January 2021

Inside one of the containers of this 40-cm-across miniature laboratory in orbit, a battle is set to start between asteroid-like fragments and rock-hungry microbes, to probe their use for space mining in the future.

Sulfur is the tenth most abundant element in the universe and is known to play a significant role in biological systems. Accordingly, in recent years there has been increased interest in the role of sulfur in astrochemical reactions and planetary geology and geochemistry.

Databases of gas and surface chemical reactions are a key tool for scientists working in a wide range of physical sciences. In Astrochemistry, databases of chemical reactions are used as inputs to chemical models to determine the abundances of the interstellar medium.

Curtin University researchers have used ancient crystals from eroded rocks found in stream sediments in Greenland to successfully test the theory that portions of Earth's ancient crust acted as 'seeds' from which later generations of crust grew.

Photosynthesis, the process by which plants and other organisms convert sunlight into chemical energy, has been a major player during the evolution of life and our planet's atmosphere.

A number of transiting, potentially habitable Earth-sized exoplanets have recently been detected around several nearby M dwarf stars. These worlds represent important targets for atmospheric characterization for the upcoming NASA James Webb Space Telescope.

Without evidence for occupying a special time or location, we should not assume that we inhabit privileged circumstances in the Universe. As a result, within the context of all Earth-like planets orbiting Sun-like stars, the origin of a technological civilization on Earth should be considered a single outcome of a random process.

Using the Yebes 40m and IRAM 30m radiotelescopes, we detected two series of harmonically related lines in space that can be fitted to a symmetric rotor. The lines have been seen towards the cold dense cores TMC-1, L483, L1527, and L1544.

Low-mass stars show evidence of vigorous magnetic activity in the form of large flares and coronal mass ejections. Such space weather events may have important ramifications for the habitability and observational fingerprints of exoplanetary atmospheres.

In a few years, space telescopes will investigate our Galaxy to detect evidence of life, mainly by observing rocky planets. In the last decade, the observation of exoplanet atmospheres and the theoretical works on biosignature gasses have experienced a considerable acceleration.

No circumbinary planets have been discovered smaller than 3 Earth radii, yet planets of this small size comprise over 75% of the discoveries around single stars.

Exoplanetary science continues to excite and surprise with its rich diversity. We discuss here some key aspects potentially influencing the range of exoplanetary terrestrial-type atmospheres which could exist in nature.

We propose a new model for treating solid-phase photoprocesses in interstellar ice analogues. In this approach, photoionization and photoexcitation are included in more detail, and the production of electronically-excited (suprathermal) species is explicitly considered.

Hydride molecules lie at the base of interstellar chemistry, but the synthesis of sulfuretted hydrides is poorly understood. Motivated by new observations of the Orion Bar PDR - 1'' resolution ALMA images of SH+; IRAM 30m detections of H2S, H2S34, and H2S33; H3S+ (upper limits); and SOFIA observations of SH - we perform a systematic study of the chemistry of S-bearing hydrides.

Geochronology, or determination of absolute ages for geologic events, underpins many inquiries into the formation and evolution of planets and our Solar System. Absolute ages of ancient and recent magmatic products provide strong constraints on the dynamics of magma oceans and crustal formation, as well as the longevity and evolution of interior heat engines and distinct mantle/crustal source regions. Absolute dating also relates habitability markers to the timescale of evolution of life on Earth.

It has been proposed that spin-polarized cosmic radiation can induce asymmetric changes in helical biopolymers that may account for the emergence of biological homochirality. The parity violation in the weak interaction has direct consequences on the transport of polarization in cosmic ray showers.

Methyl isocyanate (CH3NCO) and glycolonitrile (HOCH2CN) are isomers and prebiotic molecules that are involved in the formation of peptide structures and the nucleobase adenine, respectively. ALMA observations of the intermediate-mass Class 0 protostar Serpens SMM1-a and ALMA-PILS data of the low-mass Class 0 protostar IRAS~16293B are used.

Stars with masses between 1 and 8 solar masses (M⊙) lose large amounts of material in the form of gas and dust in the late stages of stellar evolution, during their Asymptotic Giant Branch phase. Such stars supply up to 35% of the dust in the interstellar medium and thus contribute to the material out of which our solar system formed.

Carbonic acid (H2CO3) is a weak acid relevant to astrobiology which, to date, remains undetected in space. Experimental work has shown that the beta-polymorph of H2CO3 forms under space relevant conditions through energetic (UV photon, electron, and cosmic ray) processing of CO2- and H2O-rich ices.