NASA Astrobiology Institute: March 2010

Stardust Comet Sample Return Mission"
Join us for the next NAI Director's Seminar!

Date/Time: Monday, March 29, 2010 11:00AM Pacific
Speaker: Don Brownlee (University of Washington), PI of Stardust Mission
Title: "Comets and the Early Solar System - Results from the Stardust Comet Sample Return Mission"

The NASA Stardust mission returned hundreds of samples of dust and small rocks from comet Wild 2. Like other Jupiter Family Comets, Wild 2 is believed to have formed beyond Neptune and stored in the Kuiper Belt until its recent migration into the inner solar system. Laboratory analyses of the comet samples provide a remarkably detailed look at the nature of solar nebula materials the resided at the edge of the solar system at the time that planets formed. Isotopically anomalous pre-solar grains have been found in the comet but their abundance is surprisingly low and it is clear that the bulk of micron and larger comet grains formed in the solar system by high temperature processes. The comet contains fragments of familiar high temperature components such as CAIs and chondrules that are well studied components of primitive meteorites. Common components formed in the 1400 to 2000K range These findings show that there was efficient radial transport of 1-100um grains over distances of 10's of AU. The comet seems to be a well preserved "grab bag" of components that formed in hot regions of the solar nebula. The low survival rate of pre-solar silicate grains at the edge of the solar nebula disk also suggests a low survival rate of pre-solar organics. It is clear that cometary icy and rocky materials formed in different environments. Stardust provided no information on ices but did it collect cometary organics including glycine. Comet-like bodies were probably the dominant form of planetesimal in the solar nebula and the Wild 2 results provide a very detailed look at the materials that made such bodies at the edge of the solar nebula.

For more information and participation instructions: [Source NAI newsletter]

The NAI is pleased to announce selections of the NASA Postdoctoral Program resulting from the November 2009 cycle.

1. William Brazelton - Advisor: Matthew Schrenk, The Carnegie Institution of Washington and East Carolina University Topic: Tracing Energy, Carbon, and Nitrogen Flow in Serpentinization-fueled Microbial Ecosystems

2. Gregory Fournier - Advisor Eric Alm, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Team Topic: Reconstructing the Evolution of Protein Synthesis: A Novel Compositional Approach for Studying Early Life and the Emergence of Complexity

3. Jennifer Kyle - Advisors: Linda Jahnke and Ken Stedman, NASA Ames Research Center and Portland State University Topic: Viral Preservation within Terrestrial Hot Springs

4. Felisa Wolfe-Simon - Advisors: Ariel Anbar and Ronald Oremland, Arizona State University and the USGS- Menlo Park Topic: Arsenic and Old Life: Novel Geo-biochemistry of Arsenic in Biological Systems

More information about the NPP can be found at

The NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) is accepting proposals to the 2010 NAI Director's Discretionary Fund (DDF).

Priority in selection for the NAI 2010 DDF will be given to proposals that are characterized by one or more of the following:

  • Integrates the research of and realizes synergies among the current NAI teams
  • Expands the scope of NAI research (and the NAI community) in innovative ways, accepting some risk in return for high pay-off potential
  • Responds in a timely way to new scientific results or programmatic opportunities
  • Develops connections between astrobiology research and other NASA science programs, particularly NASA's Earth Science Program - see,
  • Directly supports flight programs, particularly through instrument development
  • Uses funding particularly effectively, for example through leveraging or building on past investments

Schedule: Proposals will be accepted at any time until June 30, 2010.

For more information:

The NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) hosted a "Workshop Without Walls" using advanced collaborative technologies on March 11-12, 2010. The workshop, on "The Organic Continuum from the Interstellar Medium to the Early Earth," was organized by George Cody and Doug Whittet, PIs of the NAI's Carnegie Institution of Washington and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute teams, respectively.

The experience was truly global, with over 170 registrants from 21 US States and 16 other countries, including Canada, Mexico, six western European nations, Ukraine, India, South Korea, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Colombia, and Uruguay. A total of 33 scientific talks were presented over two days, with fully interactive Q&A among the participants at eight sites equipped with HD-video/audio, and streaming with real-time question submission through the Adobe Connect web interface.

The NAI has organized a session entitled "Integrating Astrobiology Research Across and Beyond the Community" at the upcoming 2010 Astrobiology Science Conference in League City, Texas. The purpose of this session is to stimulate new research collaborations across the astrobiology community and beyond by presenting broad nascent or ongoing collaborations as well as new collaborative opportunities. The session will be held on the last day of AbSciCon, Thursday, April 29, from 2:00 to 4:45pm. This session continues a process of integrating astrobiology research that lies at the heart of the NAI. A new phase of this process began in early 2009 when 10 new teams joined the Institute. The NAI Strategic Science Initiative Workshop - held May 13-15, 2009 in Tempe, AZ (see ) was a major milestone focused on developing new and expanded collaborations among NAI teams.