November 2008

With this amendment, the NASA Announcement of Opportunity NNH08ZDA009O, "Stand Alone Missions of Opportunity Notice (SALMON)," is amended to delay the proposal due date for proposals submitted in response to Program Element Appendix H3: Small Complete Missions of Opportunity in Astrobiology and Fundamental Space Biology.

The proposal due date for Small Complete Missions of Opportunity in Astrobiology and Fundamental Space Biology proposals is delayed until early in 2009.

Dates: February 4 - 6, 2009

On the first day, the meeting will address the stellar environment during planet formation. On the second, invited talks will touch on extrasolar planets and planet formation. The third day will cover solar system talks. Since the range of topics is quite broad, a preliminary schedule is included below. When submitting an abstract please take into consideration how well your chosen topic fits into the program, as this will be one of the criteria for the selection panel. We will schedule 10 or so contributed talks, and will have a poster session if there is sufficient interest.

Please Contact Ignacio Mosqueira at with an abstract of 1000 words or less in word or pdf format before November 15. Abstracts should emphasize the broad theme of the Origins of planetary systems.

Source: NAI Newsletter

The NAI Planetary System Formation Focus Group (PSFFG) invites interested astrobiologists to participate in a review of the astrobiological value of upcoming and proposed NASA space telescopes relevant for the general question of planetary system formation. The meeting will be held in conjunction with the meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in Long Beach, California on January 4-9, 2009. For details about the AAS meeting, please see:

The pilot-test of an NAI-supported curriculum entitled Astrobiology: An Integrated Science Approach will help kick-off the State of Maine's new Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Initiative. This initiative is the subject of a press conference to be given by Maine's Governor, The Honorable John E. Baldacci, on November 17th.

The curriculum was developed with significant input from the NAI Ames Team led by Dave Des Marais, who will speak at the press conference. Much of the team's research in astrobiology is captured in the curriculum.

A new collaboration between NAI and the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) enabled the production of a special astrobiology-themed event at this year's NABT 2008 Professional Development Conference, held in Memphis, TN, October 15-18th. ASM's K-12 Committee Chair graciously invited NAI to join them in making astrobiology the theme of the day-long event that ASM hosts at NABT each year. E/PO Leads from NAI's MBL and IPTAI teams, in collaboration with exobiology researcher Brad Bebout from NASA Ames, joined several astrobiologists from ASM's ranks in sharing lectures and classroom materials about microbial life in extreme environments. NABT supported the event by advertising it in their newsletter and highlighting it in the conference program.

Scientists from the NAI Ames Team have teamed with rangers from Lassen Volcanic National Park to create the Lassen Astrobiology Internship Program. Ten high school sophomores from the rural areas around the park will hike - and later on in the year, snowshoe - to three locations within the Park several times throughout the 2008-09 school year, collecting water samples and other data at various locations. The samples will be analyzed, and the data provided to researchers on the NAI Ames Team to increase their knowledge about the microbial populations in the diverse hydrothermal areas and extreme environments within the Park.

The NASA Graduate Student Researchers Program (GSRP) is an Agency-wide fellowship program (also called GSRP Training Grants in what follows) for graduate study leading to masters or doctoral degrees in the fields of science, mathematics, and engineering related to NASA research and development. This twelve month award strongly encourages a research experience at the NASA center extending the GSRP Fellowship.

The Lewis and Clark Fund for Exploration and Field Research in Astrobiology, a partnership between NAI and the American Philosophical Society (APS), is now accepting applications for astrobiological field studies for 2009. Graduate students, postdoctoral students, and junior scientists and scholars are eligible to apply for travel and related expenses, up to $5000. For more information, please see

Source: NAI Newsletter

Jennifer Eigenbrode: Ice is a cryogenic vault for preserving organics and other materials that may record planetary processes. On Earth, cold temperatures retard against hydrolysis and oxidation, which degrade biomolecules and other organics, allowing traces of life to persist in the presence of impurities. We are exploring the dilute biological and organic inventory contained within modern glacial ice on Earth in order to understand the habitat of microorganisms in near-surface glacial ice and to distinguish allochthonous from autochthonous organic records.

The next Astrobiology Graduate Student Conference (AbGradCon) will be held July 17 - 20 2009 at the University of Washington in Seattle. The primary objective of AbGradCon is to improve the future of astrobiology research by bringing together in a unique setting the early-career astrobiologists (graduate students and post-doctoral fellows within 2 years of finishing their Ph.D.) who will lead such research in the years to come. The conference is unique in that it is a student-led meeting, from the organization to the presentations. AbGradCon strives to remove the "pressures" of typical scientific meetings by providing a relaxed atmosphere in which presentations and round-table discussions are fostered along with numerous social activities. AbGradCon will also be hosted in the virtual world of Second Life at the NASA CoLab Sun Amphitheater.

For more information:

Source: NAI Newsletter

Members of NAI's Carnegie Institution of Washington, Indiana University, and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Teams and their colleagues have revisited the Miller-Urey experiments, and found some surprising results.

A classic experiment proving amino acids are created when inorganic molecules are exposed to electricity isn't the whole story, it turns out. The 1953 Miller-Urey Synthesis had two sibling studies, neither of which was published. Vials containing the products from those experiments were recently recovered and reanalyzed using modern technology. The results are reported in Science.

Date/Time: Monday, November 24, 2008 11:00 AM Pacific

Presenter: Roger Summons (Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, MIT)

Abstract: A great mass extinction took place 252 million years ago when approximately 90% of the existing marine taxa were lost. Both the magnitude of the extinction and the slowness of the subsequent faunal radiation are enigmatic. The event is also known for the number and diversity of theories about its cause(s) including catastrophic volcanism, sudden climate change, overturn of stagnant oceans and bolide impact. Studies of molecular fossils confirm that the oceans were stagnant (euxinic) for some considerable period of time before and after the main biological turnover. Accordingly this event appears to be the culmination of particular paleo-oceanographic circumstances that happened on a geological timescale.

For more information and participation instructions:

Source: NAI Newsletter

The NAI-MIRS Program provides opportunities for researchers from qualified minority institutions to initiate joint partnerships with NAI researchers in the field of astrobiology. The NAI-MIRS program provides summer sabbaticals, follow-up support, and travel opportunities for faculty and students from minority institutions. The application deadline for summer 2009 is March 16. For more information, visit

Source: NAI Newsletter

Starting January 1, 2009, a new 4-year program will investigate hydrothermal systems on the Mid-Cayman Spreading Center (MCSC) under NASA's ASTEP program - a joint collaboration between Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) and Duke University Marine Laboratory (DUML). The results of the work will be used to plan astrobiological exploration of any planetary body that can host hydrothermal circulation (for example, Europa).

NASA announces a call for graduate fellowship proposals to the NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship (NESSF) program for the 2009-2010 academic year. This call for fellowship proposals solicits applications from accredited U.S. universities on behalf of individuals pursuing Master of Science (M.Sc.) or Doctoral (Ph.D.) degrees in Earth and space sciences, or related disciplines. The purpose of NESSF is to ensure continued training of a highly qualified workforce in disciplines needed to achieve NASA's scientific goals. Awards resulting from the competitive selection will be made in the form of training grants to the respective universities.

Damhnait Gleeson: Borup Fiord Pass, located on the Canadian Arctic Island of Ellesmere, represents the only known site on Earth where sulfur minerals and glacial ice are found in intimate association. Spring waters access the surface of the ice during the melt season each year, depositing elemental sulfur, gypsum and calcite and exsolving H2S. The sulfur signature of the spring deposits is extensive enough to be detected and monitored from orbital satellite observations and an autonomous onboard classifier can provide temporal coverage of spring activity. Diverse microbial communities are active within the deposits and are mediating the geochemistry of the deposits by the sulfur redox transformations from which they gain energy. Cultivation experiments targeting sulfide-oxidizing members of the microbial community have isolated microorganisms from the spring deposits which are producing biomineralized sulfur structures in culture.

Dina Bower: Advisor: Andrew Steele, Carnegie Institution of Washington, NAI CIW Team Topic: Experimental Investigations on the Effects of Diagenesis on the Formation of Fe,Ti-oxides (Pseudorutile) in Microfossils: Using Minerals as Biosignatures in Ancient Rocks

Mark Claire: Advisor: Jim Kasting, Pennsylvania State University and NAI VPL Team
Topic: Biogenic Sulfur - From Biospheres to Biosignatures

Source: NAI Newsletter

According to an article published in the Washington Post, scientists studying the Murchison meteorite have found that it contains clues to the origin of chirality. Amino acids in nature have two forms, referred to as right- and left-handed, that are mirror images of each other. The proteins in living organisms, however, are only made from left-handed amino acids. The reason for this chirality is not understood, but this new research suggests it may stem from meteorites that rained down on the young Earth.

Source; NAI Newsletter

An ecosystem discovered 2.8 kilometers underground in the Mponeng Gold Mine near Johannesburg, South Africa two years ago has now been shown to comprise only a single species of microbe, existing on energy from radioactivity, completely independently of the Sun. The community of rod-shaped bacteria of the species Desulforudis audaxviator was discovered in 2005-06 by members of the NAI's Indiana-Princeton-Tennessee Astrobiology Initiative (IPTAI) Team. Their current results are presented in the October 10th issue of Science.