Early Habitable Environments and the Evolution of Complexity Principal Investigator - David J. Des Marais

AMES TEAM NEWS AND HIGHLIGHTS



THE SEARCH FOR OTHER EARTHS
- An Evening Dialogue with the NASA Kepler Mission Leaders -

The Search for Other Earths The Search for Other Earths Tori Hoehler was a featured speaker at Lawrence Hall of Science Auditorium on Thursday, July 18, 2013. This program was for science educators, science students, and the general public.

With almost 3000 planet candidates discovered by Kepler since its launch in 2009, at no other time in history has the possibility of finding an Earth-like planet been so within our reach. Attendees learned about the groundbreaking hunt for exoplanets and its implications for the search for life elsewhere.



CASSINI SEES PRECURSORS TO AEROSOL "SNOW" ON TITAN

Casini Titan AtmosphereCollaborating with a group of Spanish Astronomers, Ames Team members Christiaan Boersma and Lou Allamandola found strong evidence for the presence of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) molecules in the atmosphere of Saturn's largest moon, Titan. Utilizing the wealth of PAH spectra available in the NASA Ames PAH IR Spectroscopic Database, they analyzed data obtained by NASA's spacecraft Cassini.

Long time a mystery, the haze making up Titan's atmosphere can finally be attributed to PAHs. Focussing on the 3 micron region, dominated by a strong methane feature, the team found unexplained substructure. After careful subtraction of the methane emission, a residual component peaking at 3.28 micron remained - indicative for the presence of aromatic material.

Turning to the NASA Ames PAH IR Spectroscopic Database and after taking appropriate solar illumination into account, a blind computational analyzes was able to reproduce the observed emission feature and provide additional insight into the molecular properties of the emitting PAH mixture.

Titan is considered an early Earth analog and as such the presence of PAHs might provide important insight into the chemistry of the formation of life on our own planet.

The Spanish led group published their results in a paper that recently appeared in The Astrophysical Journal. Simultaneously, the European Space Agency and NASA issued a press release highlighting the results.



MARS IN 3D - Images from the Viking Mission

Mars in 3D NASA's twin Viking 1 and 2 spacecraft orbited, landed and collected breathtaking imagery of the Martian landscape between 1976 and 1979. Following the completion of the mission, 3D imagery from the orbiters and landers was transformed into a stereoscopic dual-16mm film by the late Dr. Elliott Levinthal of Stanford University, a member of the Viking imaging team.

The Mars in 3D Project was the committed effort to restore the film and its soundtrack to modern high-definition digital video and audio. Now, more than thirty years after its debut—the soundtrack to footage of the red planet from the Viking missions—a historic piece of computer music, has been restored by its Stanford creators.

On Friday, June 14, 2013, the Century Cinema 16 theater in Mountain View, was filled with an audience of about 450 to watch a special midnight showing of a meticulously restored version of "Mars in 3D," and for just the second time in a public viewing, the soundtrack will be heard at the quality the composers intended.

Tori Hoehler was invited to speak at this special event. His talk was titled, "Postcards from a Neighbor World."

Visit the Stanford Magazine article Return to Mars for additional information or to order a copy of the DVD, Mars in 3D.



KIDS AND THEIR QUESTIONS

Amanda Cook visited Sedgwick Elementary School, in Cupertino, California, where she spoke with 96 third graders who were studying stars, constellations, and Galileo. Using sequentially zoomed images of the Orion Nebula, Cook revealed to the students how a very small object in the sky can actually be something quite large. When showed just how big the Solar System is, in comparison to the Orion Nebula, the third graders were in awe. In addition, Cook talked about stellar winds blowing dust and gas into clumps that would soon form new stars.

Orion Nebula and how stars are born

The students asked many great questions after being introduced to the Mars Science Laboratory and O/OREOS spacecraft, and to the Galilean satellites: What is a supernova? How big is the constellation Pegasus? Why did NASA name a satellite after a cookie?



KEN STEDMAN RECEIVES BIOMED CENTRAL RESEARCH AWARD

Ken StedmanA novel virus genome discovered in an extreme environment suggests recombination between unrelated groups of RNA and DNA viruses, by Geoffrey S. Diemer and Ames Team member Kenneth M. Stedman, published in Biology Direct 2012, 7:13, has been awarded the 7th Annual BioMed Central Research Award. This prestigious award was given as part of a BioMed Central organized event at Experimental Biology. Ken commented on winning the award and said, "We're extremely honored at this award considering all of the wonderful research that is being published at BioMed Central."

BioMed Central's Annual Research Awards celebrate excellence in scientific research made freely available through open access publishing within a portfolio of over 250 scientific and medical journals. Nominations are open to the scientific community and the winning articles, selected by dedicated judging panels, are chosen for their innovation and high-quality execution and discussion. The awards also acknowledge outstanding individual or institutional efforts made to support open access to research, as well as researchers demonstrating leadership in data sharing.



OKLAHOMA HISTORICAL SOCIETY DOCUMENTARY TO FEATURE ANDY MATTIODA

Oklahomans in SpaceThe Oklahoma Historical Society interviewed Ames Team member Andy Mattioda for an upcoming documentary regarding Oklahomans and the Space Program. The program will highlight the contributions of NASA engineers, scientists, lawyers, astronauts and even NASA administrators, all with Oklahoma backgrounds. The documentary is being developed in conjunction with the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority as part of the Oklahomans and Space Educational Program and will air later this year. Additional educational material for the program can be found on the Oklahoma Historical Society website. The producer of the documentary, Bill Moore, has also published a book regarding Oklahoman's contributions to the space program. Andy Mattioda will be featured in the second edition of the book.



TORI HOEHLER INTERVIEWED FOR CBS NEWS SUNDAY MORNING SEGMENT, "...IS ANYBODY OUT THERE?"

Tori Hoehler in Greenhouse CBS News Video - Is Anybody Out There? The question "Is anybody out there?" grows more tantalizing with the discovery of each new far-off planet. Starry nights inspire wonder, and wondering: Is there life out there? (CBS News)

On April 28, 2013, CBS News Sunday Morning aired a segment titled "NASA's Kepler seeks to answer: Is anybody out there?" CBS News Correspondent Barry Petersen has been talking to scientists searching for clues.

As part of this segment, Petersen interviewed Ames Team member Tori Hoehler about his research on the simple types of life he imagines we might expect to find on planets light years away. In his greenhouse at NASA Ames Research Center, Tori showed Petersen his "window back in time" and explained that we had a microbial planet for probably more than two billion years, and if you wanted to put a picture in your head of what that might look like, this is it. As for what kind of life that may be out there, he says look to Earth and its extremes. Hoehler says organisms have been found in the hot springs of Yellowstone, which reach a pH close to battery acid. "Remarkable capabilities of these sorts of organisms," he said.

To see this CBS News Sunday segment in its entirety, click the picture or the link above. To see Tori Hoehler's interview in the video, scroll to the 3:23 point of this 5 minute video.



NOW I WANT TO BE A SCIENTIST WHEN I GROW UP!

Tori Hoehler - Student Letter 1 Tori Hoehler - Student Letter 1 Tori Hoehler was the featured speaker for his son's second grade class at Benjamin Bubb Elementary School in Mountain View, California. The focus of his talk was "rocks." He explained to the students that the study of geology is like any other language — that every rock tells a story and they need to learn how to read it.

Following his talk, Tori received a stack of "thank you" letters from the students; two are featured here (click on the letters and drawing to view full-size). These letters certainly bring to light the value of NASA scientists interacting with kids!

As a geochemist and microbial ecologist, Tori Hoehler is the Lead Co-Investigator of the Ames Team's study of Mineralogical Traces of Early Habitable Environments.

Tori Hoehler - Student Letter 2 Tori Hoehler - Student Letter 2 Tori Hoehler - Student Letter 2 Drawing



CHEMIN FEATURED AT ANNUAL CALIFORNIA AEROSPACE EVENT AT STATE CAPITOL

Sanjoy Som at California Aerospace Week at State CapitolThe 2nd Annual California Aerospace event was held on March 12-13, 2013, at the State Capitol in Sacramento. This event is intended to educate state lawmakers about California's economically important aerospace industry.

Ames Team members Tori Hoehler and Sanjoy Som attended this event to represent CheMin.  They set up and manned a CheMin booth, demonstrated X-ray diffraction analysis in real time, and discussed how mineralogy equates to habitability, with legislators and the general public alike.

Sanjoy explained to visitors the importance of investigating rocks on other planets because rocks hold clues to the environment they were formed in. He talked about a rock rich in the California state mineral "serpentine" and described what information lies within. Likewise, Mars scientists use different instruments on board the Mars Rover to reveal their secrets, thus turning the pages of Mars history through the information hidden in the rocks.



TEAM MEMBERS PRESENT RESEARCH AT NAI EXECUTIVE COUNCIL MEETING

Team members were invited to present their research at the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) Executive Council meeting held on January 17-18, 2013, at Ames Research Center.

Ames Team Member Speak at NAI Executive Council Meeting

Principal Investigator, Dave Des Marais, talked about the overall theme of the Ames Team research, "Early Habitable Environments and the Evolution of Complexity," and explained the four approaches to understanding the origins of life.

Lou Allamandola continued with his presentation, "Tracking Cosmic Carbon's Evolution from the Solar System Across the Universe." He explained how researchers are taking Astrochemistry and Astrobiology out of the lab and into space by integrating laboratory work with different spacecraft missions and concepts associated with organics in space and extraterrestrial samples.

Tori Hoehler focused on understanding the interplay between "Rocks and Life" and how this interaction contributes to habitability. He talked about optimizing the use of CheMin as a tool for characterizing the habitability of Mars. Tori further expanded on the Coast Range Ophiolite Microbial Observatory (also know as The McLaughlin Drilling Project) and the Josephine Ophiolite Project which provides a natural lab for understanding mineral-based constraints on water, energy, temperature, pH (mineralogy -- habitability).

Andrew Pohorille explained that proteins are the main functional molecules of contemporary cells in his presentation, "How Proteins Became Functional." He continued the discussion talking about the search for understanding the puzzle of the origins of protein function.

Sandy Davis talked about "Solar System Evolution," and the research within his group. Jack Lissauer continued by giving an overview of NASA's Kepler Mission. He also discussed the simulations of delivery of water to terrestrial planets.

To learn more about the important work being done by the Ames Team, please visit the Research section of this website.

Click on the individual titles to view any of the above mentioned talks in full.



DAVE BLAKE - A STAR IN LASSEN'S FILM FESTIVAL

Dave Blake - CheMinThe Ames Team was invited to participate in Lassen Volcanic National Park's Second Annual Winter Film Festival on January 19-20, 2013.

At the request of the Lassen Park Superintendent, EPO provided two NASA films for public viewing: "Destination Innovation -- CheMin," starring Dave Blake, and the "Space Shuttle," narrated by William Shatner.



NIKI PARENTEAU AND LINDA JAHNKE WIN 2013 SCIENCE INNOVATION FUND AWARD

Niki ParenteauLinda JahnkeCongratulations to Niki Parenteau and Linda Jahnke for receiving a 2013 Science Innovation Fund (SIF) Award for their Astrobiology proposal "Coupling CheMin Mineralogical Analyses to the Preservation of Organics in Deposits Analogous to Ones Found on Mars." This project aims to leverage strengths at Ames Research Center, namely in situ mineralogical analyses using CheMin by Dave Blake, and traditional GC-MS analyses of lipids by Niki Parenteau and Linda Jahnke, in assessing the organic carbon preservation potential of phyllosilicates, sulfates, iron oxides, and amorphous silica at Lassen Volcanic National Park and Yellowstone National Park. Ames Team members Dave Des Marais and Tori Hoehler are also Co-Investigators.

The Science Mission Directorate (SMD) at NASA-HQ provided funding for this year's SIF. Of the 35 proposals submitted, 9 were selected. The SIF program is administered by the agency's Office of Chief Scientist, and was established to encourage early stage scientific research activities that are aligned with NASA's strategic goals and objectives.



KOREAN SCIENCE DOCUMENTARY FEATURES NIKI PARENTEAU IN YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK

The Korean Broadcasting Service (KBS) was in Yellowstone National Park to film a science documentary entitled, "Odyssey to Life Beyond Earth." Ames Team member Niki Parenteau was featured studying the microbes that live in extreme environments in Yellowstone. Her research focuses on characterizing not only how these microbes survive, but how they become fossilized or preserved in the mineral deposits at the hot springs, with particular focus on the preservation of organic compounds such as lipid biomarkers. Studies of analog sites on Earth are relevant to the detection of the presence of past microbial life on Mars.

Niki Parenteau working with Korean Broadcasing Service to film science documentary in Yellowstone.KBS was in the United States to cover the landing of the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover as well. Also featured was the field-based version of the CheMin instrument, part of the payload of Curiosity designed to characterize the chemistry and mineralogy of geological samples on Mars. Ames Team member Dave Blake invented CheMin, and is the PI for the Curiosity CheMin team. Dave Des Marais and Tori Hoehler are members of the CheMin team.

The project was developed to highlight the launch of the Korean NARO rocket, and the entrance of Korea as a nation into space exploration. KBS's goal is to educate their viewership regarding space exploration, and the science that supports that endeavor. The documentary, airing in November 2012, will be viewed by approximately 7 million people.



Time Magazine CoverTIME MAGAZINE NAMES LOU ALLAMANDOLA
                          as one of the
"25 MOST INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE IN SPACE"

TIME magazine's article, The 25 Most Influential People In Space, by David Bjerklie and the Editors of TIME, begins, "As the frontiers of space expand... so do the opportunities for its explorers. Here's an array of the most brilliant."

Congratulations to Lou Allamandola for receiving this extraordinary recognition, and for his contributions to changing our understanding of the Universe, our place in it, and the possibility of life "out there!"

Lou Allamandola, Cosmic Chemist and founder of the NASA Ames Astrochemistry Laboratory, is also is a member of the NASA Astrobiology Institute Ames Research Center Team.



EDUCATION AND PUBLIC OUTREACH IN RURAL COMMUNITIES

Niki ParenteauAmes Team member Niki Parenteau participated in a series of Education and Public Outreach presentations and demonstrations in rural, low income communities. Many of these communities are under-recognized and under-served in terms of science education, and typically are not exposed to the same STEM recruitment and retention efforts that urban, suburban, and even inner city communities are.

Niki gave a talk in Sandpoint and Priest River, Idaho, to highlight the successful landing of the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover the day after it touched down. Niki ParenteauShe also gave a demonstration of the CheMin instrument, which is part of Curiosity's payload. To increase general science literacy and inform the communities of space exploration efforts by NASA, a variety of educational internship opportunities were also presented. Students in attendance had never been exposed to such opportunities, and this recruitment effort endeavored to introduce and expand their participation in these programs. So far 1,100+ students have attended these presentations.



O/OREOS SEVO ARTICLE FEATURED IN ASTROBIOLOGY

Astrobiology Cover Astrobiology The O/OREOS Mission: First Science Data from the Space Environment Viability of Organics (SEVO) Payload, was selected as one of the "Featured Articles" in the latest issue of Astrobiology.

Congratulations to Ames Team members Andy Mattioda, Amanda Cook, Nathan Bramall, and Lou Allamandola who are among the contributing authors of this important publication.

Astrobiology is the leading peer-reviewed journal advancing our understanding of life's origin, evolution, and distribution in the universe.





LOU ALLAMANDOLA AWARDED 2012 EXCEPTIONAL SCIENTIFIC ACHIEVEMENT MEDAL

Lou AllamandolaCongratulations to Lou Allamandola who was awarded the Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal at the 2012 Presidential Rank and NASA Honor Awards Ceremony at Ames Research Center on August 22, 2012.

NASA's most prestigious honor awards are approved by the Administrator and presented to a number of carefully selected individuals who have distinguished themselves by making outstanding contributions to the Agency's mission.

The Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal is given for individual efforts that have resulted in a key scientific discovery or resulted in contribution(s) of fundamental importance in this field or significantly enhanced understanding of the field. Scientific contributions typically result from reasoned investigations or studies of phenomena using collected data and observations, current scientific theories and formulae, and the scientific method and/or other formal techniques, to attain enduring principles.



DAVE DES MARAIS NAMED 2012 ALFRED TREIBS MEDALIST

Dave Des Marais - 2012 Alfred Treibs MedalistCongratulations to Dave Des Marais for receiving the 2012 Alfred Treibs Award from the Organic Geochemistry Division of the Geochemical Society for major achievements, over a period of years, in organic geochemistry. The award was presented at the August 2012 Gordon Research Conference held in New Hampshire.

Alfred Treibs MedalAlfred Treibs (1899-1983) mentored 32 students and published about 140 papers. His legacy consists of his classic papers on porphyrins as the starting point of Organic Geochemistry, the current Treibs Award of the Geochemical Society, and his broad chemical knowledge and modesty in intereacting with his fellow scientists.



SCIENCE CHANNEL'S "THROUGH THE WORMHOLE" TAKES A RIDE ON SANTA CRUZ BOARDWALK'S BUMPER CARS FOR FUTURE EPISODE

A Science Channel TV crew along with Ames Team member and UCSC Astronomy Professor Greg Laughlin used the Speed Bump ride as a visual analogy to illustrate the concept of gravity assist in outer space.

The crew approached Laughlin and the Santa Cruz Boardwalk to shoot an episode of "Through the Wormhole." Hosted by Morgan Freeman, the series explores scientific questions. The episode, titled "Can we outlive the sun?" is expected to air in the show's fourth season in 2013.

Greg Laughlin at Santa Cruz Boardwalk

"In billions of years, the sun will get so bright and luminous that life on Earth will be in big trouble," Laughlin said. To preserve life forms, humans would have to find a way for Earth to move away from the sun by expanding the orbit, Laughlin said. That's where asteroids, gravity and the Boardwalk's bumper cars come in. "You could cause our planet to slowly expand its orbit by having asteroids flying by the Earth hundreds of thousands of times," Laughlin said. "This is what I'm showing when I'm driving around our little Earth with my magnet."

Using a metal reproduction of the Earth, a yellow beach ball for the sun and a red magnet, Laughlin and camera operators rode bumper cars, circling their miniature solar system to mimic asteroids.
"That is the heart of all this: working with scientists like Greg on a visual that's both accurate and attractive to a mass audience," director Savas Georgalis said.

Read more...

Visit the Science Channel's Through the Wormhole website.



VIRUS ECOLOGY: IMPLICATION FOR PRESERVATION WITHIN THE MICROBIAL RECORD

Chlorella cell with PBCV1 particlesThe preservation potential of viruses within the microbial record has undergone limited investigation despite viruses being the most abundant biological entities on Earth. Their small size and absence of a metabolism has led to the hypothesis that they lack unique biological signatures, and the potential to become preserved. In order to establish a baseline for research on virus biosignatures, we have initiated laboratory research on known lipid-containing lytic viruses. PRD1 is ~65nm in diameter and replicates in Salmonella typhimurium LT2. PBCV1 is 190nm in diameter and replicates in freshwater Chlorella NC64A. 400 ppm silica solution (final concentration) was added to the respective virus stocks and was sampled over the course of one year. Control microcosms of virus without silica, host only, and host plus virus in the presence and absence of silica were also sampled. Samples were collected immediately after silica addition then periodically up to one year.

Read more...



TRAILSIDE SIGNS TARGET ASTROBIOLOGY IN LASSEN VOLCANIC NATIONAL PARK

The first NASA astrobiology-themed trailside sign was installed this year in Lassen Volcanic National Park in California. The Ames Team, in partnership with Lassen Volcanic National Park and Lockheed Martin, is creating a series of four astrobiology-themed trailside signs to further engage national park visitors in exploration and scientific discovery.Sulphur Works Trailside Sign - Lassen Sulphur Works Trailside Sign - Lassen Volcanic National Park The first sign, "Sulphur Works," was completed in May 2012. The three remaining signs are in draft stages, with completion dates scheduled for summer 2013. These interpretative signs will be installed at locations in the volcanic national park that best illustrate the most compelling aspects of astrobiology research. Lassen has hydrothermal features similar to systems that once existed on ancient Mars. The signs allow the public to interpret and understand microbiology and their importance to planetary environments. Trailside signs have been shown to be particularly effective tools for doing interpretation and outreach, and impacting the public's attitude toward science.



SEVO GROUND CONTROL EXPERIMENTS BEGIN IN THE NEW ASTROCHEMISTRY SPACE EXPOSURE FACILITY

Researchers involved with the SEVO (Space Environment Viability of Organics) mission aboard the O/OREOS (Organism/Organics Exposure to Orbital Stresses) spacecraft initiated the ground control experiments in the new Astrochemistry Space Exposure Facility (ASEF) on May 14, 2012. This new facility permits samples to be exposed to Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation equivalent to solar exposure at 1 AU, in an inert, argon filled environment. Construction of the new facility enlisted the efforts of the Astrochemistry Laboratory, Airborne Instrument Development Laboratory, SEVO science team and engineers from the small satellite group to ensure the new facility mimicked the UV radiation environment encountered by the O/OREOS spacecraft's orbital and rotational periods. Exposure of the SEVO ground control samples in ASEF should aid in differentiating between UV and other space radiation (i.e. X-rays, cosmic rays, etc.) effects upon the SEVO flight samples. Once the 6 month SEVO ground control studies are completed, the new facility can be utilized in support of future missions such as OREOCUBE, scheduled for launch to the International Space Station in 2015, or future lunar, Near Earth Object, and studies regarding the UV initiated interaction of organics and minerals.

AESF - Amanda Cook The composite photo shows Dr. Amanda Cook, NPP postdoctoral fellow who was instrumental in developing the ASEF, standing in front of the newly commissioned facility. Proceeding clockwise in the photo, next is the O/OREOS space craft, the dual light sources of ASEF, a 300-watt xenon arc lamp, simulating most of the visible portion of solar radiation, and a Lyman α-emitting microwave-powered hydrogen discharge lamp for high energy UV photons. Multiple SEVO ground control samples are shown in the lower left corner, followed by a close up of the dual light sources focused onto the rotating sample stage. The upper right corner picture is of SEVO ground control samples undergoing exposure to the solar simulated light.



ORGANICS PROBABLY FORMED EASILY IN EARLY SOLAR SYSTEM

Complex organic compounds, including many important to life on Earth, were readily produced under conditions that likely prevailed in the primordial solar system. Scientists at the University of Chicago and NASA's Ames Research Center came to this conclusion after linking computer simulations to laboratory experiments. (Animation By Fred Ciesla)

Fred Ciesla, assistant professor in geophysical sciences at the University of Chicago, simulated the dynamics of the solar nebula, the cloud of gas and dust from which the sun and the planets formed. Although every dust particle within the nebula behaved differently, they all experienced the conditions needed for organics to form over a simulated million-year period.

"Whenever you make a new planetary system, these kinds of things should go on," said Scott Sandford, a space science researcher at NASA Ames. "This potential to make organics and then dump them on the surfaces of any planet you make is probably a universal process."

Although organic compounds are commonly found in meteorites and cometary samples, their origins presented a mystery. Ciesla and Sandford describe how the compounds possibly evolved in the March 29 edition of Science Express. However, how important a role these compounds may have played in giving rise to the origin of life remains poorly understood.

Read more...



NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO INTERVIEWS SANJOY SOM
- March 28, 2012

Raindrops In Rock: Clues To A Perplexing Paradox

By Richard Harris

Raindrops in RockThe late astronomer Carl Sagan presented this paradox to his colleagues: We know the sun was a lot fainter two billion years ago. So why wasn't the Earth frozen solid? We know it wasn't because there's plenty of evidence for warm seas and flowing water way back then. The question is still puzzling scientists. But new clues to that paradox come from an unlikely source: fossilized raindrops, from 2.7 billion years ago. Back then, the Earth had no trees or flowers or animals birds or fish. But it did have volcanoes. And it did rain. You can see evidence of that in a remarkable fossil, found in South Africa. It records an ancient downpour. "So it rained 2.7 billion years ago on volcanic ash," says scientist Sanjoy Som. "The ash was covered by a very thin but very resistant layer of ash, and all that was again covered by more volcanic ash." That ash turned to rock. And even today, you can still see the little rims around the small impact craters the raindrops created. "So they're flawlessly preserved, which is surprising for rocks that are that old." Som was getting his Ph.D. at the University of Washington, and his advisor suggested that Som examine those fossilized raindrops to see what he might learn about the ancient atmosphere. "Because I have background in aeronautical engineering I found that challenge super exciting and jumped on it," says Som, who is now at NASA's Ames Research Center.

Listen to Sanjoy Som's interview with NPR.

An article by Som about fossil raindrop imprints appears in the April issue of Nature -- Air density 2.7 billion years ago limited to less than twice modern levels by fossil raindrop imprints.

Read more...



A 21st CENTURY TOOL TO STUDY THE EVOLUTION OF COSMIC CARBON: The Ames PAH IR Spectroscopic Database

www.astrochem.org/pahdbInfrared emission from Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) shows they are omnipresent across the Universe and that they play key roles in astrochemistry, the formation of stars and planets, and possibly life itself. Since astronomical PAHs make up the most abundant reservoir of accessible cosmic carbon, they are very important to Astrobiology. The Ames PAH IR Spectroscopic Database, developed here over the past two decades, has been key to establishing the presence of PAHs in space and is now being developed into a new probe of astronomical environments spanning the Universe. This database is a large, coherent set of laboratory measured and DFT (Density Functional Theory) computed infrared spectra of PAHs from C10H8 to C130H28.

The database and tools we have developed are on the web at www.astrochem.org/pahdb.

Read more...



FOURTH GRADERS REQUEST "REAL" NASA SCIENTIST

Fourth graders at Farnham Elementary School in San Jose, CA put out a request for a REAL NASA scientist to visit with them and discuss landing sites on Mars. On February 3, 2012, the Ames team's Sanjoy Som was welcomed at Farnham by 70 students and three teachers. During his presentation, "Searching for Life," the students eagerly asked questions about Mars, landing sites for the Curiosity rover, and alien life.

Sanjoy Som at Farnham Elementary

The Farnham fourth graders are working on a science project called "Mars Landing Site Proposal," where they play the role of the geology mission specialist for the Mars Science Laboratory. There are four teams of four geologists. Each team is responsible for researching landing sites, supporting three proposed sites with evidence from their research and science knowledge of landforms, and presenting their proposals. In Som's presentation, he highlighted the geology of Mars and how landing sites are selected, all of which fed directly into the students' research.

Recently, the Ames team members reviewed the students' completed proposals and asked questions about the choices teams made, pointed out evidence that makes their cases stronger, and provided general comments.



CONSTRAINTS ON PROTOPLANETARY DISK LIFETIMES AND IMPLICATIONS FOR PLANET FORMATION

Giant planets form in circumstellar disks within the first tens of Myr after the protostar is formed. A key constraint governing the formation of gas and ice-giants versus terrestrial rocky planets is the timescale for gas clearing in a disk. An earlier sensitive search for gas emission lines in the infrared with Spitzer of 10--100 Myr old sun-like stars with small dust excess concluded that most of the gas has already dispersed, with too little left to form Jupiter-mass planets. Here we investigate whether young 10--100 Myr stars with debris disk systems still have enough remnant gas to form planets like Uranus and Neptune. Read more...



O/OREOS MAKES THE COVER OF ASTROBIOLOGY JOURNAL

Astrobiology Journal Cover featuring O/OREOSThe December 2011 issue of the Astrobiology Journal features the O/OREOS spacecraft on its cover with the initial science results of the Space Environment Survivability of Live Organisms (SESLO) experiment published inside.

SESLO is the microbiology experiment on the CubeSat designed to characterize the growth, activity, health and ability of microorganisms commonly found in soil and salt ponds to adapt to the stresses of outer space by rehydrating, or "feeding," the microbes, which were launched in a dried and dormant state, and growing them in orbit using liquid nutrients. Scientists will compare the microbes' population density and the medium's color change at three different times during the mission to determine how and if their behavior changes with longer exposure to radiation and weightless conditions in space.

Ames Team scientists Andrew Mattioda and Nathan Bramall prepared samples for the Space Environment Viability of Organics (SEVO) chemistry experiment aboard O/OREOS. It monitors the stability and changes in four classes of biologically important organic molecules as they are exposed to space conditions. The first results for the SEVO experiment will be published shortly.

The Small Spacecraft Division at NASA Ames Research Center manages the O/OREOS payload and mission operations with the professional support of staff and students from Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, California, in support of the Astrobiology Small Payloads program under the Planetary Science Division of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA's Headquarters in Washington. Read more....



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