April 2013

An international team of astronomers, including Alexandre Santerne of the EXOEarths team at CAUP, has identified and characterized two new exoplanets thanks to combined observations from the Kepler space telescope plus the SOPHIE and HARPS-N spectrographs.

Tiny 1,900 million-year-old fossils from rocks around Lake Superior, Canada, give the first ever snapshot of organisms eating each other and suggest what the ancient Earth would have smelled like. The fossils, preserved in Gunflint chert, capture ancient microbes in the act of feasting on a cyanobacterium-like fossil called Gunflintia - with the perforated sheaths of Gunflintia being the discarded leftovers of this early meal.

Exoplanetary science has reached a historic moment. The James Webb Space Telescope will be capable of probing the atmospheres of rocky planets, and perhaps even search for biologically produced gases. However this is contingent on identifying suitable targets before the end of the mission. A race therefore, is on, to find transiting planets with the most favorable properties, in time for the launch. Here, we describe a realistic opportunity to discover extremely favorable targets - rocky planets transiting nearby brown dwarfs - using the Spitzer Space Telescope as a survey instrument.

A University of Washington astronomer is using Earth's interstellar neighbors to learn the nature of certain stars too far away to be directly measured or observed, and the planets they may host. "Characterization by proxy" is the technique used by Sarah Ballard, a post-doctoral researcher at the UW, to infer the properties of small, relatively cool stars too distant for measurement, by comparing them to closer stars that now can be directly observed.

An international team of researchers, including Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, geochemist James Day, has found new evidence that material contained in oceanic lava flows originated in Earth's ancient Archean crust. These findings support the theory that much of the Earth's original crust has been recycled by the process of subduction, helping to explain how the Earth has formed and changed over time.

Be a part of the future of Astrobiology! It's time to chart the future directions of astrobiology research and you can participate. During the month of May, NASA will be hosting a series of on-line hangouts and discussions focusing on broad themes in astrobiology: Planetary Conditions for Life, Prebiotic Evolution, Early Evolution of Life and the Biosphere, Evolution of Advanced Life, and Astrobiology for Solar Systems Exploration.

A research team of biogeochemists at the University of California, Riverside has provided a new view on the relationship between the earliest accumulation of oxygen in the atmosphere, arguably the most important biological event in Earth history, and its relationship to the sulfur cycle.

NASA and the Russian Institute of Biomedical Problems, Moscow, are collaborating on a space biology mission aboard an unmanned Russian biosatellite to understand better the mechanisms of how life adapts to microgravity and then readapts to gravity on Earth. NASA will participate in the post-flight analysis of rodents flown for 30 days on the biosatellite, Bion-M1, which launched April 19 from Baikonur, Kazakhstan.

Life on Earth may have originated not in warm tropical seas, but with weird tubes of ice -- sometimes called "sea stalactites" -- that grow downward into cold seawater near the Earth's poles, scientists are reporting. Their article on these "brinicles" appears in ACS' journal Langmuir.

A research team with Jungmi Kwon (GUAS/NAOJ) has performed deep imaging linear and circular polarimetry (Note 1) of the 'Cat's Paw Nebula' (NGC 6334) (Note 2) located in the constellation Scorpius, successfully detecting high degrees of circular polarization (CP) of as much as 22% in NGC 6334. The detected CP degree is the highest ever observed.

The Instrument Concepts for Europa Exploration (ICEE) Program supports the advanced development of spacecraft-based instruments for Europa exploration. The goal of the program is to mature and reduce the technical risk of instruments for a potential future Europa mission to the point where they may be proposed in response to a future flight announcement of opportunity (AO) without additional extensive technology development.

The northern and southern hemispheres of Enceladus are seen in these polar stereographic maps, mosaicked from the best-available Cassini clear-filter images.

A University of Washington astronomer, funded by a National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award, has discovered perhaps the smallest super-Earth planet in its host star habitable zone.

Relative sizes of Kepler habitable zone planets discovered as of 2013 April 18.
Left to right: Kepler-22b, Kepler-69c, Kepler-62e, Kepler-62f, and Earth (except for Earth, these are artists' renditions). Credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech.

A team of scientists, including Carnegie's Alan Boss, has discovered two Earth-like planets in the habitable orbit of a Sun-like star. Their work is published in Science Express.

In our solar system, only one planet is blessed with an ocean: Earth. Our home world is a rare, blue jewel compared to the deserts of Mercury, Venus and Mars. But what if our Sun had not one but two habitable ocean worlds?

The nation's first state-chartered university recently became the world's first to have a star system named after it.

By tracking a part of the surface of Saturn's moon Titan over several years, NASA's Cassini mission has found a remarkable longevity to the hydrocarbon lakes on the moon's surface. A team led by Christophe Sotin of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., fed these results into a model that suggests the supply of the hydrocarbon methane at Titan could be coming to an end soon (on geological timescales). The study of the lakes also led scientists to spot a few new ones in images from Cassini's visual and infrared mapping spectrometer data in June 2010.

We explore the minimum distance from a host star for an exoplanet to be potentially habitable, in order to maximize future chances of finding other habitable worlds. We find that the inner edge of the Habitable Zone (HZ) for hot desert worlds is at 0.5 AU around a solar-like star (well within the orbit of Venus).

NASA will host a news briefing at 2 p.m. EDT, Thursday, April 18, to announce new discoveries from the agency's Kepler mission. The briefing will be held in the Syvertson Auditorium, Building N-201, at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., and be broadcast live on NASA Television and on the agency's website.

The 10th annual Astrobiology Graduate Conference (AbGradCon), an interdisciplinary conference organized by and for graduate students and early career scientists, will be held at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada from June 10th - 14th, 2013. AbGradCon is for pre- and early-career scientists (astronomers, biologists, chemists, educators, engineers, geologists, planetary scientists and social scientists) whose research addresses a topic relevant to astrobiology.
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The 2013 Astrobiology Summer Science Experience for Teachers, or ASSET, is being held July 29 - Aug. 2, 2013, at San Francisco State University. ASSET will feature presentations by leading astrobiology researchers from the SETI Institute, NASA and the California Academy of Sciences. Scientists will share the latest in astrobiology research on the origin of life on Earth, the extreme conditions in which life exists, Mars exploration, the formation of planetary systems around sun-like stars and the search for life in the universe.

In part two of The Great Exoplanet Debate, the panel of experts discuss current concepts of habitability and how these concepts are changing as our knowledge of life's potential grows. This debate comes from a plenary session hosted by Astrobiology Magazine at the 2012 Astrobiology Science Conference. The sesstion was titled: "Expanding the Habitable Zone. The Hunt for Exoplanets Now and Into the Future."

The Exobiology Branch (Code SSX) at NASA Ames Research Center is currently seeking interested applicants for the position of Research Space Scientist. The incumbent is responsible for conducting microbiological and/or geologic research to identify biosignatures that characterize past/present life in environments related to astrobiology. He/she studies the origin, composition, structure, and evolution of the solar system, including planets and satellites; the Earth and Moon; and meteorites, asteroids, comets and dust.

Hitherto, six P-type planets are found around five binary systems, i.e. Kepler-16 b, 34 b, 35 b, 38 b, 47 b, c, which are all Neptune or Jupiter-like planets. The stability of planets and the habitable zones are influenced by the gravitational and radiative perturbations of binary companions.

In this paper, the detectability of habitable exomoons orbiting around giant planets in M-dwarf systems using Transit Timing Variations (TTVs) and Transit Timing Durations (TDVs) with Kepler-class photometry is investigated. Light curves of systems with various configurations were simulated around M-dwarf hosts of mass 0.5 Msun and radius 0.55 Rsun.

For the past few years, a research team in Antarctica has been drilling through several miles of ice in an effort to reach Lake Vostok. Lake Vostok is the largest of a number of bodies of fresh water trapped deep in the ice and isolated from the rest of Earth's biosphere for millions of years. What forms of life may exist in Lake Vostok are of interest not only to terrestrial ecologists but also astrobiologists given that moons such as Europa, Ganymede, and Enceladus may have water oceans underneath their outer icy surfaces.

Registration and abstract submission deadline: June 1, 2013. The 5th International Conference on Polar and Alpine Microbiology (PAM5) will be held in Big Sky, Montana (USA) from 8-12 September 2013. This meeting will be a continuation of the highly successful meetings previously held in Rovaniemi, Finland (2004), Innsbruck, Austria (2006), Banff, Canada (2008) and Ljubljana, Slovenia (2011), which brought together leading international researchers and students in this field.

The Harvard Origins of Life Initiative is a multi-disciplinary research program at the intersection of biochemistry and planetary astronomy. Our goal is to discover how the initial conditions on planets, including our Earth, determined their biochemistry and life forms. This knowledge will eventually allow targeted studies of planets that might harbor life, including Earth twins. The Initiative is an active, vibrant community of students, faculty and researchers in this exciting new field.

One postdoctoral position in experimental physical chemistry and chemical physics (reaction dynamics, astrobiology, astrochemistry) is open at the Department of Chemistry, University of Hawai'i at Manoa, for the period of one year, initially, to investigate the formation of dipeptides in astrophysically relevant ices by ionizing radiation.

Do you have a colleague at a minority serving institution (MSI) with whom you would like to work with more closely? Do you have a current Astrobiology Program project and would like to host a faculty member from a MSI?

The Astrobiology group at Arizona State University is proud to sponsor Stellar Stoichiometry, April 11-12, 2013. This workshop will examine the growing evidence that elemental abundance ratios of stars vary considerably from solar, and discuss the consequences of elemental variability on the existence and habitability of planets. To this end we are bringing together many of the world's leading stellar spectroscopists to figure out why abundance ratios derived by different groups vary significantly, and to figure out what are the true intrinsic variations. The workshop can be attended in person at ASU or virtually, anywhere in the world.

A new paper led by a NASA researcher shows that hydrogen peroxide is abundant across much of the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa.

Applications for this meeting must be submitted by May 5, 2013: This GRC will be held at Stonehill College in Easton, MA (USA) June 2-7, 2013.

Deadline for Abstract Submission - April 30th: The 10th international Congress on Halophilic Microorganisms - Halophiles 2013, will be held on the campus of the University of Connecticut, Storrs from June 23rd - 27th 2013.

August 25 - 30, 2013 in Florence, Italy - Abstract Submission Deadline: April 12, 2013: Convenors: Matt Schrenk, Barbara Sherwood Lollar, Chris Ballentine - Keynote: Eric Boyd (Montana State University)

Proposal Due Date: April 10, 2013 - The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is soliciting the submission of multiinstitutional team-based proposals for research as participating members of the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI), hereafter referred to as "the Institute."