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

AMES TEAM NEWS AND HIGHLIGHTS
--- Archives: 2011, 2010, 2009 ---



NASA INVITES MEDIA TO MARS SCIENCE LECTURES

News media were invited to hear NASA Ames Team scientist David Blake give a free public lecture about Mars and NASA's mission to Mars--the Mars Science Laboratory--on November 17, 2011, in the NASA Ames Exploration Center, Moffett Field, California. Blake is the Principal Investigator for the CheMin (short for "Chemistry and Mineralogy") instrument aboard the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL). Scientists will use CheMin to search for mineral clues indicative of a past Martian environment that might have supported life. The instrument uses X-ray diffraction, a first for a mission to the Red Planet, and a more definitive method to identify minerals than any other instrument on previous Mars missions.

MSL LaunchOn November 19, 2011, NASA Ames Team Principal Investigator, David Des Marais, shared insights about Mars--what we know now and what we expect to learn from the MSL mission--during a free public lecture in the NASA Ames Exploration Center. Des Marais is a senior space scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center and is currently a member of the MSL science team.

News media were also invited to observe a live televised broadcast as Curiosity, NASA's next Mars rover, lifted off for the Red Planet at 7:25 a.m. PST Friday, November 25, 2011, in the Exploration Center at NASA's Ames Research Center. The launch was preceded with brief comments from NASA Ames Team scientist Tori Hoehler, who shared information about the upcoming mission.

To view the launch visit: Atlas V Lifts Off with MSL.

For more information visit: Mars Science Laboratory.




NATIONAL SACNAS CONFERENCE HELD IN SAN JOSE, CA

Ames Team members from the Astrochemistry laboratory hosted two workshops at the National SACNAS Conference held in San Jose, California, October 27-30, 2011. SACNAS is devoted to Advancing Hispanics, Chicanos and Native Americans in Science. The speakers discussed their diverse backgrounds, how they came into the science field as well as the current NASA missions they are involved with at NASA Ames Research Center.

Andrew MattiodaLou AllamandolaAndrew Mattioda (left) explains to the students how large organic molecules are present not only in our galaxy, but other galaxies as well and how scientists use spectroscopy to identify them.

Lou Allamandola (right) demonstrates to a group of SACNAS students how the luminescent properties of organic molecules, found in space, can be used to identify life on other planets.



LOU ALLAMANDOLA SELECTED AS 2011 AMES FELLOW

Lou AllamandolaThe Ames Fellow Program is designed to identify and acknowledge a very small number of Ames Research Center employees for their international reputation of scientific or engineering excellence, and their contributions to NASA and our research center. The rank of fellow is the highest recognition that Ames Research Center can bestow upon one of its own employees. Lou Allamandola was one of two scientists selected from five world class scientists nominated for this honor in the recent call issued. A senior review team, lead by the Ames Chief Scientist, carefully evaluated and ranked each distinguished candidate. As a result of this honor Lou will receive $30K in research funds for five years and an oil portrait will be commissioned and hung in Building 200 at Ames Research Center.

Lou Allamandola is an internationally acclaimed scientist whose work in support of NASA missions and programs has revolutionized our understanding of interstellar materials. He is a pioneer in laboratory astrophysics having developed the techniques by which to study materials in the laboratory under realistic interstellar and interplanetary conditions. Dr. Allamandola was among the first to hypothesize that infrared emission from a population of vibrationally excited, gas-phase Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) could account for the so-called discrete infrared emission bands. The emission of PAH molecules is now widely used as a probe of physical and chemical conditions throughout our galaxy and local Universe. His work on PAHs has had no less than a profound effect on astrophysics. He has also made fundamental contributions to NASA space science missions, as well as mentoring the next generation of space scientists.



THE SEARCH FOR MUD VOLCANOES ON MARS
- Presented by Evergreen Middle School Students

Evergreen StudentsThirty-three 7th and 8th graders from Evergreen Middle School students from rural Cottonwood, California, visited Ames Research Center on May 26, 2011, to present results of their research in a talk entitled, "The Search for Mud Volcanoes on Mars and the Possibility of Extremophiles." The students conducted their research using the THEMIS and HiRISE camera, acquiring 24 Mars images. They have also participated in 40 NASA Distance Learning events.

Last year these hard-working students discovered a lava tube on Mars, and after presenting their results at Ames were interviewed by ABC and CBS news.

Evergreen Middle School is the feeder school to Red Bluff High School, the home of the Ames Team Lassen Astrobiology Student Intern Program.



AMES TEAM SCIENTISTS HIGHLIGHTED IN KQED QUEST EPISODE

David Blake and KQED film crewAmes team scientists David Blake and Tori Hoehler were featured in a KQED Quest episode, "Searching for life on Mars" which aired on May 4, 2011. The episode highlighted Ames involvement in NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission, which will be launched in November, 2011 and will rove the Mars surface for two years starting in August, 2012.

David Blake is the inventor and Principal Investigator of the CheMin instrument, which will make quantitative measurements of the minerals present in Mars rocks and soil. Tori Hoehler is a collaborator on the CheMin investigation. Ames Team scientists Dave Des Marais and Michael Wilson are also involved in the MSL mission.



NEW AGU FELLOWS ELECTED

This Spring 2011, two Ames Team scientists were elected to the status of Fellow of the American Geophysical Union (AGU). To be elected a Fellow of AGU is a special tribute for those who have made exceptional scientific contributions. Nominated Fellows must have attained acknowledged eminence in the Earth and space sciences. This designation is conferred upon not more than 0.1% of all AGU members in any given year. New Fellows are chosen by a Committee of Fellows.

Kevin Zahnle


Dr. Kevin J. Zahnle

-- "For advancing understanding in how planetary-scale physical and chemical processes affect the evolution of planets and life on them."

 

 

Jack Lissauer


Dr. Jack J. Lissauer

-- "For advancing our understanding of planet formation, extrasolar planets, and planetary rings, using both theoretical and observational approaches."

 

 



ASTROCHEMISTRY LABORATORY HOSTS A YURI'S NIGHT BOOTH ON "SCOUTING FOR LIFE"

The Astrochemistry Laboratory hosted an informative, hands-on booth for Yuri's Education Day at NASA Ames Research Center on April 8, 2011. Ames Team members Christiaan Boersma, Nathan Bramall, Andrew Mattioda, Michel Nuevo, Joe Roser and Scott Sandford demonstrated how scientists use spectroscopy or light in the search for life in the Universe.

Students were allowed hands-on access to several instrument concepts under development in the laboratory for Astrobiology missions. These concepts focus on Ultra-Violet (UV) induced fluorescence in astrobiologically interesting molecules, allowing them to be easily identified on either a planet's surface or in subsurface soils. After a short demonstration on fluorescence and spectroscopy, students used a remote controlled rover, equipped with a UV source and wireless camera, to move across a Mars landscape identifying signs of alien life. The visitor's were also given a peak below the surface of Mars via a UV fluorescence penetrometer system. Penetrometers are direct push instruments that allow scientific exploration of subsurface soils. Both instrument concepts proved to be extremely popular with the students, with most people waiting in line to see the rover move across the Martian landscape or to gain a glimpse of the possible life below the Martian surface.



ELLIS PARK ELEMENTARY SCHOOL STUDENTS EXPERIMENT WITH SOFIA'S INFRARED CAMERA

Andy Mattioda at Ellis Elementary SchoolOn April 15, 2011, Andrew Mattioda demonstrated the uses of infrared light to over one hundred 4th and 5th graders at the Ellis Park Elementary School in Sunnyvale, California. Using the SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) project's infrared camera the students were able to watch the heat flow in hot and cold glasses of water, look through a NASA plastic bag and modify their appearance in the infrared using ice cubes. Special thanks goes to Darlene V. Mendoza who helped coordinate the use of the SOFIA equipment for this demonstration.




NASA NANOSATELLITE O/OREOS CELEBRATES 100 DAYS IN SPACE STUDYING LIFE

What is about the size of a loaf of bread, weighs 12 pounds and has been in space for over 100 days? It's the nanosatellite O/OREOS (Organism/ORganics Exposure to Orbital Stresses), NASA's first Astrobiology Small Payloads (ASP) mission that launched into orbit on November 19, 2010. The mission seeks answers to fundamental astrobiology questions about the origin, evolution and distribution of life in the universe.

Nathan Bramall and Andy MattiodaO/OREOS is NASA's first "CubeSat" with two distinct, completely independent science experiments on a single satellite. It's also the first nanosatellite to conduct autonomous biological and chemical measurements in the region of space known as the exosphere.

According to Antonio Ricco, instrument scientist for O/OREOS and a researcher at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, "This is enabling us to study organics, microorganisms and astrobiology in the space environment in real time."

Read more...

 

 

(March 2011)



NASA AMES SCIENTISTS RELEASE UNIQUE COLLECTION OF INFRARED SPECTRA

Duplicating the harsh conditions of cold interstellar space in their laboratories and on their computers, NASA Astrobiology Institute Ames team scientists have created a unique database of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) spectra, which is primarily used to interpret mysterious infrared (IR) emission detected by ground, air and space-based observatories.

PAHs Database

The value of the NASA Ames PAH IR Spectral Database extends far beyond the immediate needs of NASA and the field of astronomy. The PAH spectral database has a large and diverse set of applications. PAHs are a major product of combustion -- they remain in the environment and are carcinogenic. Consequently, they are important to scientists, educators, policymakers and consultants working in the fields of medicine, health, chemistry, fuel composition, engine design, environmental assessment, environmental monitoring and protection. The PAH database is a new tool for people working in all these fields. Read more...

(August 2010)



EVERGREEN MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENTS PRESENT CAVE AND LAVA TUBE DISCOVERIES DURING VISIT TO AMES

Linda Jahnke with StudentsFor the third year in a row, students from Evergreen Middle School in Cottonwood, CA, visited the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) Ames team at NASA Ames Research Center to learn about astrobiology and to share the results of their THEMIS and HiRISE image analysis projects. This visit was an opportunity for the students to see firsthand the NASA mission connection to their project, and to expand their knowledge of job opportunities in the science, technology, engineering and math fields.

In the course of the students' day-long tour of Ames on May 30, 2010, they visited two of the NAI Ames team labs. Team member Linda Jahnke took the students to the rooftop greenhouse laboratory where they poked at microbial mats growing in saltwater baths. Jahnke explained that microbial mats are Earth's oldest biological communities and that by studying them, they could help us find life on other planets. Read more...



RESEARCH ON THE CHEMISTRY OF MOON ROCKS LEADS TO NASA CAREER

Dave Des Marais On February 18, 2010, the Ames Team conducted the second in a series of four distance-learning lectures with Hartshorne High School and the Choctaw Nation Jones Academy in Oklahoma. Using NASA's Digital Learning Network (DLN), planetary scientist Dave Des Marais spoke to students about his high school education and motivation, and his career at NASA. Des Marais has analyzed ancient rocks from Earth in order to understand what early environments were like and what might have been living there. He is now on the science team for the Mars Exploration Rovers.

To listen to Dave Des Marais' lecture, visit the Education and Public Outreach Digital Learning Network page.



MARILYN VOGEL USES DISTANCE-LEARNING TO CONNECT WITH MIDDLE SCHOOL AND HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS

Marilyn VogelMarilyn Vogel inspired and motivated middle and high school students across the country with her online seminar "What lives in Salt? (And why we care...)", on February 17, 2010. Vogel talked about how she got interested in science and how she became a scientist. She also discussed her research work studying salt on Mars.

To listen to Marilyn Vogel's seminar, visit the Education and Public Outreach Digital Learning Network page.



NASA AND THE NAVAJO NATION PROJECT

Navajo WorkshopOn January 28-29, 2010, the "NASA and the Navajo Nation" project team hosted a large-scale workshop for educators across the Navajo Nation. Over 100 teachers participated, despite the worst snowstorm in 25 years, some traveling hours through severe conditions. On the first day, the teachers heard background lectures from both a cultural expert and an astrobiologist, Scott Sandford from the NAI Ames Team (right). On the second day, the team trained teachers on classroom use of the six activities in the "Story of the Stars" booklet, intercultural materials developed by the project in 2006. Read more...



ANDREW MATTIODA INTRODUCES CHOCTAW NATION STUDENTS TO ASTROBIOLOGY

Andrew MattiodaOn January 21, 2010, the Ames Team conducted the first in a series of four distance learning lectures with the Hartshorne High School and the Choctaw Nation Jones Academy, in Hartshorne, Oklahoma. Using NASA's Digital Learning Network (DLN), Andrew Mattioda presented a seminar on "Astrochemistry and Astrobiology." The goal of this seminar series is to demonstrate career opportunities in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) areas to the Oklahoma students.

Read more...

To listen to Andy Mattioda's lecture, visit the Education and Public Outreach Digital Learning Network page.



KERRI CAHOY CHATS WITH STUDENTS VIA NASA'S DIGITAL LEARNING NETWORK

Kerri CahoyKerry Cahoy gave a Digital Learning Network presentation in January, 2010, "Exoplanets: How to take Pictures of Planets Around Other Stars."

To listen to Kerry's Cahoy's presentation, visit the Education and Public Outreach Digital Learning Network page.

 

 





LOU ALLAMANDOLA GIVES CHEMICAL EVOLUTION LECTURE AT SACRAMENTO VALLEY ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY MEETING

Lou AllamandolaLou Allamandola was the guest speaker for the Sacramento Valley Astronomical Society's general meeting on January 15, 2010, at Sacramento City College. The topic of Allamandola's discussion was "From Infrared Astrophysics to Astrobiology," and it focused on the chemical evolution of cosmic materials and their relevance to astrobiology.

Read more...




CARL SAGAN LECTURE PRESENTED BY TORI HOEHLER AT AGU

Tori HoehlerHow will we recognize life on other planets? Scientists don't yet know how to address this tricky question, but at the December 2009 meeting of the American Geophysical Union, biogeologist Tori Hoehler presented a different way of thinking about the answer when giving the Carl Sagan Lecture, Life at the Common Denominator: Mechanistic and Quantitative Biology for the Earth and Space Sciences.

Tori Hoehler's lecture can be seen on the AGU's website.

Read More...




MEET SCIENTISTS VIA NASA's DIGITAL LEARNING NETWORK

Tori Hoehler - Digital Learning NetworkDigital Learning Network presentations were made throughout the year by Ames Team members on various exciting areas of research. The most recent talks were given by Tori Hoehler, "Microbiology: Finding Life on Other Worlds", and Nathan Bramall, "Searching for Extreme Life in Ancient Ice". Learn more about these scientists and their research by visiting our Education and Public Outreach Digital Learning Network page.

(December 2009)



REPRODUCING A BUILDING BLOCK OF LIFE IN THE LABORATORY

NASA Ames astrobiologists studying the origin of life have reproduced uracil, a key component of our hereditary material, in the laboratory. They discovered that an ice sample containing pyrimidine exposed to ultraviolet radiation under space-like conditions produces this essential ingredient of life.

UracilPyrimidine is a ring-shaped molecule made up of carbon and nitrogen and is the basic structure for uracil, part of a genetic code found in ribonucleic acid (RNA). RNA is central to protein synthesis, but has many other roles.

"We have demonstrated for the first time that we can make uracil, a component of RNA, non-biologically in a laboratory under conditions found in space," said Michel Nuevo, research scientist on the NAI Ames Team. "We are showing that these laboratory processes, which simulate occurrences in outer space, can make a fundamental building block used by living organisms on Earth."    Read more...



NASA DAY CELEBRATED AT OHLONE COLLEGE

"Astrobiology: Looking for Life Elsewhere in the Universe," was the subject of a recent talk given by Colin Goldblatt during NASA Day at Ohlone College in Milpitas, CA. The 400-seat auditorium was filled to capacity and overflowed into the lobby with students and the general public who listened as Goldblatt discussed the following questions:

Goldblatt NASA/Ohlone PosterIs there life on other planets?

What would life be like and how would we go about finding it?

How does studying the Earth help us answer these questions?

Goldblatt is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Chemistry and Climate of a Prebiotic Atmosphere Group of the NAI Ames Team. His research focuses on the evolution of oxygen and nitrogen in Earth's atmosphere and long-term climate change. He has been involved in Antarctic oceanography, evaluating a proposed 'geoengineering' solution to climate change, and evaluating the accuracy of a model for the strength of the greenhouse effect used in a climate model. Goldblatt completed his Ph.D. in the Earth System Modeling group in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom.



(October 2009)



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