June 2012

January 26-27, 2013
Ventura Beach Marriott
Ventura, CA

Application Deadline: December 29, 2012

The Gordon Research Seminar on Geobiology is a unique forum for graduate students, post-docs, and other scientists with comparable levels of experience and education to present and exchange new data and cutting edge ideas.

The focus of this meeting is to explore the diverse and dynamic field of geobiology. The discussions and presentations will address these main themes:

* microbial structures in ancient and modern settings
* taphonomy and micropaleontology
* biomineralization and the co-evolution of minerals and microbes
* life detection for applications to early life on Earth and other planets
* integrating geobiobiology into interdisciplinary research and academic programs

For more information:

Join us in congratulating Brendan Mullan from Pennsylvania State University on winning the 2012 FameLab Astrobiology competition! The Finals were held on Monday, April 16th during the Astrobiology Science Conference in Atlanta, GA. The judges selected one winner from among the 11 finalists, whose presentations can all be seen here. Brendan joins the winners of FameLab competitions from all over the world this June in the UK, and will represent the United States in the FameLab International Final event!

FameLab was set up in 2005 by Cheltenham Festivals in partnership with the UK's National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) to find and nurture UK scientists and engineers with a flair for communicating with public audiences. Since 2007, thanks to a partnership with the British Council, FameLab competitions were held across Europe, Asia, and Africa. In 2012, FameLab has been held in 20 countries worldwide. Their partnership with NASA has brought FameLab to North America for the first time!

For more information:

When life began on Earth, iron may have done the job of magnesium, making life possible.

On the periodic table of the elements, iron and magnesium are far apart. But new evidence discovered by NAI's team at the Georgia Institute of Technology suggests that three billion years ago, iron did the job magnesium does today in helping Ribonucleic acid (RNA), a molecule essential for life, assume the molecular shapes necessary for biology.

The results of the study were published online on May 31, 2012 in the journal PLoS ONE.

There is considerable evidence that the evolution of life passed through an early stage when RNA played a more central role, doing the jobs of DNA and protein before they appeared. During that time, more than three billion years ago, the environment lacked oxygen but had lots of available iron.

"One of the greatest challenges in astrobiology is understanding how life began on Earth billions of years ago when the environment was very different than it is today," said Carl Pilcher, director of the Astrobiology Institute at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. "This study shows us how conditions on early Earth may have been conducive to the development of life."

In the new study, researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, used experiments and numerical calculations to show that under early Earth conditions, with little oxygen around, iron can substitute for magnesium in RNA, enabling it to assume the shapes it needs to catalyze life's chemical reactions. In fact, it catalyzed those reactions better with iron than with magnesium.

2012 MIRS Fellows are:

1. Dr. Prabhakar Misra, from Howard University, will conduct fluorescence and Raman spectroscopy of organic molecules of relevance to the spectral library of potential contaminants for the Mars Science Laboratory mission, in the laboratory of Paul Mahaffy at NASA Goddard.

2. Dr. Hany Sobhi, from Coppin State University will work with Natasha Johnson, at NASA Goddard, to investigate the Fischer -Tropsch-Type (FTT) Catalysis reaction mechanism for the production of insoluble and volatile organic molecules in the protostellar nebula.

Please join us in welcoming Prabhakar and Hany to the NAI.

More information about the MIRS program can be found at

Several sessions at the 2012 Astrobiology Science Conference were broadcast live via Adobe Connect and recorded. An archive of talks from 18 sessions is now available for viewing online via the AbSciCon website. For more information:

2012 Lewis and Clark Selections

The NAI is pleased to announce selections for the 2012 Lewis and Clark Fund for Exploration and Field Research in Astrobiology.

1. Timothy Gallagher, travel to Michigan, Minnesota and Ontario, to study "Life on Land during the Mesoproterozoic: Evidence from the Midcontinent Rift System"

2. Cara Harwood, travel to Nevada, to examine "Thrombolites as Records of Microbial-metazoan Ecosystems in Cambrian Carbonates of the Southern Great Basin, United States"

3. Jena Johnson, travel to South Africa to investigate "Manganese and the Evolution of Oxygenic Photosynthesis"

4. Cassandra Marnocha, travel to Sweden to study the "Geomicrobiology of Rock Coatings from Karkevagge, Swedish Lapland"

5. Roy Price, travel to New Caledonia, "Expanding Frontiers for Origin of Life Research: Serpentinite-hosted Shallow Hydrothermal Vents"

6. Elizabeth Sibert, travel to Italy to examine "Ichthyoliths Across the Kpg [Cretaceous-paleogene] Boundary: Response of Pelagic Consumers to a Mass Extinction"

7. Erik Sperling, travel to Canada, to study "Oxygen, Ecology, and the Cambrian Radiation of Animals: Insights into the Origin of Complex Life from the Mackenzie Mountains, Northwest Territories, Canada"

8. Elizabeth Wilbanks, travel to Massachusetts to investigate "A Sulfurous Symbiosis: the Dynamic Metatranscriptome of Pinkberries in the Sippewissett Salt Marsh"

The American Philosophical Society and the NASA Astrobiology Institute have partnered to promote the continued exploration of the world around us through a new program of research grants in support of astrobiological field studies undertaken by graduate students, postdocs, and early-career scientists and scholars who are affiliated with U.S. institutions.

For more information:

NASA and the Library of Congress have announced the selection of David H. Grinspoon to be the first Baruch S. Blumberg NASA-Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology.

The chair, selected through an international competition, is named for the late Nobel Laureate and founding director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, Baruch "Barry" Blumberg. Applications are solicited by the Library of Congress and reviewed by a panel jointly established by the Library and NASA. The prestigious position was created in November 2011.

Grinspoon will be in residence for a year beginning November 2012 at the library's scholarly research organization, the Kluge Center, in Washington, D.C.. He is the curator of astrobiology in the Department of Space Sciences at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Grinspoon is a well-known researcher in planetary science and the author of the award-winning book "Lonely Planets: The Natural Philosophy of Alien Life."

"Grinspoon's background as an astrobiology researcher, writer and communicator of science makes him an ideal choice," said Carl Pilcher, director of the Astrobiology Institute at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif. "This is certainly the start of what will become a great tradition of astrobiology chairs at the library."

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Science Mission Directorate (SMD) intends to release a Program Element Appendix (PEA) of the Stand Alone Missions of Opportunity Notice (SALMON-2), with a target date of June 28, 2012. This PEA will solicit proposals for instrument investigations to be implemented through the European Space Agency's (ESA) JUpiter ICy moons Explorer (JUICE) mission.

NASA has allocated $100 Million RY budget over the full life cycle of the mission for a limited portion of the JUICE payload. The NASA contribution would consist of a combination of 1) U.S.-led instrument(s), 2) U.S.-provided instrument component(s) for European-led instrument(s), and/or 3) U.S. Co-Investigators on European-led instruments, all to total not more than $100M life cycle cost. Only proposals for the first type of contribution (i.e., U.S. PI-led instrument investigations) should be submitted to this PEA. Proposals with the latter two types of U.S. contributions (i.e., proposals led by a non-U.S. PI) should respond to the ESA AO released in conjunction with this PEA.

Participation in this PEA will be open to all categories of organizations (foreign and domestic, with the exception that European Principle Investigators must submit their proposals to a separate Announcement of Opportunity to be released by ESA), including educational institutions, industry, not-for-profit organizations, Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDC's), NASA Centers, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and other Government agencies. Principal Investigators are responsible for and allowed to assemble the instrument team from any and all of these organizations.

SETIcon 2

SETIcon II happens June 22-24th, 2012 at Hyatt Regency, Santa Clara, California. SETIcon, envisioned and organized by the SETI Institute, is a unique, entertaining and enlightening public event where science and imagination meet. SETIcon brings together innovative scientists, science fiction authors, space and science artists, space lovers, and the curious and adventurous everywhere for a 3-day public celebration and exploration of space, real science, technology, imagination, and science education. For more information:

IFEMA-Feria de Madrid
23 - 28 September 2012, Madrid, Spain

The intention of the European Planetary Science Congress 2012 is to cover a broad area of science topics related to planetary science and planetary missions. The program of the congress will contain oral and poster sessions, and it will emphasize workshops and panel discussions in order to have a strong interaction between the participants. The Scientific Organizing Committee of the EPSC2012 invites all planetary scientists to participate in the congress, submit contributions to the topical sessions and share their research with colleagues and friends. We are looking forward to welcome you in Madrid! For more information:

Poipu, Kauai, Hawaii, February 25-27, 2013

Contributed talks (30 min) and poster presentations are invited for the 'First Workshop on Experimental Laboratory Astrophysics' in Poipu, Kauai, Hawaii, February 25-27, 2013. During the last decade, significant new experimental techniques have been developed to investigate the interaction of ionizing radiation (UV, VUV, gamma rays, charged particles) and of neutrals (atoms, radicals, molecules, grains) with surfaces of solids (ices, minerals, carbonaceous compounds) in the Solar System and in the Interstellar Medium (ISM). These processes provide new fundamental insights - sometimes on the molecular level - into the processes that are critical to the chemistry in the ISM, star and planet forming regions, and on/in icy objects in the Solar System from the formation of the simplest molecule (molecular hydrogen) to astrobiologically important species such as amino acids and sugars.

The first workshop features invited (senior and junior researchers) as well as contributed talks and poster presentations focusing on the interaction of ionizing radiation (UV, VUV, gamma rays, charged particles) and neutrals (atoms, radicals, molecules, grains) with low temperature solids (ices, minerals, organics).

Additional information will be posted soon.

The Organizers

Ralf I. Kaiser, University of Hawaii
Brant Jones, University of Hawaii
Gianfranco Vidali, Syracuse University
Raul Baragiola, University of Virginia
Sergio Pilling, Universidade do Vale do Paraiba
Dag Hanstorp, University of Gotheburg, Sweden

For more information:

The Planetary Geology and Geophysics (PGG) program supports scientific investigations of planetary surfaces and interiors, satellites (including the Moon), satellite and ring systems, and smaller Solar System bodies, such as asteroids and comets. The goals of the PGG program are to foster the synthesis, analysis, and comparative study of data that will improve the understanding of the extent and influence of planetary geological and geophysical processes on the bodies of the Solar System.

For Appendix C.4, The Planetary Geology and Geophysics Program, the due date for proposals to the Planetary Geology and Geophysics Program has been delayed to July 2, 2012, to permit proposers who recently received notification of the decision on their PGG ROSES 2011 proposals additional time to prepare proposals.

On May 11, 2012, this Amendment to the NASA Research Announcement "Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Sciences (ROSES) 2012" (NNH12ZDA001N) was posted on the NASA research opportunity home page at and appears on the RSS feed at:

Tables 2 and 3 of the Summary of Solicitation for this NRA will be updated to reflect this change.

Questions concerning Appendix C.4, The Planetary Geology and Geophysics Program, may be addressed to Michael Kelley, Planetary Science Division, Science Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC 20546-0001. Email:; Telephone: 202-358-0607.

The next Icy Satellites Environments Focus Group (ISEFG) meeting will be held on Thursday, June 28th from 9:00-10:00am PDT. A presentation on "Europa Mission Options - Status and Updates" will be given by Bob Pappalardo and may be viewed live at,