May 2012

Presenter: Peter T. Doran (University of Illinois, Chicago)

May 21, 2012 11:00 AM Pacific

The extreme cold and dry environment of the McMurdo Dry Valleys have made it one of the better analogs on Earth for Martian environments, present and past, and the thick ice ice-covered lakes have been used as analogs for aquatic environments on icy worlds. In fact, some of the earliest field research performed in the dry valleys was a direct result of the Mariner 4 space probe which orbited Mars in July 1965. Images returned from this mission for the first time showed Mars to be a cratered, cold and dry planet. The revelations from Mariner 4 drove Norm Harowitz from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to be perhaps the first to consider the dry valley soils as suitable models for what the surface of Mars may be like.

Robert Falcon Scott was the first to explore this region in 1903 and pronounced it lifeless. He was only there for a brief time and so can't be blamed for his quick judgment. Modern science has shown how the dry valleys actually offer a habitat for some hearty organisms. Much of the knowledge build up about this ecosystem has come from both NSF and NASA-funded science. The NSF established a Long Term Ecological Research site here in 1992 and numerous NASA astrobiology projects have advanced science in the Dry valleys before and since. This talk will look back at some seminal work carried out under the auspices of the NASA Exobiology Program and summarize results of some recent astrobiological research in the dry valleys, focusing on the perennial ice-covered, closed-basin lakes.

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UK Space Environments Conference

Date: 16 - 17 June, 2012
Location: Aberdeen, United Kingdom

Aberdeen will host the inaugural UK Space Environments Conference - UK Research & Education for Space & Terrestrial Benefit. Leading UK and international researchers from the fields of space biomedicine, astrobiology, microgravity-physics and astrochemistry will present and discuss details of their work and plans for the future. Day one of the conference will be devoted to Space Biomedicine. The chairman and members of the Space Environments Working Group will present on day two. An open-house poster opportunity exists for any space related organization to present a poster of the details of their company and/or related activities. Registration is #91 (#67 for students) for two days of excellent content with lunch included on both days. For more information visit -

Date: 1 - 13 July, 2012
Location: Utrecht and Texel, Netherlands
Application Deadline: 25 May, 2012

The second Darwin Summer School on Biogeosciences will give PhD and advanced MSc students an update on the state-of-the-art research within the field of Biogeosciences. The focus will be ocean acidification, the carbon cycle, microbial ecology, biomarkers, terrestrial carbon cycling and climate reconstructions, in the past, present and future. This Summer School is all about interdisciplinary research. Students are expected to work on the interface of biology, earth sciences, chemistry and physics. More information and application:

The 2012 Astrobiology Graduate Student Conference (AbGradCon) will be held on August 27 - 30, 2012, preceded by the Research Focus Group splinter, August 24-26. The science program for the conference will be held at the California Institute for Technology (Caltech), with an outreach event at the University of Southern California (USC), and a field-trip to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). The conference will consist of three days of scientific sessions, two evenings of public outreach and education activities, and a one day field trip to JPL. Approximately 100 participants consisting of graduate students and early career postdocs are expected from both the US and abroad. The talks and poster sessions will draw on the success of past AbGradCons as a venue for early career astrobiologists to expand their horizons by forming collaborations and sharing their work and ideas with their contemporaries. By incorporating organized outreach events, we will highlight the importance of education and communication within our field and provide a venue for public involvement with the astrobiology community. The JPL tour is a unique aspect of this year's meeting, and comes at an especially exciting time for the lab, just after the Curiosity rover's (MSL) landing at Mars. At JPL participants will view active laboratories and mission development relevant to astrobiology.
For more information, please visit our website: or email