Astrobiology: October 2010 Archives

Ancient Mars Looks Cozy

Silica on Mars Volcano Tells of Wet and Cozy Past

"Light-colored mounds of a mineral deposited on a volcanic cone more than three billion years ago may preserve evidence of one of the most recent habitable microenvironments on Mars. Observations by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter enabled researchers to identify the mineral as hydrated silica and to see its volcanic context. The mounds' composition and their location on the flanks of a volcanic cone provide the best evidence yet found on Mars for an intact deposit from a hydrothermal environment -- a steam fumarole, or hot spring. Such environments may have provided habitats for some of Earth's earliest life forms."

NASA Survey Suggests Earth-Sized Planets Are Common

"Nearly one in four stars similar to the sun may host planets as small as Earth, according to a new study funded by NASA and the University of California. The study is the most extensive and sensitive planetary census of its kind. Astronomers used the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii for five years to search 166 sun-like stars near our solar system for planets of various sizes, ranging from three to 1,000 times the mass of Earth. All of the planets in the study orbit close to their stars. The results show more small planets than large ones, indicating small planets are more prevalent in our Milky Way galaxy."

Surface Water Found On Mars?

NASA's Mars Rover Spirit Finds Evidence of Subsurface Water

"The ground where NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit became stuck last year holds evidence that water, perhaps as snow melt, trickled into the subsurface fairly recently and on a continuing basis. Researchers took advantage of Spirit's months at Troy last year to examine in great detail soil layers the wheels had exposed, and also neighboring surfaces. Spirit made 13 inches of progress in its last 10 backward drives before energy levels fell too low for further driving in February. Those drives exposed a new area of soil for possible examination if Spirit does awaken and its robotic arm is still usable."


Seeking Signs of Life: A Symposium Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of NASA's Exo/Astrobiology Program

"NASA's Astrobiology Program addresses three fundamental questions: How does life begin and evolve? Is there life beyond Earth, and if so, how can we detect it? What is the future of life on Earth and in the universe? Experts in a range of relevant disciplines will engage in an exciting day of discussions . . . . Are we alone? Confirmed speakers include Baruch S. Blumberg, The Honorable Daniel S. Goldin, David Grinspoon, Noel Hinners, James Lovelock, Lynn Margulis, and Steve Squyres."


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