April 2009

Science Mission Directorate (SMD) is releasing a NASA Announcement of Opportunity (NNH09ZDA007O), New Frontiers 2009. NASA expects to select up to three New Frontiers mission proposals for a 10 month Phase A study. Following evaluation of Phase A reports, NASA expects to approve one New Frontiers mission to proceed into Phase B and subsequent mission phases. Launch is to occur no earlier than late CY 2016 and no later than CY 2018. The proposed missions must address the science objectives of one of the eight mission concepts identified in the National Research Council's 2007 report, Opening New Frontiers in Space: Choices for the Next New Frontiers Announcement of Opportunity.

'Beyond the Edge of the Sea' is an exhibition of the work of scientific illustrator Karen Jacobsen. She has accompanied Dr. Cindy Lee Van Dover of Duke University in the deep-sea submersible Alvin numerous times to locations across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, exploring hydrothermal vent ecosystems. This unique collaboration has yielded a vast collection of extraordinary drawings and paintings. The traveling exhibition highlights five newly commissioned pieces, and features over 70 works selected from Jacobsen's sketchbooks.

Research conducted in Yellowstone National Park by astrobiologists from NAI's Montana State Team is highlighted in the 30-minute film *Invisible Yellowstone*, produced by MSU's Thermal Biology Institute and MSU's Science and Natural History filmmaking program. The film is available on DVD by contacting Daniella Scalice at .

[Source: NAI Newsletter]

NASA is accepting applications from science and engineering post-docs, recent PhDs, and doctoral students for its 21st Annual Planetary Science Summer School, which will hold two separate sessions this summer (20-24 July and 3-7 August) at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. During the program, student teams will carry out the equivalent of an early mission concept study, prepare a proposal authorization review presentation, present it to a review board, and receive feedback. At the end of the week, students will have a clearer understanding of the life cycle of a robotic space mission; relationships between mission design, cost, and schedule; and the tradeoffs necessary to stay within cost and schedule while preserving the quality of science. Applications are due 1 May 2009. Partial financial support is available for a limited number of individuals.

Further information is available at .

[Source: NAI Newsletter]

Location: Palacio de Magdalena, Santander, Cantabria, Spain
Dates: June 22-26, 2009

The NAI has extended the deadline for applications to the annual Summer School sponsored by the NAI and the Centro de Astrobiologia (CAB) at Santander on Spain's Cantabrian coast. The topic of the School this year is "Earth's Extremophiles and Extraterrestrial Habitability." Lecturers include John Baross of the School of Oceanography, University of Washington; Michael Madigan of the Department of Microbiology, Southern Illinois University, and Ricardo Amils of the CAB.

NAI's Archean Biosphere Drilling Project supported the acquisition of pristine drill core samples obtained from ancient rocks in Western Australia. New results from those studies, published in the current issue of Nature Geoscience, point toward an earlier start for oxygenic photosynthesis on the early Earth than previously thought.

Members of NAI's NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Team have a new paper in PNAS describing the distribution and enantiomeric composition of certain amino acids in carbonaceous meteorites. Their results show an increased amount of "left handed" isovaline in several meteorites, which helps to explain why all known life uses only left-handed versions of amino acids to build proteins.

"Finding more left-handed isovaline in a variety of meteorites supports the theory that amino acids brought to the early Earth by asteroids and comets contributed to the origin of only left-handed based protein life on Earth," said study co-author Danny Glavin.

The team also found a pattern to the excess. Different types of meteorites had different amounts of water, as determined by the clays and water-bearing minerals found in the meteorites. The team discovered that meteorites with more water also had greater amounts of left-handed isovaline.

[Source: NAI Newsletter]

Never before has an asteroid been both telescopically observed while in space, and then collected and analyzed after it's hit the Earth. NAI astrobiologists from the Carnegie Institution of Washington and the SETI Institute are part of the large, interdisciplinary team of scientists who undertook the investigation. Their results are published in a recent issue of Nature.

Analysis of the carbon content in the fragments of 2008 TC3, as it is known, showed it to be mostly graphite-like, indicating that at some point in the past the body had been subjected to extremely high temperatures. Nanodiamonds were also observed.

It's oxygen isotopic signature classifies it as a very rare type of meteorite known as a ureilite. Because astronomers took spectral measurements of 2008 TC3 before it hit the Earth, and can compare those measurements with the laboratory analyses, scientists will be better able to recognize ureilite asteroids in space.

[Source: NAI Newsletter]

Members of NAI's Team at Montana State University have provided a Perspectives piece in Dalton Transactions reviewing the organo-metallic chemistry of the active sites of hydrogenase enzymes. Since hydrogen metabolism is presumed to be an early feature in the energetics of life, and hydrogen metabolizing organisms can be traced very early in molecular phylogeny, studying the metal clusters at hydrogenase active sites can reveal potential conditions in which early life arose. Efforts in this field also could have significant impacts on alternative and renewable energy solutions.

[Source: NAI Newsletter]

Starting this past February 23rd, 2009, each of the NAI teams have been presenting one hour overview seminars that describe the work they will be conducting as members of the NAI. These seminars, which are broadcast via videoconference and web, provide an opportunity to find out more about the science, EPO and other activities being performed by the NAI teams. These seminars take place at 11am Pacific time. A seminar has been added for April 29th which will be presented by NAI Central.

Monday, April 13: Vikki Meadows, VPL at University of Washington
Wednesday, April 15: Mike Mumma, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Monday, April 20: Roger Summons, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Wednesday, April 22: Karen Meech, University of Hawaii
Monday, April 27: Doug Whittet, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Wednesday, April 29th: NAI Central

For more information about these seminars, podcasts of previous seminars and participation information, please visit

[Source: NAI Newsletter]

National Public Radio's Science Friday broadcasted live from Arizona State University on Friday, April 3rd as part of their Origins Symposium. The symposium, which inaugurated ASU's new Origins Initiative, featured world renowned scientists Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins, and Craig Venter. The Science Friday broadcast included a panel on the Origins and Evolution of Life composed of Peter Ward, Ariel Anbar, Baruch Blumberg and Paul Davies.

Listen to the archive here:

[Source: NAI Newsletter]

The NASA/NAI Postdoctoral Program (NPP) provides talented postdoctoral scientists with opportunities to engage in Institute-related research and serves as a source of future astrobiology talent and leadership. The NAI has selected four outstanding postdoctoral fellows to join NAI laboratories through the NPP November 2008 opportunity.