Astrochemistry: September 2011

Locations: New York Center for Astrobiology (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute) and NASA Ames Research Center

The New York Center for Astrobiology expects to hire two postdoctoral researchers in the areas of observational astronomy and astrochemistry. The successful applicants will join an existing research program that seeks to identify important chemical pathways that lead from simple molecules in the interstellar medium to complex organic molecules in protoplanetary disks around newly-born stars and in primitive solar-system materials. The project represents a collaboration between researchers in the New York Center for Astrobiology (NYCA), based at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, and the NASA Ames Research Center (ARC) in Mountain View, CA, led by Doug Whittet and Yvonne Pendleton, respectively. It is anticipated that one appointee will be based primarily at NYCA, the other primarily at ARC.

The duties of the appointees will be matched to their prior expertise and may include: acquisition and analysis of new astronomical observations at infrared and/or radio wavelengths; research with existing databases such as the Spitzer Heritage Archive; related astrophysical and/or astrochemical modeling; interpretation of results and preparation for publication in the refereed literature. Positions will be for one year initially, with anticipated renewal for a second year dependent on availability of funds.

NASA-funded researchers have found more evidence meteorites can carry DNA components created in space.

Scientists have detected the building blocks of DNA in meteorites since the 1960s, but were unsure whether they were created in space or resulted from contamination by terrestrial life. The latest research indicates certain nucleobases -- the building blocks of our genetic material -- reach the Earth on meteorites in greater diversity and quantity than previously thought.

The discovery adds to a growing body of evidence that the chemistry inside asteroids and comets is capable of making building blocks of essential biological molecules. Previously, scientists found amino acids in samples of comet Wild 2 from NASA's Stardust mission and in various carbon-rich meteorites. Amino acids are used to make proteins, the workhorse molecules of life. Proteins are used in everything from structures such as hair to enzymes, which are the catalysts that speed up or regulate chemical reactions.

The findings were published in the August 11, 2011 online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In the new work, scientists analyzed samples of 12 carbon-rich meteorites, nine of which were recovered from Antarctica. The team found adenine and guanine, which are components of DNA nucleobases.

We are pleased to announce the dates for the second workshop on "Titan Through Time: Formation, Evolution and Fate" in 2012, following the very successful first workshop in 2010. The second meeting will have a similar format, with a 2 1/2 science program comprised of themed sessions, and featuring a mixture of invited reviews, and contributed talks and posters.

As in 2010, we welcome scientific reports and attendance from the widest possible cross-section of the scientific community, including both those studying Titan directly, but also those whose research interests have intersections with Titan science in areas such as laboratory chemistry and spectroscopy; modeling of planetary atmospheres, surfaces and interiors; terrestrial analogs and comparative planetology; and the formation and evolution of the solar system.

Further details including the program of invited talks will be publicized in due course. A link to the website (when available) can be booked-marked here:

Hope to see you in 2012.

Conor Nixon, Univerity of Maryland
Ralph Lorenz, Johns Hopkins APL
Co-chairs, science program.

The Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI), part of the Universities Space Research Association, invites applications for a postdoctoral fellowship in the petrology of planetary materials.

The successful candidate will work with Dr. Allan Treiman in NASA-funded efforts, focusing on planetary crusts and magmas, and their volatiles constituents; target materials include lunar highlands rocks, Martian meteorites, and terrestrial analogs. These efforts focus on planetary samples, starting with analyses by optical microscopy and electron microprobe; other instruments are available at nearby Johnson Space Center or with external collaborators. The candidate will be encouraged to design and conduct their own research in planetary science, propose for external funding, participate in grant review panels and analysis groups, and become involved with spacecraft missions.

The successful candidate will have a recent Ph.D. in petrology or geochemistry; experience with planetary materials is helpful, but not required. The position would be for two years, with possible extension to a third year. Review of candidates will begin on November 15, 2011, with a hiring decision as soon as possible thereafter. Further information can be found on our website: http://

The Universities Space Research Association is an Equal Opportunity Employer.