February 2012

A team of researchers supported by the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) has proposed an new path in the evolution of biological nitrogen fixation on Earth. Nitrogen is one of the most important elements for life on Earth, and astrobiologists have long been interested in its role in the history and evolution of life. Nitrogen is abundant on our planet as an atmospheric gas. However, in order for Nitrogen to be accessible for life, it must be converted into other chemical forms.

A key step in the global cycling of nitrogen is biological nitrogen fixation, which is accomplished via a protein known as 'nitrogenase.' Three forms of nitrogenase are known - all similar, but containing slightly different metallic complexes. Previously, scientists thought the most common nitrogenase found today (which contains the element molybdenum (Mo)) appeared later in life's evolution that the two lesser-found forms (containing vanadium (V) or iron(Fe)). The new study has revealed an evolutionary path that places Mo-dependent nitrogenase earlier than the V and Fe forms.

The study is changing views of how this important biological pathway evolved through time - shedding light on the early history of life on Earth. The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology under lead author Eric S. Boyd. The research was carried out as part of the NAI project, Evolution of Nitrogen Fixation, Photosynthesis, Hydrogen Metabolism, and Methanogenesis.

A Workshop on M Dwarf Stars and Their Planets

Maui, June 3-6, 2012

This workshop will provide an introductory but authoritative review of M dwarf stars and the detection, formation, and potential habitability of their planets. It is principally intended for advanced graduate students and junior postdocs, but investigators at all levels are welcome to apply. The workshop will consist of invited lectures, contributed research presentations, and a field trip to the summit and observatory of Haleakala to observe the transit of Venus across the Sun.

Venue: Institute for Astronomy Maui Maikalani/ATRC, Pukalani, Maui

Convenor: Eric Gaidos

Science Organizing Committee: John Rayner (chair), Eric Hilton, Adam Kraus, Jonathan Williams, Nader Haghighipour, Joost van Summeren

The workshop is limited to 45 participants and selection will be based on relevance of applicant's research to the workshop themes, with preference given to advanced graduate students and junior postdocs. There is no workshop fee, but participants are responsible for their travel and accommodations. Economy (dormitory-style) housing may be available for students upon request. Logistical information will be made available on this website.

To apply, send a CV (2 page max) and conference abstract (1 page max) to: before March 1, 2012

For more information:

New from the Planetary Habitability Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico, Arecibo, the Habitable Exoplanets Catalog is an online database for scientists, educators, and the general public focused on potential habitable exoplanet discoveries. The catalog uses various habitability indices and classifications to identify, rank, and compare exoplanets, including potential satellites or exomoons.

The database suggests over 15 exoplanets and 30 exomoons as potential habitable candidates.

Scientists are now starting to identify potential habitable exoplanets after nearly twenty years of the detection of the first planets around other stars. Over 700 exoplanets have been detected and confirmed with thousands more still waiting further confirmation by missions such as NASA Kepler. Most of these are gas giants, similar to Jupiter and Neptune, but orbiting very dangerously close to their stars. Only a few have the right size and orbit to be considered suitable for any life.

Now the Planetary Habitability Laboratory (PHL) of the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo (UPR Arecibo) presents a new assessment of the habitability of these worlds as part of its Habitable Exoplanets Catalog (HEC). The catalog not only identifies new potential habitable exoplanets, including exomoons like the Pandora world in the movie Avatar, but also ranks them according to various habitability indices.

For more information:

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) together with the Local Organizing Committee, COSPAR - 2012 cordially invites you to attend the 39th COSPAR Scientific Assembly that will take place from 14-22 July 2012 at the Narayana Murthy Centre of Excellence, Mysore, Karnataka, India.

The following sessions are of particular interest to the astrobiology community - the deadline for abstract submission is February 10, 2012.

B0.2 Mars Exploration
Organizer: R. Stephen Saunders
Lunar and Planetary Institute

F3.3 Advanced Instrumentation for Astrobiology: ISS, Mars and Beyond
Organizer: Mary Voytek
NASA Headquarters

B0.6 Astrobiology: Life Signs Detections within Planetary Exploration
Organizer: John Robert Brucato
INAF - Osservatorio Astrofisico di Arcetri, Italy

F3.6 Astrobiology and Astromaterials as Related to Small Bodies
Organizer: Kensei Kobayashi
Yokohama National University

F3.4 Life in Extreme Environments - Model Systems for Astrobiology
Organizer: Petra Rettberg
DLR, Germany

F3.2 Prebiotic Chemistry and the Origin of Life
Organizer: Andrew Pohorille
NASA Ames Research Center

F3.1 Habitability in the Solar System
Organizer: Rafael Navarro-Gonzalez
Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico

For more information see:

Date: 24 - 29 June, 2012
Location: Kobe, JAPAN
The objective of the school is to promote education and research in planetary sciences for highly motivated graduate students and young researchers by providing them with an opportunity to interact with leading scientists in a specific field. Note that the term "Planetary Sciences" is used in a broader sense to include astronomy, astrophysics, astrochemistry, astrobiology, astromineralogy, geosciences, space science, cosmology, and other related fields.

For more information visit:

Date: 27 - 31 August, 2012
Location: Beijing, China

*Abstract deadline: February 29, 2012
Early Registration deadline: February 29, 2012*

The past few years have witnessed significant developments in extrasolar planetary science. Several Earth-like planets and super-Earths have been detected in the habitable zones of their host stars and more than 1200 planetary candidates have been announced. On the theoretical front, these discoveries have triggered extensive research on the formation, dynamical evolution, interior dynamics, and atmospheric characteristics of extrasolar habitable planets. The IAU symposium 293 will bring together scientists from around the world to present new discoveries, and discuss ideas on the formation, detection, and characterization of extrasolar habitable planets.

For complete meeting information visit:

Limited number of travel support is available for US and international participants. More information and application can be found at

For more information and questions regarding the conference contact Nader Haghighipour

The conference on Comparative Climatology of Terrestrial Planets will be held June 25-28, 2012, at the Hotel Boulderado, located at 2115 Thirteenth Street, Boulder CO 80302.

Comparative Climatology of Terrestrial Planets will explore the differences and similarities between the climates of terrestrial planets in the solar system and beyond. With an emphasis on experimental methods and models, the synergies between Earth science, planetary science, heliophysics, and exoplanet studies will be exploited to identify objectives for future research and missions.

The goal of this conference is to look at climate in the broadest sense possible -- by comparing the processes at work on the four terrestrial bodies, Earth, Venus, Mars, and Titan (Titan is included because it hosts many terrestrial processes), and on terrestrial planets around other stars. These processes include the interactions of shortwave and thermal radiation with the atmosphere, condensation and vaporization of volatiles, atmospheric dynamics and chemistry, and the role of the surface and interior in the long-term evolution of climate. Conference talks will compare the scientific questions, methods, numerical models, and spacecraft remote sensing experiments for Earth and the other planets, with the goal of identifying objectives for future research and missions. The conference is an opportunity for planetary scientists to survey current work on the best-studied terrestrial planet, and for climate scientists to reflect on how familiar processes on Earth produce such different outcomes in other "laboratories."

For more information: