November 2011

Astrobiology Science News 28 November 2011

NASA announces a call for graduate fellowship proposals to the NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship (NESSF) program for the 2012-2013 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, 2012, and the deadline for RENEWAL applications is March 15, 2012.

The NESSF call for proposals and submission instructions are located at the NESSF solicitation index page at - click on "Solicitations" then click on "Open Solicitations" then select the "NESSF 12" announcement. Also refer to "Proposal Submission Instructions" and "Frequently Asked Questions" listed under "Other Documents" on the NESSF 12 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 12 solicitation index page listed above. You can register in NSPIRES at

For further information contact Ming-Ying Wei, Program Administrator for NESSF Earth Science Research, Telephone: (202) 358-0771, E-mail: or Dolores Holland, Program Administrator for NESSF Heliophysics Research, Planetary Science Research, and Astrophysics Research, Telephone: (202) 358-0734, E-mail:

Source: NAI Newsletter

1. Searches for exoplanets: The successful applicant to this position will contribute to an ongoing Doppler and transit search for exoplanets around cool stars, and characterization of transiting planets using Mauna Kea and other observatories.

Requirements: Ph.D. in physics, astrophysics, or astronomy, and previous observing experience.

2. Exoplanet atmospheres and interiors: The successful applicant will conduct research on one or more topics involving the incorporation of volatiles into planets, the formation and properties of primordial atmospheres, subsolidus convection and melting of the interior, and the
exchange of volatiles between the interior and surface.


Ph.D. in a relevant field (astrophysics, planetary science, geophysics), and strong numerical modeling skills.

Each postdoc will interact with other investigators in an interdisciplinary environment, and be encouraged to demonstrate leadership in a particular specialty. Each position is initially for one year, with a second year depending on research performance, and a third year depending on performance and funding. Each position offers an annual stipend of $52,000 and the opportunity to live in Honolulu, the top-ranked U.S. city in the 2010 Mercer Quality of Living Survey.

Starting date: January 1 or as soon as possible thereafter. To apply, send a 2-page CV, including publication list, and names and contact information of 2 references to Eric Gaidos (

Source: NAI Newsletter

Astrobiology Science News 25 November 2011

The 2012 Gordon Research Conference on the Origin of Life will take place at the Hotel Galvez in Galveston, TX from January 8-13, 2012. This unique interdisciplinary meeting includes chemists, biologists, geologists, astronomers, physicists as well as scientists in related disciplines interested in the origin, and early evolution of Life on Earth and its possible distribution throughout the universe. The 2012 conference will feature recent and cutting-edge results, and sessions will address attempts to fabricate life or life-like systems in the laboratory, the search for extra-solar Earth like planets, recent developments in our understanding of the early history of Earth, Mars, and Titan, prebiotic and organic chemistry on the early Earth and elsewhere in the solar system, and reconstruction of early life forms and genomes, among other exciting topics.

We encourage young scientists, including graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, to attend. Special efforts will be made to promote interactions between invited speakers and junior participants and we expect to be able to provide some financial support to facilitate the latter's participation.
Applications for this meeting must be submitted by December 11, 2011. Please apply early, as we expect the meeting to become oversubscribed (full) before this deadline.

More information, including a full conference program, can be found on the conference website:

Source: NAI Newsletter

Follow the Uranium

Researchers from NAI's Arizona State University Team and NASA's Exobiology Program have developed a novel geochemical tool that compares the partitioning of uranium isotopes from seawater into carbonates. A decrease of uranium in seawater is indicative of a lack of oxygen (anoxia) in the ocean.

For the first time ever, this approach has revealed the quantitative levels of dissolved oxygen in ancient oceans at the time of Earth's largest mass extinction, known as the end-Permian mass extinction, 252 million years ago. Many leading scientific theories on the cause of this catastrophe are based on the assumption of a long-term existence of ocean anoxia before the extinction event itself.

The study began by obtaining a core sample of carbonate rock collected in Dawen in Southern China. This location is known to physically correlate with the Permian-Triassic boundary. The investigators focused upon the strata around the so-called "Extinction Horizon," or, the "moment" of the mass extinction. This study has quantified the amount of oxygen across the extinction event in the ancient global oceans. Most critically, it revealed that ocean anoxia existed for a much shorter period of time (~10,000 years) before the extinction event than was previously estimated (>100,000 years). This new insight greatly constrains possible explanations for the cause of the mass extinction event. The team's paper is published in a recent issue of PNAS.

Source: NAI Newsletter

New Technique Can Reveal Mars' Watery Past

A new study in Earth and Planetary Science Letters looks at the role of the mineral jarosite in determining when and under what conditions water was present on Mars. On Earth, jarosite can only form in the presence of water, so the detection by the Mars Rover Opportunity of its presence on Mars means that water had to exist at some point in the past. The new study, by scientists at NAI's Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) Team, is the first in a series of experiments designed to provide a roadmap of sorts for scientists who may someday study Martian samples brought back to Earth.

The team discovered a way to use the noble gas argon, which accumulates in jarosite over time, to determine the age of the mineral and the surface conditions under which it formed. "Our experiments indicate that over billion-year timescales and at surface temperatures of 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit) or colder, jarosite will preserve the amount of argon that has accumulated since the crystal formed," says lead co-author Joseph Kula of Syracuse University, "which simply means that jarosite is a good marker for measuring the amount of time that has passed since water was present on Mars."

Moreover, since the development of life requires water, knowing when and for how long water was present on the Martian surface has implications for the search for potential habitats harboring life, the scientists say. "Jarosite requires water for its formation, but dry conditions for its preservation," says co-lead author Suzanne Baldwin, also of Syracuse University. "We'd like to know when water formed on the surface of Mars and how long it was there. Studying jarosite may help answer some of these questions."

Jarosite is a byproduct of the weathering of rocks exposed at the surface of a planet (such as Earth and Mars). The mineral forms when the right mixture of oxygen, iron, sulfur, potassium, and water is present. Once formed, the crystals begin to accumulate argon, which is produced when certain potassium isotopes in the crystals decay. Potassium decay is a radioactive process that occurs at a known rate. By measuring the isotopes of argon trapped within the crystals, scientists can determine the age of the crystals.

However, because argon is a gas, it can potentially escape rapidly from the crystals under hot conditions or slowly over long durations at cold conditions. In order to determine the reliability of the "argon clock" in jarosite, the scientists had to determine the temperature limits to which the crystals could be subjected and still retain the argon. Using a combination of experiments and computer modeling, the team found that argon remains trapped inside the crystals for long periods of time over a range of planetary surface temperatures.

"Our results suggest that 4 billion-year-old jarosite will preserve its argon and, along with it, a record of the climate conditions that existed at the time it formed," Baldwin says. The scientists are in the process of conducting further studies on jarosite that formed less than 50 million years ago in the Big Horn Basin in Wyoming, which they hope will reveal when the minerals formed and how fast environmental conditions changed from water-saturated to dry. The results can be used as a context for interpreting findings on other planets.

Source: NAI Newsletter

Cometary Composition in Review

Astrobiology Program investigators Michael Mumma and Steven Charnley from NAI's NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Team have recently published a review entitled The Chemical Composition of Comets: Emerging Taxonomies and Natal Heritage in the Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Cometary nuclei contain the least modified material from the formative epoch of our planetary system, and their compositions reflect a range of processes experienced by material prior to its incorporation in the cometary nucleus. Dynamical models suggest that icy bodies in the main cometary reservoirs (Kuiper Belt, Oort Cloud) formed in a range of environments in the protoplanetary disk, and (for the Oort Cloud) even in disks surrounding neighboring stars of the Sun's birth cluster. Photometric and spectroscopic surveys of more than 100 comets have enabled taxonomic groupings based on free radical species and on crystallinity of rocky grains. Since 1985, new surveys have provided emerging taxonomies based on the abundance ratios of primary volatiles. More than 20 primary chemical species are now detected in bright comets. Measurements of nuclear spin ratios (in water, ammonia, and methane) and of isotopic ratios (D/H in water and HCN; 14N/15N in CN and HCN) have provided critical insights on factors affecting formation of the primary species. The identification of an abundant product species (HNC) has provided clear evidence of chemical production in the inner coma. Parallel advances have occurred in astrochemistry of hot corinos, circumstellar disks, and dense cloud cores. The review addresses the current state of cometary taxonomy and compares it with current astrochemical insights.

Source: NAI Newsletter

Data from a NASA planetary mission have provided scientists evidence of what appears to be a body of liquid water, equal in volume to the North American Great Lakes, beneath the icy surface of Jupiter's moon, Europa.

The data suggest there is significant exchange between Europa's icy shell and the ocean beneath. This information could bolster arguments that Europa's global subsurface ocean represents a potential habitat for life elsewhere in our solar system. The findings are published in the scientific journal Nature.

"The data opens up some compelling possibilities," said Mary Voytek, director of NASA's Astrobiology Program at agency headquarters in Washington. "However, scientists worldwide will want to take a close look at this analysis and review the data before we can fully appreciate the implication of these results."

NASA's Galileo spacecraft, launched by the space shuttle Atlantis in 1989 to Jupiter, produced numerous discoveries and provided scientists decades of data to analyze. Galileo studied Jupiter, which is the most massive planet in the solar system, and some of its many moons.

One of the most significant discoveries was the inference of a global salt water ocean below the surface of Europa. This ocean is deep enough to cover the whole surface of Europa and contains more liquid water than all of Earth's oceans combined. However, being far from the sun, the ocean surface is completely frozen. Most scientists think this ice crust is tens of miles thick.

The purpose of the Landing Site Workshop is to begin to identify and evaluate potential landing sites for future Mars missions presently under study. This would focus on sites best suited to achieving science objectives as defined for a possible 2018 joint rover mission, which would conduct in-situ science investigations including drilling and cache samples for possible return to Earth and subsequent analysis within the constraints imposed by engineering requirements, planetary protection requirements, and the necessity of ensuring a safe landing.

The preliminary scientific objectives for the possible 2018 joint rover are being defined (subject to change). It is expected that the rover would land at a geologically diverse site interpreted to have strong potential for past habitability and for preserving the physical and chemical signs of life and organic matter. The rover would 1) analyse the local geology and define the local stratigraphy at km to sub-mm scales and down to ~2 m depth; 2) evaluate the nature of past habitable environments at the landing site, and search for evidence of abiotic, or pre-biotic carbon chemistry; 3) investigate favorable geological materials for preserving biosignatures at the site and analyse them for physical or chemical signs of life; and 4) select, document, collect, and cache samples that could be returned to Earth for definitive analysis. Cached samples would be selected to address the following broad science goals in order of priority: a) critically assess evidence for life, pre-biotic chemistry, or abiotic organic matter in samples and determine their preservation potential; b) determine the magmatic, magnetic and atmospheric history in samples to constrain the mechanisms and ages for the accretion, early differentiation and thermal evolution of Mars; c) reconstruct the history of surface and near surface processes and climate change using detailed geochemical and mineralogical analyses; and d) assess potential hazards and resources for future human explorers.

An ESA/NASA-appointed Landing Site Steering Committee will use the results of the workshop as the basis for establishing a list of potential landing sites for study. Community consensus with respect to high priority sites will also be solicited. The goal is to gather information on candidate landing sites and develop a list of high priority candidates for future joint missions in a timely manner utilising instruments on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) while it is still operating. Candidate sites are also to be provided to the Mars Odyssey and Mars Express teams.

The workshop will be held during February 29 to March 2, 2012, in the Washington, DC area, and will be preceded by MEPAG #26.

Points of Contact: John Grant, Matt Golombek, and Nicolas Mangold, Co-Chairs, Mars Landing Site Steering Committee

Source: NAI Newsletter

The Microbial Diversity Summer Course of the Marine Biological Laboratory welcomes applications from members of the Astrobiology community who are seeking to understand the microbial basis of life. The MBL Microbial Diversity course offered in Woods Hole, MA, since 1971, provides graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, and established investigators with an unequaled opportunity to explore the diversity of the microbial world. The course is immersive, integrative, inter-disciplinary, and international in nature. The curriculum consists of lectures by foremost investigators, laboratory exercises, advanced technical training, field work, and substantial participant directed original research. Participants in the course traditionally represent a diversity of backgrounds and the course is open to all scientists who have a strong interest in microbes and their activities. The course is supported through funds provided by the NASA Astrobiology Institute, the Department of Energy, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the National Science Foundation, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Dates: June 9 - July 25, 2012
Application Deadline: February 1, 2012
More information at:

Source: NAI Newsletter

Scouting for Astrobiology

When Dr. Eric Boyd of the NAI's Montana State University Team goes searching for evidence of what extra-terrestrial life might look like, he heads to Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park. On Saturday the 24th of September Dr. Boyd was joined by the Webelos of Packs 524 and 552 of Livingston, Montana, with the goal of finding out what life might look like on another planet.

Dr. Boyd began the expedition by explaining some basic background on what Yellowstone is, how the Yellowstone area was formed, and some basic safety instructions on walking through a geothermal area as well as instructions on using the laser guns and pH strips he had brought for the Webolos. It was time to go 'Alien Hunting'.

The Scouts started their hunt at Echinus Geyser by first testing the temperature of the spring with their lasers. They were surprised to find that the temperature was between 156 and 166 degrees Fahrenheit; everybody agreed that it was way too hot for most life to survive. However the Scouts noted that the deep reds, oranges and faint greens associated with the spring seemed to indicate that life is present. At the outflow of the geyser the Scouts tested a sample of the spring water, sampled by Dr. Boyd, and found that it had a pH of between 3 and 4, a very acidic and extreme environment when compared to the boys drinking water which was pH 7.

The boys took their results to Dr. Boyd, who indicated that they were correct in believing that the spring was acidic, but that we should consider how life is thriving in such high temperature and acid conditions. Then Dr. Boyd shared with the boys why NASA scientists study geysers such at this: the iron-rich habitat at Echinus can be considered to be an Earth analog for what might be present on Mars since it is known that the red planet is rich in iron and has had hot springs in its distant past.
"The Boys learned how to look at a spring and based on visual observations, predict the pH and temperature of the spring as well as how the organisms were making a living. Such imaginative thinking is truly the cornerstone of NASA's astrobiology exploration program - in essence identifying patterns and using this to predict an outcome. Through iteration, such as what the Scouts experienced today in the Norris Geyser Basin, we refine our predictions and culminate in understanding" said Boyd. "The collective ideas that this group of youngsters generated about how life survives in extreme environments and the enthusiasm that the students had for NASA-supported science was impressive. I look forward to seeing how this group of young men progress through their Scout Program and their academic education."

The boys left the park with fond memories of red iron-eating bugs, black caldrons filled with mud, and pools of life that had found a way to survive in extreme environments. "What a wonderful opportunity Yellowstone National Park provides each of us to learn about the natural world that surrounds each and every one of us." said Boyd.

Source: NAI Newsletter

Timeline of a Mass Extinction

A new study from NASA Astrobiology Program-funded scientists points to a rapid collapse of Earth's species 252 million years ago.

Since the first organisms appeared on Earth approximately 3.8 billion years ago, life on the planet has had some close calls. In the last 500 million years, Earth has undergone five mass extinctions, including the event 66 million years ago that wiped out the dinosaurs. And while most scientists agree that a giant asteroid was responsible for that extinction, there's much less consensus on what caused an even more devastating extinction more than 185 million years earlier.

The end-Permian extinction occurred 252.2 million years ago, decimating 90 percent of marine and terrestrial species, from snails and small crustaceans to early forms of lizards and amphibians. "The Great Dying," as it's now known, was the most severe mass extinction in Earth's history, and is probably the closest life has come to being completely extinguished. Possible causes include immense volcanic eruptions, rapid depletion of oxygen in the oceans, and -- an unlikely option -- an asteroid collision.

While the causes of this global catastrophe are unknown, an MIT-led team of researchers has now established that the end-Permian extinction was extremely rapid, triggering massive die-outs both in the oceans and on land in less than 20,000 years -- the blink of an eye in geologic time. The researchers also found that this time period coincides with a massive buildup of atmospheric carbon dioxide, which likely triggered the simultaneous collapse of species in the oceans and on land.

With further calculations, the group found that the average rate at which carbon dioxide entered the atmosphere during the end-Permian extinction was slightly below today's rate of carbon dioxide release into the atmosphere due to fossil fuel emissions. Over tens of thousands of years, increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide during the Permian period likely triggered severe global warming, accelerating species extinctions.

The researchers also discovered evidence of simultaneous and widespread wildfires that may have added to end-Permian global warming, triggering what they deem "catastrophic" soil erosion and making environments extremely arid and inhospitable.

The researchers present their findings this week in Science, and say the new timescale may help scientists home in on the end-Permian extinction's likely causes.

For more information:

Source: NAI Newsletter

Sweet Spots for Galactic Organics

Scientists from NAI's Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) Team have compiled years of research to help locate areas in outer space that have extreme potential for complex organic molecule formation. The scientists searched for methanol, a key ingredient in the synthesis of organic molecules that could lead to life. Their results have implications for determining the origins of molecules that spark life in the cosmos.

The findings appear in the Nov. 20 edition of The Astrophysical Journal in a paper titled "Observational constraints on methanol production in interstellar and preplanetary ices." The work is a collaboration between researchers at Rensselaer, NASA Ames Research Center, the SETI Institute, and Ohio State University.

"Methanol formation is the major chemical pathway to complex organic molecules in interstellar space," said the lead researcher of the study and director of the NASA-funded center, Douglas Whittet of Rensselaer. If scientists can identify regions where conditions are right for rich methanol production, they will be better able to understand where and how the complex organic molecules needed to create life are formed. In other words, follow the methanol and you may be able to follow the chemistry that leads to life.

Using powerful telescopes on Earth, scientists have observed large concentrations of simple molecules such as carbon monoxide in the clouds that give birth to new stars. In order to make more complex organic molecules, hydrogen needs to enter the chemical process. The best way for this chemistry to occur is on the surfaces of tiny dust grains in space, according to Whittet. In the right conditions, carbon monoxide on the surface of interstellar dust can react at low temperatures with hydrogen to create methanol (CH3OH). Methanol then serves as an important steppingstone to formation of the much more complex organic molecules that are required to create life. Scientists have known that methanol is out there, but to date there has been limited detail on where it is most readily produced.

In Memoriam: Ronald Greeley

The astrobiology community deeply mourns the loss of Ronald Greeley. Ronald Greeley, a Regents' Professor of planetary geology at Arizona State University, who has been involved in lunar and planetary studies since 1967 and has contributed significantly to our understanding of planetary bodies within our solar system, died Oct. 27, in Tempe. He was 72.

As the son of a military serviceman, Greeley moved around a great deal as child. As a result he saw many different geological landforms and it was no surprise that when he went to college, he majored in geology. Greeley earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from Mississippi State University. After receiving his doctorate in 1966 at the University of Missouri in Rolla he worked for Standard Oil Company of California as a paleontologist.

Through military duty, he was assigned to NASA's Ames Research Center in 1967 where he worked in a civilian capacity in preparation for the Apollo missions to the Moon. He stayed on at NASA to conduct research in planetary geology.

"I had been on sabbatical at NASA Ames Research Center working on the analysis of lunar samples, and I saw Ron and I saw potential," recalls Carleton Moore, founding director of ASU's Center for Meteorite Studies. "When I got the opportunity, I hired him."

The NASA Astrobiology Program is pleased to announce the selection of five new NASA Postdoctoral Fellows:

Paula Welander
Advisor: Roger Summons (MIT)
Investigating the Biological Function of Sterols and Hopanoids in Methylococcus capsulatus

Matthew Herron
Advisor: Frank Rosenzweig (University of Montana)
Theoretical and Experimental Investigations into the Evolution of Complexity

Betul Arslan
Advisor: Eric Gaucher (Georgia Institute of Technology)
The Role of Chance and Necessity in Evolution: An Experimental Model to Discover Life's Solutions

Melissa Rice
Advisor: John Grotzinger (CalTech)
High-Resolution Mineral Stratigraphy of Mars

Arsev Aydinoglu
Co-Advisors: Suzie Allard (University of Tennessee) and Ed Goolish (NAI Central)
The Collaborative Practices of the NASA Astrobiology Institute: The Assessment of an Interdisciplinary Virtual Scientific Organization

More information about the NPP can be found at

Source: NAI Newsletter

Astrobiology Science News 23 November 2011

Data from a NASA planetary mission have provided scientists evidence of what appears to be a body of liquid water, equal in volume to the North American Great Lakes, beneath the icy surface of Jupiter's moon, Europa.

The data suggest there is significant exchange between Europa's icy shell and the ocean beneath. This information could bolster arguments that Europa's global subsurface ocean represents a potential habitat for life elsewhere in our solar system. The findings are published in the scientific journal Nature.

"The data opens up some compelling possibilities," said Mary Voytek, director of NASA's Astrobiology Program at agency headquarters in Washington. "However, scientists worldwide will want to take a close look at this analysis and review the data before we can fully appreciate the implication of these results."

NASA's Galileo spacecraft, launched by the space shuttle Atlantis in 1989 to Jupiter, produced numerous discoveries and provided scientists decades of data to analyze. Galileo studied Jupiter, which is the most massive planet in the solar system, and some of its many moons.

One of the most significant discoveries was the inference of a global salt water ocean below the surface of Europa. This ocean is deep enough to cover the whole surface of Europa and contains more liquid water than all of Earth's oceans combined. However, being far from the sun, the ocean surface is completely frozen. Most scientists think this ice crust is tens of miles thick.

Dear Colleagues: The Open Journal System web site for Gravitational and Space Biology is now active, and we would like to encourage manuscript submissions of all kinds. A tutorial of the new electronic submission system is attached, as are the instructions to authors. The attached instructions (which can also be found in the front-matter of the September issue) supersede all other versions.

Manuscripts can be submitted any time through the website: and will be published in the order of their completion through the peer review, and author revision process. However, we are currently making special encouragement to people interested in contributing short communications developed from abstracts presented at the annual meeting last week, as well as longer symposia papers from the meeting. Manuscripts submitted before February 15th will be targeted to the April 2012 issue, and those submitted between then and July 15th will be targeted to the September 2012 issue.

Submission is open to all, and in addition to gravitational and space biology topics, we are actively encouraging papers in the fields of astrobiology, analog environment research, advanced life support (ALS), as well as biophysics, engineering, and hardware development relevant to these, and other gravitational and space biology arenas.

The value of the journal to ASGSB, and to the scientific community, depends heavily on the quality and number of articles submitted. We look forward to receiving many high-quality papers that strongly reflect the exciting research of our members. We are the face of ASGSB.

As always, do not hesitate to e-mail with any questions, concerns or suggestions. Best regards, Anna-Lisa Paul Editor, Gravitational and Space Biology

Both the Call for Abstracts and Conference Registration will open at the AbSciCon website on Tuesday, November 22nd. Information on student travel grant applications will also be available, as well as updated logistics information.

For more information:

Source: NAI Newsletter

FameLab Astrobiology

Are You the Next Carl Sagan? Come Find Out at FameLab Astrobiology! Calling all grad students and post docs doing research related to astrobiology.....FameLab Astrobiology is a science communication extravaganza! Via four preliminaries and one final competition--spanning January thru April 2012--early career astrobiologists will compete to convey their own research or related science concepts. Each contestant has the spotlight for only three slides, no charts--just the power of words and anything you can hold in your hands. A panel of experts in both science and science communication will do the judging. One of the four preliminaries will be held 100% online via YouTube!

Beyond the competition, at each preliminary event there will be science communication training and enrichment activities, providing exposure to alternative careers. There will also be a two-day master class for finalists just prior to AbSciCon 2012 in April. Other science communication opportunities will be available, including joining a network of other FameLab participants from around the globe!

Registration and more info can be found at:

Download the poster here.

Please contact Daniella Scalice at the NASA Astrobiology Institute with any questions:

Source: NAI Newsletter

New Habitable Zone Planet Finder Instrument

Thanks to seed funding from NAI, a new, NSF-funded instrument to be built at Penn State will enable the detection of planets in habitable zones around cool, nearby stars. The instrument will reveal planets similar in mass to Earth and in orbits that allow liquid water to exist on their surfaces. Weighing over two tons, the Habitable Zone Planet Finder will be approximately the size of an SUV, and will be installed at the Hobby-Eberly Telescope at McDonald Observatory in west Texas.

For more information:

Source: NAI Newsletter

On September 20th, NAI Director Carl Pilcher delivered a colloquium to the NASA Ames community about NAI Founding Director Barry Blumberg. Focusing on his early career, his path to discovering the Hepatitis B virus and developing a vaccine, and ultimately his winning of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, Carl discusses how Barry's medical career shaped his perspectives on astrobiology and his actions as NAI Director.

Click here to view the colloquium.

Source: NAI Newsletter

Join us for the next NAI Director's Seminar! Please RSVP if your site will be joining.

Date/Time: Monday, November 28, 2011 11:00AM Pacific

Presenter: John Peters (Montana State University)

Abstract: Iron-sulfur proteins are ubiquitous and catalyze a number of reactions important to metabolic energy transformations and carbon and nitrogen fixation. The similarities between iron-sulfur motifs within proteins and minerals are too strong to be coincidental and as such relating the properties of iron-sulfur minerals and iron-sulfur clusters in proteins is a powerful approach for understanding the transition form the nonliving to the living Earth and the emergence of biology. Our most recent work has revealed that complex cofactors in biology are synthesized in complicated metabolic pathways that have evolved stepwise. Individual steps in the biosynthetic pathways strongly are analogous to mechanisms responsible for tuning prebiotic mineral reactivity including "ligand accelerated catalysis" and "organic nesting". Insights into the origin and evolution of iron-sulfur enzymes and links to the RNA World will be presented.

For more information and participation instructions:

Source: NAI Newsletter

Astrobiology Science News 21 November 2011

Astrobiology Science News 19 November 2011

Astrobiology Science News 2 November 2011