May 2008

Presenter: Giovanna Tinetti, University College, London

Date/Time: June 2, 2008 11:00 AM Pacific

Abstract: In the past decade, over 280 planets orbiting other stars (extrasolar planets) have been discovered. For a growing sample of giant extrasolar planets orbiting very close to their parent star (hot-Jupiters), we can already probe their atmospheric constituents using transit techniques. With this method, we can indirectly observe the thin atmospheric ring surrounding the optically thick disc of the planet -the limb- while the planet is transiting in front of its parent star. This method was traditionally used to probe the atmospheres of planets in our Solar System and most recently, thanks to the Hubble and Spitzer Space Telescopes, was successfully applied to exoplanets.

The application deadline has been extended to Tuesday May 27 for 3 NAI scholarships to graduate students or postdocs, studying in the US, to attend the 2008 MedILS Summer School on Life in Extreme Conditions. This session, held from August 3 - 9 in Split, Croatia, will provide a venue to share current knowledge and develop new ideas and research projects around the topic of life in extreme conditions. The main focus of the school is on the evolution and maintenance of life in habitats such as eternal ice, hydrothermal vents, the bottom of the ocean, salt lakes, or other planets. Leading international lecturers will inform the participants about the latest developments and theories.

Wandering Poles on Europa

A new study in the May 15th issue of Nature from NAIs Carnegie Institution of Washington Team reveals that Europas poles may not have always been located in the same place. Using images from three NASA spacecraft, Voyager, Galileo, and New Horizons, the study mapped surface features on Europa and matched them with a pattern predicted if Europa had experienced an episode of ~80 degree true polar wander. This movement of the pole and subsequent change in rotation axis is only possible if Europas outer shell is decoupled from the core by a liquid layer, so the study also reinforces evidence for the presence of an ocean on Europa.

Jim Kasting was recently elected as Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Jim is a member of the NAI's Pennsylvania State University and Virtual Planetary Laboratory @ UW teams, and a PI in the Exobiology program. The American Academy of Arts & Sciences is one of the nation's oldest and most prestigious honorary societies and independent policy research centers. Jim has also been named a Fellow of the Geochemical Society. The honorary title is "bestowed upon outstanding scientists who have, over some years, made a major contribution to the field of geochemistry.

For more information: [Source: NAI Newsletter]

University of Arizona researcher and educator Chris Impey has received the 2008 ASP Richard H. Emmons award, which recognizes and celebrates outstanding achievement in the teaching of college-level introductory astronomy for non-science majors. The award citation states that "Innovation is certainly a hallmark of Chris's approach to teaching astronomy. He is ever thought provoking and engaging; students benefit from his refreshing methods that use interactive techniques and a blend of online and classroom teaching." For more information: [Source: NAI Newsletter]

ESA has issued a 'Call for Declarations of Interest in Science Instrumentation' for the M-class Cosmic Vision mission studies Plato, Cross Scale and Marco Polo. A similar call for the M-class mission study Euclid will follow on 15 May.

Prospective Principal Investigators are invited to submit proposals outlining the composition of nationally funded consortia to carry out assessment level studies. Responses are due by 16:00 CET on 30 June 2008.

Full details at

Video games and virtual worlds are a great way to inspire kids' interest in science and technology. The President's Commission on Implementation of US Space Exploration Policy reports that " and simulation games are not only a multi-billion dollar industry, they are proving to be effective as learning devices for people of all ages" ... "The potential for converting hobbies and amusements to more educational pursuits is enormous."

Co-chairs: Dr. Barbara Cohen ( Dr. Stephen Mojzsis (

Even as we approach the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11, one of the more remarkable results to come out of lunar sample analyses is the hypothesis that a large number of impact events occurred on the Moon during a narrow window in time approximately 3.8 to 4.1 billion years ago (the lunar "cataclysm"). Subsequent work on the lunar and martian meteorite suites; remote sensing of the Moon, Mars, asteroids, and icy satellites; improved dynamical modeling; and investigation of terrestrial zircons extend the cataclysm hypothesis to the Earth, other terrestrial planets, and possibly the entire solar system. Renewed US and international interest in exploring the Moon offers new potential to constrain the Earth-Moon bombardment history. In light of these opportunities, this session invites the latest views on the evidence, timing and mechanism for cataclysmic bombardment of the solar system and its effects on the nascent Earth, including evidence in terrestrial rocks, effects on terrestrial systems (biosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere), and questions that may be answered in a new age of exploration.

Former NAI Postdoctoral Fellow Giovanna Tinetti is co-author on a groundbreaking paper in Nature detailing the observation of methane and water vapor in the atmosphere of the extrasolar planet HD 189733b. The team used the NASA Hubble Space Telescope to observe the transiting exoplanet, using the NICMOS camera to obtain a spectrophotometric time series. This result is a milestone in the search for life elsewhere in the Universe, most importantly because it demonstrates that we have the technology to identify these molecules in exoplanet atmospheres.

[Source: NAI newsletter]

The competition was fierce! Of 37 posters representing the full gamut of astrobiology research areas, six finalists moved into second round judging, and four awards were made. Please join NAI in thanking our judges and congratulating this year's winners: