December 2007

Committee on the Review of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, National Research Council

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Executive Summary: Astrobiology is a scientific discipline devoted to the study of life in the universe--its origin, evolution, distribution, and future. It brings together the physical and biological sciences to address some of the most fundamental questions of the natural world: How do living systems emerge? How do habitable worlds form and how do they evolve? Does life exist on worlds other than Earth? The tremendous breadth and depth of this endeavor requires interdisciplinary investigation in order to be fully appreciated and examined.

This amendment announces new due dates and revisions to Appendix D.3 of ROSES-2007 entitled Astronomy and Physics Research and Analysis (APRA).

The proposal due dates for APRA have been changed to be several weeks earlier than previously announced. Notices of Intent to propose are now due February 15, 2008, and proposals are now due March 28, 2008.

Since we cannot put stars in a laboratory, astrophysicists had to wait till the invention of computers before becoming laboratory scientists. For half a century now, we have been conducting experiments in our virtual laboratories. However, we ourselves have remained behind the keyboard, with the screen of the monitor separating us from the world we are simulating. Recently, 3D on-line technology, developed first for games but now deployed in virtual worlds like Second Life, is beginning to make it possible for astrophysicists to enter their virtual labs themselves, in virtual form as avatars. This has several advantages, from new possibilities to explore the results of the simulations to a shared presence in a virtual lab with remote collaborators on different continents.

Piet Hut (IAS, Princeton) Comments: 10 pages, 2 figures, Conference proceedings for IAUS246 'Dynamical Evolution of Dense Stellar Systems', ed. E. Vesperini (Chief Editor), M. Giersz, A. Sills, Capri, Sept. 2007 Subjects: Astrophysics (astro-ph)

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In April, a European team of astronomers announced in Astronomy & Astrophysics the discovery of two possibly habitable Earth-like planets. A&A is now publishing two independent, detailed studies of this system, which confirm that one of the planets might indeed be located within the habitable zone around the star Gliese 581.

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NAI is sponsoring the workshop Cyanobacteria in the Lunar Environment" at NASA Ames Research Center from January 28-30, 2008. It will bring together microbiologists, planetary scientists, and experts in flight experiments and hardware to assess the value and feasibility of studying cyanobacteria in space environments. Cyanobacteria are of great interest as model microorganisms to space programs because of their antiquity on earth, metabolic diversity, resilience to adverse conditions, ability to efficiently produce oxygen and hydrogen, and the existence of advanced capabilities for their genetic manipulation. Furthermore, cyanobacteria have considerable potential value for in-situ resource utilization and life support technologies.

Oceans and Life on Planets: Remote Exploration of Seafloor Microbial Activities

In the spirit of the interdisciplinary nature of astrobiology, the course is open to graduate students in oceanography and/or microbiology, as well as to other graduate students in science and engineering who wish to pursue an intensive learning experience. Deadline for applications: 31 January 2008.

Researchers from NAI's University of Hawai'i Team have a new paper in The Astronomical Journal describing a major survey of visual binaries toward the Orion Nebula Cluster. The team used images obtained with the Advanced Camera for Surveys on the Hubble Space Telescope through an H filter. Among 781 stars that fulfill the criteria for membership in the Orion Nebula Cluster, the group found 78 multiple systems (75 binaries and 3 triples), of which 55 are new discoveries.

[source: NAI Newsletter]

This two-year position is jointly funded by the NASA Astrobiology Institute's Virtual Planetary Laboratory (VPL) and the Astrobiology Program (AP) at the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle. The Virtual Planetary Laboratory, based at the University of Washington (, is an interdisciplinary research team of 40 members at 22 institutions. The VPL team undertakes interdisciplinary modeling research on the formation of habitable planets; their interaction with their parent star; the environments of the Early Earth; the plausible range of habitable extrasolar terrestrial environments; and the nature and detectability of remotely-sensed biosignatures.

In response to recommendations from the NASA Advisory Council's Planetary Science Subcommittee and to findings from the Venus Exploration Analysis Group (VEXAG), during 2008 NASA will be conducting mission architecture studies for accomplishing Decadal Survey science objectives for Venus. NASA is forming a Science and Technology Definition Team (STDT) for Venus that will work directly with engineers and mission formulation experts.

Spaceward Bound is an educational program designed to train the next generation of space explorers. Students participate in the exploration of scientifically interesting but remote and extreme environments on Earth as analogs for human exploration of the moon and Mars.

NASA intends to release a Cooperative Agreement Notice (CAN, Cycle-5) soliciting new institutional members to the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI). The CAN will be released early in 2008, and proposals will be due approximately 90 days later.

This amendment announces a proposal opportunity in Appendix C.20 of ROSES-2007 entitled "Astrobiology Science and Technology for Exploring Planets" (ASTEP).

UCLA has launched an initiative to grow the Geosciences under the theme "Surface envelopes of Earth and planets: Processes and interactions" (see EOS, November 27, p. 534). The Department of Earth and Space Sciences and the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics seek a talented and creative scientist with experience and interests in research and teaching in one or more of the biogeosciences (geobiology, geomicrobiology, paleobiology, astrobiology, biogeochemistry) for appointment as an Assistant or Associate Professor.

ROSES-07 Amendment 28: This amendment reinstates a previously deferred program element in Appendix C.19 of ROSES-2007 now entitled "Astrobiology Science and Technology Instrument Development, including Concept Studies for Small Payloads and Satellites" (ASTID).

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