Recently in the Astrogeology Category

A new study is helping to answer a longstanding question that has recently moved to the forefront of earth science: Did our planet make its own water through geologic processes, or did water come to us via icy comets from the far reaches of the solar system?

Applications due: February 15, 2013

In this intense multidisciplinary summer course, June 9 - July 12, explore the coevolution of the Earth and its biosphere, with emphasis on how microbial processes affect the environment and leave imprints on the rock record. Participants get hands-on experience in cutting-edge geobiological techniques including molecular biology, bioinformatics, geochemistry, petrology and sedimentology, and work in research groups to solve relevant questions. The course will involve a field trip to the Great Salt Lake and southern Wyoming. Lab work will be conducted at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado, USC/Caltech/JPL in the Los Angeles area and the USC Wrigley Institute on Catalina Island. The 2013 course is open to students and researchers at any level, although we give preference to graduate students in their early to mid years of study.

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A new study, supported in part by the NASA Astrobiology Institute, suggests that meteorites and their parent asteroids are the most-likely sources of water on Earth. The research led by the Carnegie Institution for Science's Conel Alexander indicates that these rocks from space were the sources of early Earth's volatile elements -- which include hydrogen, nitrogen, and carbon -- and possibly organic material. Understanding if and how volatile elements were delivered to the early Earth is important in determining the origins of both water and life on our planet. This work was partially funded by NASA Cosmochemistry, the NASA Astrobiology Institute, Carnegie Institution of Canada, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the W.M. Keck Foundation, and the UK Cosmochemical Analysis Network. [Source: NAI]

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.

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.

Creating some of life's building blocks in space may be a bit like making a sandwich - you can make them cold or hot. This evidence that there is more than one way to make crucial components of life increases the likelihood that life emerged elsewhere in the Universe, according to the research team led by astrobiologists at NAI's Goddard Center for Astrobiology. It also gives support to the theory that a "kit" of ready-made parts created in space and delivered to Earth by impacts from meteorites and comets assisted the origin of life.

In a recent study published in Meteoritics and Planetary Science, scientists from NAI's Goddard Space Flight Center Team analyzed samples from fourteen carbon-rich meteorites with minerals that indicated they had experienced high temperatures - in some cases, over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. They found amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins, used by life to speed up chemical reactions and build structures like hair, skin, and nails.

This year's application deadline for grants from the Barringer Family Fund for Meteorite Impact Research is April 6, 2012. This program provides 3 to 5 competitive grants each year in the range of $2500 to $5000 USD for support of field research at known or suspected impact sites worldwide. Grant funds may be used to assist with travel and subsistence costs, as well as laboratory and computer analysis of research samples and findings. Masters, doctoral, and post-doctoral students enrolled in formal university programs are eligible. Over the past 10 years, 34 research projects have been supported. For additional details and an application, please go to

For a flyer to post at your institution, please go to

The Barringer Family Fund for Meteorite Impact Research has been established as a memorial to recognize the contributions of Brandon, Moreau, Paul, and Richard Barringer to the field of meteoritics and the Barringer family's strong interest and support over many years in research and student education. In addition to its memorial nature, the Fund also reflects the family's long-standing commitment to responsible stewardship of The Barringer Meteorite Crater and the family's steadfast resolve in maintaining the crater as a unique scientific research and education site.

Jupiter, long settled in its position as the fifth planet from our sun, was a rolling stone in its youth. Over the eons, the giant planet roamed toward the center of the solar system and back out again, at one point moving in about as close as Mars is now. The planet's travels profoundly influenced the solar system, changing the nature of the asteroid belt and making Mars smaller than it should have been. These details are based on a new model of the early solar system developed by NAI scientists at the Virtual Planetary Laboratory, the Goddard Center for Astrobiology, and their colleagues. Their paper appears in a recent issue of Nature.

"We refer to Jupiter's path as the Grand Tack, because the big theme in this work is Jupiter migrating toward the sun and then stopping, turning around, and migrating back outward," says the paper's first author, Kevin Walsh of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo. "This change in direction is like the course that a sailboat takes when it tacks around a buoy."

According to the new model, Jupiter formed in a region of space about three-and-a-half times as far from the sun as Earth is (3.5 astronomical units). Because a huge amount of gas still swirled around the sun back then, the giant planet got caught in the currents of flowing gas and started to get pulled toward the sun. Jupiter spiraled slowly inward until it settled at a distance of about 1.5 astronomical units--about where Mars is now. (Mars was not there yet.)

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Source: NAI newsletter

Titan Through Time II Workshop

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.