenment in mythology and human psychology. [Source: NAI Newsletter]

    The Planetary Protection Research program solicits proposals in three areas: improvements in sterilization technologies for spacecraft and components, methods for detecting the very low levels of biological contamination present on or in spacecraft or components, and characterizations of the capacity for Earth organisms to survive in other planetary conditions using laboratory simulations. The due date for proposals is September 5, 2007.

    Lerner Publishing Group has just released a new "Cool Science" title for 4-8th grade readers called "Astrobiology." From early imaginings about life on the Moon to modern observations of Mars, Europa, and Titan, this book gives an easy to follow, historical context for the search for life elsewhere. The book's author, "Dr. Fred" Bortz, engages students directly through school visits and other events. Learn more at his website: [Source: NAI Newsletter]

    An international team of researchers including members of NAI's Virtual Planetary Laboratory Team have, using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, detected the presence of water vapor on the hot jupiter HD 189733b. Published in Nature, the study's primary author, Giovanna Tinetti, was a 2003 NAI Postdoctoral Fellow. [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.

    August 13, 2009

    A rehearsal flight of one of two aircraft will take off from Moffett Field to observe the Perseid meteor shower early on Monday, August 13. Scientists plan to carry their equipment onto the airplanes during the rehearsal and mission flights, without mounting the instruments within the aircraft.

    In 83 B.C., a comet, now called Keiss, passed by the sun and ejected some bits of comet material. Astronomers expect the Aurigid meteor shower on Sept. 1, 2007, a result from Keiss comets earlier encounter with the sun in 83 B.C., to be spectacular.

    September 20, 2007 to September 21, 2007

    The NAI Icy Worlds Focus Group will hold a workshop from September 20-21, 2007 at NASA Ames Research Center. The workshop will concentrate on mission-related astrobiology issues relating to our Solar Systems icy moons such as Europa, Titan, and Enceladus. Participants will share their work, making presentations and assessments of the four NASA-sponsored mission studies, and considering the measurements and instruments appropriate for astrobiological exploration of icy objects.

    The Robotics Alliance Project website will host an online course for college students on Aug. 6. The course prepares students to design space communication in the inner solar system. Experts in academia and government will provide over a dozen lectures. The format includes live web broadcasts, chat windows for Q and A, collection of mathematical communication programs, archival of events, student bulletin boards, and online finals. The students ask questions in chat windows and a robotics expert answers these questions globally through the web stream.

    Dr. John Hogan and Dr. Robert Bowman were given the opportunity to conduct a small trial of the Ames developed dwarf Arabidopsis plants this season at Devon Island where scientists are working on the Haughton-Mars Project. Devon Island, located at an extreme northern latitude, is viewed as a terrestrial analog for Mars. Last week the team sent experiment trays to Devon Island. A member of the Haughton-Mars Project team will run the experiment. The actual work is simple: just add water and photograph daily. The plants will be grown outside at the peak of the "summer" season where they will be exposed to continuous light and obviously cool temperatures. The intent of the Arabidopsis experiment is to see how the plants will perform in such harsh environments.

    August 6, 2007 to August 10, 2007

    Each summer, NAI's Marine Biological Laboratory Team offers a one-week workshop for middle and high school teachers focusing on activities that can be incorporated into existing classroom curricula. Resident and visiting scientists from the Woods Hole community present teachers with background information and updates on current research developments on a variety of topics related to the importance of microbes and microbial processes in the biosphere.