Archives

November 2010


The NAI has awarded the following students and postdoctoral fellows with travel awards:

Chris Glein, a graduate student at Arizona State University, will present a paper at the European Planetary Science Conference in Rome, Italy.

Weifu Guo, Postdoctoral Fellow at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, will travel to JPL to use the tunable laser spectroscopy facilities.

Amy Kelly, a Postdoctoral Fellow will travel between the University of California, Riverside and Arizona State University to continue her research by measuring transition metal isotope ratios in ancient rocks.

Anna Roussanova, a graduate student at the University of Hawaii, will attend the Saas-Fee Winter School, "From Planets to Life", in Villars-sur-Ollon, Switzerland.

For more information on the NAI Research Scholarship Program: http://astrobiology.nasa.gov/nai/funding/nai-research-scholarships [Source: NAI Newsletter]

Astrobiology Science News 30 November 2010

NAI and Exobiology Program scientists have studied the ratio of phosphorus to iron in ancient marine deposits, and have found that phosphorus levels are linked to the rapid diversification of animal life that began at the end of the Proterozoic era, about 700 million years ago. Their paper appears in a recent issue of Nature.

An increase in atmospheric oxygen at the time provided "raw material" for the evolution of respiration (breathing) and contributed to a protective ozone layer. The end of global "snowball Earth" glaciations likely paved the way for animal life to flourish, too, but the question remained, how does it all relate?

The data show a peak in phosphorus-to-iron ratios in iron formations dating from 750 to 635 Myr ago, indicating unusually high dissolved phosphate concentrations in the aftermath of the 'snowball Earth' glaciations. This postglacial phosphate increase would have caused high rates of primary biological productivity, as well as organic carbon burial and a transition to more oxidizing conditions in the ocean and atmosphere. [Source: NAI Newsletter]

Through NAI's Minority Institution Research Support Program, scientists at the University of Puerto Rico and their collaborators have identified a unique record of an ancient meteorite impact event that is preserved in microstructures in detrital grains of quartz, zircon, and monazite in the Vaal River, South Africa. The sand samples were collected from the channel of the Vaal River near the two billion-year old Vredefort Dome impact structure, where impact-shocked minerals are known to occur in rocks.

This is the first report that impact shock-deformed minerals survive the process of uplift, erosion, and sedimentary transport. The unique mineral shock-deformation was documented by scanning electron microscopy at the University of Puerto Rico and the University of Wisconsin. The team's results are published in the current issue of the GSA Bulletin.

This result demonstrates that a record of an ancient impact event can be preserved in sedimentary rocks billions of years after the impact crater is eroded. This recognition provides a new method to search for evidence of missing impacts in sedimentary rocks throughout the geologic time scale. This new insight may lead to the identification of missing impact events that have been hypothesized to cause biological mass extinctions, and also impact events on the early Earth that may have influenced the rise of life. [Source: NAI Newsletter]

Date/Time: Wednesday, December 1, 2010 11:00AM Pacific
Presenter: David Gilichinsky (Russian Academy of Sciences)

Abstract: The terrestrial cryosphere is the only widespread and rich depository of viable ancient organisms on Earth. The age of the isolates corresponds to the longevity of the frozen state of the embedding strata, with the oldest known dating back to the late Pliocene. If life ever existed on frozen extraterrestrial bodies such as Mars, traces might have been preserved and could be found at depth within Martian ice or permafrost. Permafrost on Earth and Mars vary in age, from a few million years on Earth to a few billion years on Mars. Such a difference in time scale would have a significant impact on the possibility of preserving life on Mars, which is why the longevity of life forms preserved within terrestrial permafrost can only be considered an approximate model for Mars.

I will focus on one of the terrestrial environments which are close to Mars in age - active volcanoes in permafrost areas. Here the age of volcanic deposits frozen after eruption is much younger than the age of surrounding permafrost. The same processes (past eruptions of Martian volcanoes) periodically burned through the frozen strata and formed the thermal and water oases. Simultaneously, products of eruptions (lava, rock debris, scoria, ash) rose from the depths to the surface and froze. The age of these frozen volcanic deposits is thus much younger than the age of the surrounding permafrost. Images taken by the High Resolution Stereo Camera on board the ESA Mars Express mission discovered young volcanoes 2-15 Myr old on Mars. In other words, the age of the youngest Martian volcanoes date back to the age of volcanoes on Earth.

Culture- and culture-independent methods show the presence of viable thermophilic and hyperthermophilic bacteria and their genes within pyroclastic frozen material on Earth. These bacteria and archeae have not been found in permafrost outside the areas of active volcanism. The presence of thermophilic communities in frozen ash and scoria raise questions about the origin of these microorganisms and their life style in such environments. The only way for thermophiles to get into frozen pyroclastic material is through deposition during eruption. In other words, catastrophic geological events may transport thermophiles from the depths to the surface and these thermophiles may survive at subzero temperatures.

Such terrestrial microbial communities might serve as a model for Mars, particularly for young Martian volcanoes that date back to ages close to those for terrestrial volcanoes. To explore these hypotheses we are characterizing different volcanic microbial communities on Earth within volcanic permafrost. One such area of active volcanism is the Klyuchevskaya Volcano Group (55*'N, 160*E) on the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Russian Far-East, where mountainous permafrost predominates from the elevations ~1000 m asl and up. I will describe our studies of microorganisms isolated from this area.

For more information and participation instructions: http://astrobiology.nasa.gov/nai/seminars/detail/184 [Source: NAI Newsletter]

NASA announces a call for graduate fellowship proposals to the NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship (NESSF) program for the 2011-2012 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.

The deadline for NEW applications is February 1, 2011, and the deadline for RENEWAL applications is March 15, 2011.

The NESSF call for proposals and submission instructions are located at the NESSF 11 solicitation index page at http://nspires.nasaprs.com/ - click on "Solicitations" then click on "Open Solicitations" then select the "NESSF 11" announcement. Also refer to "Proposal Submission Instructions" and "Program Specific Questions" listed under "Other Documents" on the NESSF 11 solicitation index page.

All proposals must be submitted in electronic format only through the NASA NSPIRES system. The advisor has an active role in the submission of the fellowship proposal. To use the NSPIRES system, the advisor, the student, and the university must all register. Extended instructions on how to submit an electronic proposal package are posted on the NESSF 11 solicitation index page listed above. You can register in NSPIRES at http://nspires.nasaprs.com/.

For further information contact Ming-Ying Wei, Program Administrator for NESSF Earth Science Research, Telephone: (202) 358-0771, E-mail: mwei@nasa.gov or Dolores Holland, Program Administrator for NESSF Heliophysics Research, Planetary Science Research, and Astrophysics Research, Telephone: (202) 358-0734, E-mail: hq-nessf-Space@nasa.gov. [Source: NAI Newsletter]

- Student & Young Scientist Meeting Grants

Deadline: 19 February, 2011.

Eligibility: This program provides financial assistance to young scientists and students with little or no support from research contracts or grants who will give an oral or poster presentation as first author at the Origins 2011 meeting. Requests should be sent to travelgrant@issol.org .

- David White Research Award.

Deadline: 15 December, 2010.

Eligibility: This award recognizes one or more scientists for outstanding contributions in experimental and/or theoretical studies in Astrobiology. Nominees must be members of ISSOL at the time of the award.

- Stanley L Miller Early Career Research Award

Deadline: 15 December, 2010.

Eligibility: ISSOL recognizes outstanding contributions of young scientists who are engaged in experimental and/or theoretical studies in Astrobiology. For more information on these grants visit http://issol.org/education-and-careers/

[Source: NAI]

The School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE) at Arizona State University is seeking new faculty expertise in the study of the nature, formation, and evolution of extrasolar planets. Applicants with both observational and theoretical interests are being sought. Specific research areas might include but are not limited to: spectroscopy of planets and their host stars, novel techniques for searching for and characterizing exoplanets, planetary interior modeling, and planetary dynamics. The School is particularly interested in hiring faculty at the Assistant or Associate Professor level who aspire to leadership positions in large-scale space- and/or ground-based research initiatives like those recently articulated in the 2010 NRC Decadal Survey in Astronomy and Astrophysics ("New Worlds, New Horizons"). The successful candidate's appointment may begin as early as August 15, 2011.

Established in 2006, SESE is one of the fastest growing academic programs at one of the fastest growing institutions of higher learning in the United States. An essential part of its mission is a transformative integration of disciplines such as biogeochemistry, astrophysics, geophysics, cosmology, volcanology, hydrology, geology, and systems engineering to address the grand challenges in earth and space sciences. Faculty in SESE have full access to the Arizona Observatory facilities, including the 6.5m MMT at Mt Hopkins, the two 6.5m Magellan telescopes in Chile, the 2.3m Bok and 1.8m VATT telescopes, the 2x8.4m LBT at Mt Graham, and the 10m Heinrich Hertz Submillimeter Telescope. Access to the 22m Giant Magellan Telescope is anticipated upon its completion. In addition, SESE faculty benefit from a variety of state-of-the-art facilities on the Tempe AZ campus, including high-bay assembly clean rooms, in the School's new building opening in Spring 2012.

Applications should include: 1) a cover letter that includes a description of the applicant's research and teaching interests and experience; 2) a current CV; and 3) the names, addresses and telephone numbers of three references. All materials should be submitted electronically, in PDF format, through the school's website: http://sese.asu.edu/opportunities-faculty Application reviews will begin on November 1 and continue until the position is filled. To ensure full consideration, we encourage submission of complete applications no later than December 1, 2010. [Source: NAI]

Frontiers Project at ASU

Building from recently completed and upcoming decadal surveys of emerging research priorities, the Frontier Project will establish research teams in the School of Earth and Space Exploration to take full advantage of federally funded research opportunities. These research teams will be led by newly hired senior faculty members, and typically will include newly hired junior faculty and technical staff as well as postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, and undergraduate students. The operational base for these teams will be a 162,000 sq. ft. research building currently under construction on the ASU Tempe campus and scheduled for occupancy in Spring 2012.

We seek expressions of interest from senior faculty members at other universities or senior scientists and engineers at federal or industry laboratories who may be open to relocating to ASU and establishing a team as part of the project. Inquiries should include:

* A prospectus of the proposed research focus;
* An estimate of the initial size of the proposed research team and, if appropriate, the names and curriculum vitae of potential team members.
* A description of current sponsored funding that could support such research and of emerging funding opportunities;
* An exploration of how the research functions of the team might be integrated into the educational mission of SESE. The School regards graduate, undergraduate, K12, and informal science and engineering education as essential activities.

Letters of inquiry will be kept confidential and can be sent directly to the attention of Professor Kip Hodges, Director of the School of Earth and Space Exploration kvhodges@asu.edu . [Source: NAI]

http://cordis.europa.eu/fp7/understand_en.html

The European Commission's Directorate-General for Research has published a series of calls for proposals under the 'Cooperation', 'Capacities', 'People' and 'Ideas' Programs of the Seventh Framework Program (FP7). One of the programs
Deadline: 25 November 2010

The Seventh Framework Program (FP7) bundles all research-related EU initiatives together under a common roof playing a crucial role in reaching the goals of growth, competitiveness and employment; along with a new Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Program (CIP), Education and Training programs, and Structural and Cohesion Funds for regional convergence and competitiveness. It is also a key pillar for the European Research Area (ERA) http://cordis.europa.eu/era .

The broad objectives of FP7 have been grouped into four categories: Cooperation, Ideas, People and Capacities. For each type of objective, there is a specific program corresponding to the main areas of EU research policy. All specific programs work together to promote and encourage the creation of European poles of (scientific) excellence. One of the key themes of the program is Space.
The aim of the Space theme under FP7 is to support a European Space Program focusing on applications with benefits for citizens, through the development of new technology, and for the competitiveness of the European space industry. These efforts will contribute to the development of a European space policy, complementing efforts by Member States and by other key players, including the European Space Agency (ESA).
Emphasis (funding priority) will be given to the following activities:

* Space-based applications serving European society - developing satellite observation systems and the GMES services for the management of the environment, security, agriculture, forestry and meteorology, civil protection and risk management;
* Exploration of space - provision of support for collaborative initiatives between ESA or national space agencies, as well as coordinating efforts for the development of space-born telescopes;
* Strengthening Space foundations - support research for long term needs such as space transportation, bio-medicine, life and physical sciences in space.

For more information about the Space theme of the FP7, visit: http://cordis.europa.eu/fp7/cooperation/space_en.html
For more information about the next proposal call, click here [Source: NAI]

The Laboratory of Plantetology and Geodynamics of CNRS/University of Nantes, France, invites applications for one postdoctoral position in the field of experimental synthesis of clathrate hydrate for planetological applications. The proposed work is part of the NASA Astrobiology Institute Project 08-NAI5-0021 (Astrobiology of Icy Worlds: Habitability, Survivability, and Detectability) and is funded by the University of Nantes.

The two objectives of the postdoctoral researcher are:

* to study experimentally the stability of methane clathrate hydrate in aqueous melts under various conditions of pressure and temperature within the range of the icy moons mantles. The influence of ammonia and salts will be explored.

* to investigate the binary system H2O-CO2 in order to constrain the effect of pressure (depth) on both the clathrate stability and the solvus evolution.

7-14 February 2011
Marrakech, Morocco
Abstract Submission Deadline: 7 January 2011
Sponsored by the European Space Agency (ESA) Topical Team, Geomicrobiology for Space Settlement and Exploration.

Organizers: Charles Cockell (Open University, UK), Oliver Angerer (ESA), Gian Gabriele Ori (IRSPS, Italy and Ibn Battuta Centre, Morocco), Kamal Taj-Eddine (Universite Cady Ayyad and Ibn Battuta Centre, Morocco)

Geobiology in Space Exploration will be a meeting with talks and discussions that aim to cover the full range of the contributions of geobiology to space exploration and settlement. It will have two core purposes: 1) To contribute to building the community of people working in geobiology and applying the discipline to themes in space sciences and exploration; and 2) To develop a strategic document on the range of geobiology applications and possible space missions for ESA. The meeting will begin midday on Monday the 7th and will finish on Wednesday the 9th and will be held at the Universite Cadi Ayyad (Morocco). The meeting will then be followed by a voluntary field trip for interested participants.

26-28 January 2011
Utrecht, The Netherlands
Abstract Submission Deadline: 1 December 2010

This symposium will cover topics related to large-scale oceanic anoxic events, including causes and effects, biotic response, chemistry, and biogeochemical cycling, age and climate models, and present-day and future Earth in the scope of the Cretaceous experience. Organizers: Poppe de Boer (pdeboer@geo.uu.nl); Caroline Slomp (Slomp@geo.uu.nl); Henk Brinkhuis (H.Brinkhuis@uu.nl). Contact Ms. Marjolein Mullen (m.mullen@uu.nl) for additional instructions. [Source: NAI]

24th ILASOL Meeting

5 December 2010
Rehovot, Israel

The Israel Society for Astrobiology and the Study of the Origin of Life (ILASOL) holds an annual meeting that will take place, this year, during the Hannuka holiday at the Botnar Auditorium in the Weizmann Institute of Science. For information and abstract submission, please contact ilasolw@weizmann.ac.il. [Source: NAI]

COST Workshop "Carbon in the Solar System"

6-8 December 2010
Brussels, Belgium
Abstract Submission Deadline: 15 November 2010

The European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST) Program supports cooperation among scientists and researchers across Europe. It sponsors "actions" to bring researchers together to build cooperative networks and improve scientific collaboration and awareness. Action CM-0805, "The Chemical Cosmos", provides for the study of chemical processes relevant to the physical conditions encountered in the interstellar medium, and on the surface and in the atmospheres of planetary bodies. The Action aims to provide new insights into the dynamics of the chemical reactions leading to molecular synthesis under such conditions and reveal how these are influenced by the ambient temperature and pressure. Special attention is given to the study of the novel surface chemistry prevalent on interstellar medium dust grains and planetary surfaces. The Action also aims to combine such laboratory data with complementary chemical models to allow a fuller interpretation of observational data. More information on the COST program can be found on http://www.cost.eu/domains_actions/cmst/Actions/the_chemical_cosmos.
Additional details concerning Action CM-0805 can be found at: http://cost.astrochemistry.eu/ . A preliminary Workshop Program can be found at: http://www.busoc.eu/cost/programme.php.
For further information, contact Dr Christian Muller, B.USOC, Brussels, christian.muller@busoc.be, or Dr. Frank Daerden, BIRA, Brussels, frank.daerden@aeronomie.be. [Source: NAI]

A team of planet hunters, including scientists from the NASA Astrobiology Institute's teams at the University of Hawai'i, Manoa and the Carnegie Institution of Washington, has announced the discovery of a planet with three times the mass of Earth orbiting a nearby star at a distance that places it squarely in the middle of the star's "habitable zone," an area where liquid water could exist on the planet's surface. If confirmed, this would be the most Earth-like exoplanet yet discovered, and the first strong case for a potentially habitable world outside our solar system. The team's new findings are reported in a paper published in the Astrophysical Journal. For more information: http://www.nasa.gov/topics/universe/features/gliese_581_feature.html [Source: NAI]

Researchers that include members of NAI's Arizona State University Team and NASA's Exobiology program are using the isotopic composition and concentration of molybdenum in sedimentary rocks to explore how the evolution of Earth's biota is intimately linked to the oxygenation of the oceans and atmosphere. Their results, published in PNAS, indicate two episodes of global ocean oxygenation. The first coincides with the emergence of the Ediacaran fauna ~550 million years ago, including large, motile bilaterian animals. The second, perhaps larger, oxygenation took place ~400 million years ago, well after the initial rise of animals, therefore suggesting that early metazoans evolved in a relatively low oxygen environment. [Source: NAI]

A three-day workshop using NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) remote communications tools, on "Molecular Paleontology and Resurrection: Rewinding the Tape of Life," will be held on 8, 9 & 10 November 2010. Real-time participation requires only an internet connection and is available to interested scientists from around the world. Participants will discuss "top down" origin of life research, which will ultimately allow us to rewind the evolutionary record of biochemical processes and assemblies.

Organized by John Peters and Loren Williams, PIs of the NAI's Montana State University and Georgia Tech teams, a primary goal of the workshop is to foster new interdisciplinary collaborations across the community.

Session topics will include

* Phylogenetic Studies on Key Enzymes Involved in Information Pathways and Metabolism
* The Evolutionary History of Protein Synthesis
* Minerals to Enzymes, Bridging the Gap Between Metal-Based Abiotic and Biological Chemistry
* Phylogenetic Reconstruction/Resurrection, A Glimpse into Extinct Biochemistry
* What Can Modern Biological Energy Transformation Systems Tell Us About Conditions on the Early Earth?
* Linking the Evolutionary Record to the Geological Record

The workshop is open to the worldwide science community and is accessible via internet browser. To receive information on how to connect to the workshop, register on the NAI website: http://astrobiology.nasa.gov/nai/ool-www/ . [Source: NAI]

The NAI scientists who put an innovative "tree of life" online last year now have made that same resource available -- for free -- for iPhone users. The new "TimeTree" application lets anyone with an Apple iPhone harness a vast Internet storehouse of data about the diversity of life, from bacteria to humans. The intuitive interface is designed to answer a simple question, quickly and authoritatively: how long ago did species A and species B share a common ancestor? For more information: http://live.psu.edu/story/48526#nw63 [Source: NAI]

Astrobiology Science News 1 November 2010

The Australian Centre for Astrobiology and the Natural Products Research Laboratory in the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Science at the University of New South Wales are offering several PhD scholarships for both Australian and overseas PhD students.

To qualify you must have honours or Masters degrees or previous research experience in microbiology, biochemistry, genetics, molecular biology or bioinformatics to work on research projects funded by the Australian Research Council, the University of New Wales, as well as a variety of industry partners. Particular research interests and strength are in the fields of environmental microbiology and genomics, biotechnology, molecular evolution, functional genomics, drug discovery and development, astrobiology, and extremophiles.

Scholarships include a stipend of up to AUD $30,000 per annum tax-free, international travel support (AUD $5,000), office and/or laboratory expenses. Non-Australian or New Zealand applicants may also be eligible for tuition waivers (valued at AUD $22,000 per annum). Qualified applicants may be invited and funded to visit the facilities. For more information: http://www.aca.absociety.org/aca/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=48&Itemid=54 [Source: NAI]

Dates: 5-8 June 2011

Location: Montana State University, Bozeman Montana

Eligibility: Graduate students, post-doctoral students, early-career astrobiologists (2-5 years past PhD).

The 2011 Astrobiology Graduate Student Conference (AbGradCon) will be held at Montana State University, from 5-8 June, 2011. The schedule will include two full days of talks and poster sessions, one day of public outreach and educational activities, and a full-day field trip to Yellowstone National Park. The conference application will be available online in January 2011.

For more information: http://abgradcon2011.org [Source: NAI]

The School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE) at Arizona State University invites applications for the Exploration Postdoctoral Fellowship Program. SESE's core mission is to integrate science and engineering to provide a better understanding of our world and beyond. Research areas within SESE encompass astrophysics, cosmology, Earth science, climate science, planetary science, exploration systems engineering, and science education. The Exploration Fellowship Program aims to provide opportunities for conducting research on cutting-edge topics and to foster interdisciplinary collaboration.

Applications must include a brief research proposal that has been discussed with prospective faculty sponsors. Preference will be given to proposals that include multiple focus areas within SESE and that will involve new collaborations. Potential research topics span the full range of research interests of our faculty ( http://sese.asu.edu/focus_areas ), including key initiatives in the origin, evolution, and fate of the Universe, planetary bodies, Earth's surface environment, and life; and lifelong science and engineering education. ASU is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer that actively seeks diversity among applicants and promotes a diverse workforce.

Applications are due by December 31, 2010. A full description of the application process is available at http://sese.asu.edu/opportunities. We expect to award up to 2 fellowships this year. Typically, appointments will start between July 1 and September 1, 2011. [Source: NAI]