November 2019

We have been keeping very busy these last couple of weeks, trying to take advantage of the nice weather (mostly calm and with clear skies more often than not).

The opportunistic pathogens Burkholderia cepacia and Burkholderia contaminans, both genomovars of the Burkholderia cepacia complex (BCC), are frequently cultured from the potable water system (PWS) of the International Space Station (ISS).

The abiotic synthesis of ribonucleotides is thought to have been an essential step towards the emergence of the RNA world.

Animals evolved from single-celled ancestors, before diversifying into 30 or 40 distinct anatomical designs. When and how animal ancestors made the transition from single-celled microbes to complex multicellular organisms has been the focus of intense debate.

The search for evidence of life on Mars could be helped by fresh insights into ancient rocks on Earth. Research which suggests that structures previously thought to be fossils may, in fact, be mineral deposits could save future Mars missions valuable time and resources.

Roughly 430 million years ago, during the Earth's Silurian Period, global oceans were experiencing changes that would seem eerily familiar today. Melting polar ice sheets meant sea levels were steadily rising, and ocean oxygen was falling fast around the world.

Microbial communities play essential roles in the biosphere and understanding the mechanisms underlying their functional adaptations to environmental conditions is critical for predicting their behavior. This aspect of microbiome function has not been well characterized in natural high-salt environments.

The origin of eukaryotes remains enigmatic. Current data suggests that eukaryotes may have risen from an archaeal lineage known as "Asgard archaea".

The air, earth and water of our planet are pulsating with living things. Yet, a vast and diverse web of life exists, about which almost nothing is known. This is the world of flagellates, tiny organisms that persist in staggering numbers in many diverse ecosystems around the world.

The nitrogenase metalloenzyme family, essential for supplying fixed nitrogen to the biosphere, is one of life's key biogeochemical innovations.

Over two hundred molecules have been discovered in space, some (like Buckminsterfullerene) very complex with carbon atoms. Besides being intrinsically interesting, these molecules radiate away heat, helping giant clouds of interstellar material cool and contract to form new stars.

Stromatolites are complex microbial mats that form lithified layers and ancient forms are the oldest evidence of life on earth, dating back over 3.4 billion years. Their emergence aligns with the oxygenation of the Earth's atmosphere and insight into these ancient structures would shed light on the earliest days of Earth.

The volcanic island of Kueishantao in northeastern Taiwan is an extreme habitat for marine organisms. With an active volcano, the coastal area has a unique hydrothermal field with a multitude of hot springs and volcanic gases.

The Lost City hydrothermal field on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge supports dense microbial life on the lofty calcium carbonate chimney structures.

Near-term studies of Venus-like atmospheres with JWST promise to advance our knowledge of terrestrial planet evolution.

The characterization of rocky, Earth-like planets is an important goal for future large ground- and space-based telescopes.

The HIFI instrument on board of the Herschel Space Observatory (HSO) has been very successful in detecting molecular lines from circumstellar envelopes around evolved stars, like massive red supergiants, Asymptotic Giant Branch (AGB) and post-AGB stars, as well as planetary nebulae.

The TRAPPIST-1 system, consisting of an ultra-cool host star having seven known Earth-size planets will be a prime target for atmospheric characterization with JWST.

The latest developments in astrochemistry have shown how some molecular species can be used as a tool to study the early stages of the solar-type star formation process. Among them, the more relevant species are the interstellar complex organic molecules (iCOMs) and the deuterated molecules.

Mass-radius relationships for water-rich terrestrial planets are usually calculated assuming most water is present in condensed (either liquid or solid) form.

"They're out there," goes a saying about extraterrestrials. It would seem more likely to be true in light of a new study on planetary axis tilts.

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have made one of the highest-performance cameras ever composed of sensors that count single photons, or particles of light.

An international team has found sugars essential to life in meteorites. The new discovery adds to the growing list of biologically important compounds that have been found in meteorites, supporting the hypothesis that chemical reactions in asteroids - the parent bodies of many meteorites - can make some of life's ingredients.

Transiting extrasolar planets are key objects in the study of the formation, migration, and evolution of planetary systems. In particular, the exploration of the atmospheres of giant planets, through transmission spectroscopy or direct imaging, has revealed a large diversity in their chemical composition and physical properties.

A little robotic explorer will be rolling into Antarctica this month to perform a gymnastic feat -- driving upside down under sea ice.

Chemical disequilibrium in exoplanetary atmospheres (detectable with remote spectroscopy) can indicate life.

Forty years ago, a Voyager spacecraft snapped the first closeup images of Europa, one of Jupiter's 79 moons. These revealed brownish cracks slicing the moon's icy surface, which give Europa the look of a veiny eyeball.

Using the Cooled Mid-Infrared Camera and Spectrometer (COMICS) on the Subaru Telescope, astronomers have detected an unidentified infrared emission band from comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner (hereafter, comet 21P/G-Z) in addition to the thermal emissions from silicate and carbon grains.

The first map showing the global geology of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, has been completed and fully reveals a dynamic world of dunes, lakes, plains, craters and other terrains.

To study the swiftness of biology - the protein chemistry behind every life function - scientists need to see molecules changing and interacting in unimaginably rapid time increments - trillionths of a second or shorter.

The isotopic ratio of nitrogen measured in primitive Solar System bodies shows a broad range of values, the origin of which remains unknown.

As any geologist worth his or her salt will tell you, there are rocks, and then there are rocks. Next July, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are launching rovers to Mars that will search for signs of past microbial life, and to find them, the scientists with NASA's Mars 2020 mission and ESA's ExoMars will need to examine different kinds of rocks that lend compelling insights into the environment in which they were made -- all from 100 million miles away.

University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers have cultivated lifelike chemical reactions while pioneering a new strategy for studying the origin of life.

Two pathways diverged in a chemical synthesis, and one molecule took them both. Chemists at the University of Tokyo have studied how molecular building blocks can either form a spherical cage or an ultrathin sheet that shows some of the basic properties of a "smart" material that can respond to its environment.

Planets residing in circumstellar habitable zones (CHZs) offer our best opportunities to test hypotheses of life's potential pervasiveness and complexity.

Scientists have long been puzzled by the existence of so-called "buckyballs" -- complex carbon molecules with a soccer-ball-like structure -- throughout interstellar space.

Join us on November 14, 2019 8:30AM - 5:00PM PST to celebrate the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) at 20. As the NAI completes its 20-year tenure, we remember the origin of astrobiology, the impact of the NAI to the field of astrobiology, share the current development of the field, and discuss the future direction of astrobiology at NASA, the Ames Research Center, and the broader community.

A defining characteristic of the planet Venus is its thick, CO2-dominated atmosphere. Despite over fifty years of robotic exploration, including thirteen successful atmosphere probes and landers, our knowledge of N2, the second-most-abundant compound in the atmosphere, is highly uncertain (von Zahn et al., 1983).

The detection of exoplanets orbiting other stars has revolutionized our view of the cosmos. First results suggest that it is teeming with a fascinating diversity of rocky planets, including those in the habitable zone.

Planets that revolve around a binary pair of stars are known as circumbinary planets. The orbital motion of the stars around their center of mass causes a periodic variation in the total instellation incident upon a circumbinary planet.

Origins of life chemistry has progressed from seeking out the production of specific molecules to seeking out conditions in which macromolecular precursors may interact with one another in ways that lead to biological organization.

Scientists with NASA's Mars 2020 rover have discovered what may be one of the best places to look for signs of ancient life in Jezero Crater, where the rover will land on Feb. 18, 2021.

Low-mass planets have an extraordinarily diverse range of bulk compositions, from primarily rocky worlds to those with deep gaseous atmospheres.

For the first time in the history of space exploration, scientists have measured the seasonal changes in the gases that fill the air directly above the surface of Gale Crater on Mars.

Next year, NASA plans to launch a new Mars rover to search for signs of ancient life on the Red Planet.

In order to search for life in outer space, astronomers first need to know where to look. A new Northwestern University study will help astronomers narrow down the search.

Future space telescopes now in the concept and design stage aim to observe reflected light spectra of extrasolar planets.

Energetic flares and associated coronal mass ejections (CMEs) from young magnetically active solar-like stars can play a critical role in setting conditions for atmospheric escape as well aspenetration of accelerated particles into their atmospheres that promotes formation of biologically relevant molecules.

Habitability is a measure of an environment's potential to support life, and a habitable exoplanet supports liquid water on its surface.

We have had pretty good weather since we arrived at Untersee and have kept pretty busy getting the camp pulled together and starting up the science ops.

Biology encodes information in DNA and RNA, which are complex molecules finely tuned to their functions. But are they the only way to store hereditary molecular information?

We use a one-dimensional (1-D) cloud-free climate model to estimate habitable zone (HZ) boundaries for terrestrial planets of masses 0.1 ME and 5 ME around circumbinary stars of various spectral type combinations.

The discovery of giant viruses with large genomes has transformed our understanding of the limits of viral complexity in the biosphere, and subsequent research in model virus-host systems has advanced our knowledge of intricate mechanisms used by these viruses to take over host cells during infection.

We spent the last several days getting the camp established and today the last tent (the Weatherport to be used at the field lab) was put in place.

Can scrambled eggs unscramble themselves? Well, sort of. The cytoplasm of ruptured Xenopus frog eggs spontaneously reorganizes into cell-like compartments, according to a study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

The influence of the hydrogen hydrodynamic upper atmosphere escape, driven by the solar soft X-ray and extreme ultraviolet radiation (XUV) flux, on an expected magma ocean outgassed steam atmosphere of early Venus is studied.

Our traverse went well and we all made it to Lake Untersee safely.

We carried out wind tunnel experiments on parabolic flights with 100 μm Mojave Mars simulant sand. The experiments result in shear stress thresholds and erosion rates for varying g-levels at 600 Pa pressure.

Ever since scientists discovered that certain microbes can get their energy from electrical charges, researchers have wondered how they do it.

The escape of hot O and C atoms from the present martian atmosphere during low and high solar activity conditions has been studied with a Monte-Carlo model.

By creating protocells in hot, alkaline seawater, a UCL-led research team has added to evidence that the origin of life could have been in deep-sea hydrothermal vents rather than shallow pools.

Our traverse to the lake has been delayed a day due to less than ideal weather moving in last night. The winds picked up (40-45 knots for awhile) with blowing snow which has resulted in very flat light and less than ideal weather for the trip.

Infrared Composite of Antarctica

A wealth of Earth-sized exoplanets will be discovered in the coming years, proving a large pool of candidates from which the targets for the search for life beyond the Solar system will be chosen.

We are almost ready to head to Lake Untersee, the traverse sleds are 90% packed and ready to go, we just have a few more details to attend to tomorrow.

Researchers have provided new calibrations for the humidity sensor on NASA's Phoenix lander on Mars (the Phoenix Thermal and Electrical Conductivity Probe (TECP) relative humidity sensor).