Archives

July 2010


Abstract Submission Deadline: August 10, 2010

2010 Geological Society of America National Meeting: T110, Mountain Formation and Landscape Evolution in the Solar System: Implications for the Origin of Life.

Organizers: Joseph Kula, Suzanne L. Baldwin

Session Summary: Terrestrial mountain formation in the solar system is related to thermal decay, tectonics, and impact events. The processes and timescales of landscape evolution will be explored with implications for the origin and search for life.

For more information: http://geosociety.org/meetings/2010/sessions/topical.asp?SponsorID=GSA+Planetary+Geology+Division

Dear Colleague: You are invited to participate in the fourth landing site workshop for the 2011 Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover mission. The workshop will be held in the vicinity of Pasadena, California, on September 27-29, 2010. The workshop will be held at the DoubleTree Hotel in Monrovia, California, and will be just before the MEPAG meeting to be held at the same location.

This workshop is expected to focus on the outstanding science questions, surface characteristics, and relative merits of the final MSL landing sites remaining under consideration. Outcomes will include a list of testable hypotheses that can be accomplished at each site using the MSL science payload. We anticipate a final, fifth landing site workshop will be held in the early spring of 2011 that will be the final workshop prior to selection of the site by NASA Headquarters.

We are soliciting a range of presentations related to the four remaining landing sites under consideration: Eberswalde crater (23.86*S, 326.73*E), Gale crater (4.49*S, 137.42*E), Holden crater (26.37*S, 325.10*E), and Mawrth Vallis (24.01*N, 341.03*E). Presentations related to refined understanding of the geologic setting and physical nature of the surface at each site are especially welcomed. Talks should emphasize the pros and cons of the science possible at each site relative to the mission science objectives and describe testable hypotheses that can be evaluated using the MSL science payload. Talks on the characteristics of the surface should focus on aspects that are important for landing or roving. Identification of specific candidate science targets and traverses within and/or outside the ellipse (for go to sites) is encouraged. An overview of the mission science objectives, a description of the engineering constraints on surface characteristics important for landing and roving, as well as other aspects of the MSL mission, can be found at http://marsoweb.nas.nasa.gov/landingsites/ and http://webgis.wr.usgs.gov/msl. A description of the MSL science payload may be found at http://msl-scicorner.jpl.nasa.gov/.

All members of the scientific community are encouraged to participate in this important activity. Persons wishing to make a presentation at the workshop should provide a title and brief (several sentence) description of the content to John Grant (grantj@si.edu) and Matt Golombek (mgolombek@jpl.nasa.gov) by August 1, 2010. The input from the science community is critical to identification and evaluation of optimal landing sites for the MSL. We look forward to your continued involvement in these activities!

Sincerely, John Grant and Matt Golombek Co-Chairs, Mars Landing Site Steering Committee

Source: NAI Newsletter

The Canadian Space Agency is offering a Visiting Fellowship ("VF") opportunity for a postdoctoral researcher in astrobiology starting this Fall. Broad research areas include: Mars sedimentary mineralogy, Fe-Si biominerals, light- or laser-based astrobiology instrumentation, Mars analogue environments (including hydrothermal systems and lava tubes).

The position includes salary + research + travel (field and conference).

For information on the visiting fellowship program: http://www.nserc-crsng.gc.ca/Students-Etudiants/PD-NP/Laboratories-Laboratoires/index_eng.asp

Interested candidates should contact Richard Leveille directly.

Richard Leveille, Ph.D.
Planetary Scientist
Science and Academic Development
Space Science and Technology
Canadian Space Agency
6767, route de l'Aeroport, Saint-Hubert (Quebec) J3Y 8Y9
Tel : (450) 926-5154 | Fax: (450) 926-4766

Source: NAI Newsletter

Your input is very much needed for an important study being conducted by the National Research Council's Committee on New Research Opportunities in the Earth Sciences. The committee is charged with (1) identifying high-priority new and emerging research opportunities in the Earth sciences over the next decade, including surface and deep Earth processes and interdisciplinary research within fields such as ocean and atmospheric sciences, biology, engineering, computer science, and social and behavioral sciences, and (2) identifying key instrumentation and facilities needed to support these new and emerging research opportunities. As members of this study committee, we (Isabel Montanez, Tim Lyons, Paul Olsen, and Michael Bender) would like your perspective regarding future research in the Earth sciences. Please take a few minutes to respond to the 3 questions at the following link: http://thenationalacad.nroes.sgizmo.com

The report will have the biggest impact if our community is well represented. This is an opportunity to share with a broader community and NSF the various Astrobiology-related research ideas that fit with the goals of the committee. Thank you for taking the time to participate in this very important survey.

Source: NAI Newsletter

Faculty Position in Biogeoscience

Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University

The Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences seeks applicants for a faculty position in biogeoscience, at the tenure track or tenured level. We seek applicants engaged in process-oriented research who will bring crucial new skills, such as use of molecular-level tools, innovative remote sensing techniques, new insight or methodology for understanding biogeochemical cycles, specialist knowledge of ecosystem energetics, and/or application of nano-scale techniques. Our ongoing research in fields related to biogeoscience includes study of biogeochemistry and geochemistry, paleoecology, ecophysiology, climate and paleoclimate, oceanography and paleoceanography, geologic carbon capture and storage, fluid-rock interaction, and the human dimensions of environmental change. Preference will be given to strong applicants who can integrate their work within this spectrum.

Minimum requirements for the position are demonstrated scientific creativity, specialist knowledge in both biology and geoscience, a Ph.D. in a biogeoscience-related field, and capability to teach at the undergraduate and graduate level. Application review will commence immediately and continue until the position is filled. For more information and to apply for this position please visit our online site at: https://academicjobs.columbia.edu/applicants/Central?quickFind=53131 Questions can be addressed to Peter Kelemen (peterk@LDEO.columbia.edu), Chair of the Search Committee. Columbia University is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action employer.

Source: NAI Newsletter

A NASA Astrobiology Institute-funded study led by Chris Dupont of the J. Craig Venter Institute indicates that environmental availability of trace elements over Earth's history influenced the selection of elements used by life as biological evolution progressed. Their results show that environmental concentrations of trace metals influenced which types of metal-binding proteins evolved, and the relative timing of their evolution.

The study implies that the geochemistry of the Archean ocean (>2.5 billion years ago) influenced both the evolution of metal-binding protein architectures and the selection of elements by the ancestors of modern Archaea and Bacteria (simple single cell organisms). Specifically, low Zn, Mo, and Cu concentrations in the Archean ocean likely prevented the widespread emergence and diversification of Eukaryotic life (including plants, animals, and fungi) until the oceans became oxic, relatively late in Earth's history. The study also revealed that although modern Archaea and Bacteria still predominantly use ancient metal-binding protein structures, most Eukaryotes use both early- and late- evolving structures. The paper appears in the May 24 Early Edition of PNAS.

Source: NAI Newsletter

Many of the most well known comets, including Halley, Hale-Bopp and, most recently, McNaught, may have been born in orbit around other stars, according to a new theory by an international team of astronomers led by Harold F. Levison, co-investigator on NAI's NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Team.

The team used computer simulations to show that the Sun may have captured small icy bodies from its sibling stars while it was in its birth star cluster, thereby creating a reservoir for observed comets. Their paper appears in the June 10, 2010 issue of Science Express.

Source: NAI Newsletter

The NAI is pleased to announce the 2010 Selections for the Lewis and Clark Fund for Exploration and Field Research in Astrobiology.

1. Knicole Colon, U Florida, travel to Spain for her project, "From Hot-Jupiters to Super Earths: Characterizing Transiting Extrasolar Planets with GTC/OSIRIS".

2. Andrew Czaja, U Wisconsin, travel to Australia for a "Field Trip to Explore Archean and Proterozoic Geology of Western Australia".

3. Jason Huberty, U Wisconsin, travel to Australia, for the "Fifth International Archean Synposium Field Trip to the Pilbara Craton, including the Fortescue and Hamersley Basins".

4. Michele Knowlton, Arizona State U, travel to Yellowstone National Park to examine nitrogen fixation occurring within microbial mats.

5. Nancy McKeown, U California, Santa Cruz, travel to Arizona, for a "Spectral Study Of the Painted Desert, AZ, to "Characterize Clay Alterations Environments and Provide Implications for Astrobiology at Mawrth Valis, Mars, a Likely Mars Science Laboratory Landing Site".

6. Elizabeth Percak-Dennet, U Wisconsin, travel to Australia, "Linking Laboratory and Field Studies of the Mineralogical and Iron Isotope Composition of Banded Iron Formations in Western Australia".

7. Matthew Urschel, Montana State U, travel to Alberta, Canada to examine "Iron Reduction in the Subglacial Sediments of Robertson Glacier, Canada".

For more information: http://astrobiology.nasa.gov/nai/funding/lewis-and-clark

Source: NAI Newsletter

Please join us in congratulating former NAI Director Bruce Runnegar of UCLA for receiving the 2009 Lapworth Medal from the Paleontological Association!

Bruce Runnegar has been one of the most innovative researchers of his generation, and a testament to the visionary nature of his research and its endurance. Of course, taxonomic works in palaeontology have a long 'half-life', but review papers tend to burn brightly and quickly. Runnegar has published his fair share of taxonomic studies, elucidating the early evolutionary history of molluscs. However, he also has an enviable back-catalogue of reviews and opinion pieces that were not merely of the moment, but remain as relevant and inspirational today as when they were published, many of them decades ago, and they continue to accrue citations as a result.

Runnegar's 1982 Geol Soc Australia article codified the conundrum of the Cambrian Explosion - whether it should it be interpreted as an explosion of animal diversity, or merely of fossils. He made the first serious attempts to tackle this problem, by employing the molecular clock, long before it became fashionable among molecular biologists (for whom it is now an industry), in trying to obtain an independent timescale for animal evolution. He is believed to be the first person to codify the concept of disparity used by Gould as the centrepiece of his thesis in Wonderful Life. Furthermore, Runnegar had reconciled the 'weird wonders' of Wonderful Life as stem members of extant animal phyla soon after its publication, but it took almost a decade for the debate to catch up.

Runnegar's vision was ultimately distilled in the written account of his 1985 address to the Palaeontological Association in which he argued that palaeontology is a discipline concerned with fundamental questions, that the most appropriate dataset to answer these questions is not always to be found in lumps of rock, and that all relevant data and methods should be brought to bear in attempts to resolve these questions. This perspective is held generally among palaeontologists, and he has a flourishing following of disciples, but no one has fulfilled the promise of this integrative vision as has Runnegar, evidenced, not least, by his appointments as Director of the UCLA Astrobiology Center, and of the NASA Astrobiology Institute.

For more information: http://www.palass.org/modules.php?name=palaeo&sec=awards&page=120

Source: NAI Newsletter

Join us for the second in a series of NASA Astrobiology Postdoctoral Program (NPP) seminars!

Date/Time: Monday, July 12th, 11am Pacific Time
Title: "Impact Bombardments on Early Earth and Mars: Implications for Habitability"
Speaker: Oleg Abramov, University of Colorado, Boulder

Abstract: Lunar rocks and impact melts, lunar and asteroidal meteorites, and an ancient martian meteorite record thermal metamorphic events with ages that group around and/or do not exceed 3.9 Gyr. That such a diverse suite of solar system materials share this feature is interpreted to be the result of a post-primary-accretion cataclysmic spike in the number of impacts commonly referred to as the late heavy bombardment (LHB). We report numerical models constructed to probe the degree of thermal metamorphism in the crust in the effort to recreate the effect of the LHB on the Earth and Mars; outputs were used to assess habitable volumes of crust for possible near-surface and subsurface primordial microbial biospheres. Our analysis shows that there is no plausible situation in which the habitable zone was fully sterilized on Earth and Mars, at least since the termination of primary accretion of the planets and the postulated impact origin of the Moon. Our results explain the root location of hyperthermophilic bacteria in the phylogenetic tree for 16S small-subunit ribosomal RNA, and bode well for the persistence of microbial biospheres even on planetary bodies strongly reworked by impacts. In fact, on Mars, the LHB may have been very beneficial for habitability by generating widespread hydrothermal activity, releasing water vapor into atmosphere, and likely temporarily changing global climate to a warmer and wetter state.

For more information and connection information: http://astrobiology.nasa.gov/nai/seminars/detail/178

Source: NAI Newsletter

The NAI is pleased to announce the 2010 Selections for the Lewis and Clark Fund for Exploration and Field Research in Astrobiology.

1. Knicole Colon, U Florida, travel to Spain for her project, "From Hot-Jupiters to Super Earths: Characterizing Transiting Extrasolar Planets with GTC/OSIRIS".

2. Andrew Czaja, U Wisconsin, travel to Australia for a "Field Trip to Explore Archean and Proterozoic Geology of Western Australia".

3. Jason Huberty, U Wisconsin, travel to Australia, for the "Fifth International Archean Synposium Field Trip to the Pilbara Craton, including the Fortescue and Hamersley Basins".

4. Michele Knowlton, Arizona State U, travel to Yellowstone National Park to examine nitrogen fixation occurring within microbial mats.

5. Nancy McKeown, U California, Santa Cruz, travel to Arizona, for a "Spectral Study Of the Painted Desert, AZ, to "Characterize Clay Alterations Environments and Provide Implications for Astrobiology at Mawrth Valis, Mars, a Likely Mars Science Laboratory Landing Site".

6. Elizabeth Percak-Dennet, U Wisconsin, travel to Australia, "Linking Laboratory and Field Studies of the Mineralogical and Iron Isotope Composition of Banded Iron Formations in Western Australia".

7. Matthew Urschel, Montana State U, travel to Alberta, Canada to examine "Iron Reduction in the Subglacial Sediments of Robertson Glacier, Canada".

For more information: http://astrobiology.nasa.gov/nai/funding/lewis-and-clark

Source: NAI Newsletter

Researchers from around the world participated in the first NAI Workshop Without Walls in March 2010--with no travel required. The workshop, on "The Organic Continuum from the Interstellar Medium to the Early Solar System," was organized by George Cody and Doug Whittet, PIs of the NAI's Carnegie Institution of Washington and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute teams, respectively. Drawing registrants from 21 US States and 16 other countries, the workshop was a great success in terms of the scientific knowledge exchanged, and as an illustration of the maturity of the NAI's suite of collaborative tools.

We have the technology! - and now we're ready for the next round of topics and organizers. NAI Central will offer full support for the technical production of a workshop, so that organizers can focus on the scientific content. George and Doug have offered their support to future workshop organizers to pass on their advice and lessons learned.

There are some significant advantages to organizing a "virtual" workshop compared to a typical in-person workshop. The timeline for producing the first Workshop Without Walls was just six weeks, from the issuance of the call for abstracts to the workshop itself--and could be even shorter for future workshops if desired. A Workshop Without Walls could be organized very quickly around a breaking discovery, for example. Carbon footprint is low and the fact that the workshop is accessible from anywhere in the world via the internet encourages broad international participation. One hundred percent of participants replying to a survey after the first workshop said they would attend future workshops of this kind.

If you're interested in organizing a Workshop Without Walls, have new ideas about how to use the NAI collaborative tools to advance science, or would simply like to know more, please contact Wendy Dolci (Wendy.W.Dolci@nasa.gov).

For more information on the first Workshop Without Walls: http://tinyurl.com/2blm5s3

Source: NAI Newsletter

Please join us in congratulating NAI PI David Des Marais for his recent election as Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology!

Dave's early interest in exploring caves in southern Indiana on weekends while an undergraduate student at Purdue University led him to post-graduate studies in Geology at Indiana University, where he also earned a Ph.D. in Geochemistry and became fascinated with microbiology. Today, he is a PI in the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) at NASA Ames, and also serves on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover mission as a long-term planning lead for the Spirit rover.

This month, Des Marais was inducted as a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology for his 35 years of research. Fellows are selected through a rigorous peer review process based on scientific achievements and original contributions that have advanced the field of microbiology.

"I gained most of my microbiology experience while doing postdoctoral research at UCLA and through interdisciplinary collaborations throughout my career," said Des Marais.

For the past 26 years he has coordinated an interdisciplinary team to study cyanobacterial mat (biofilm) communities in Baja California to get a glimpse of what ancient biological communities resembled. He also has conducted field research on ancient fossilized microbial communities in Australia, Canada, South Africa and the U.S. His lifelong research interests include the biogeochemical carbon cycle, the early evolution of Earth and its biosphere and searching for fossil evidence of life on Mars.

His explorations of the Red Planet also include contributions to the Mars Exploration Rover, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Mars Science Laboratory missions. This summer he will begin his tenure as Chair of the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG), a public forum that obtains guidance from the science community for NASA's Mars Program regarding future exploration.

Des Marais has authored or co-authored more than 160 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters and serves on the editorial boards for the journals Astrobiology and Geobiology.

For more information: http://academy.asm.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=56&Itemid=75

Source: NAI Newsletter