Astrobiology: April 2017 Archives

Hearing: Advances in the Search for Life

Hearing charter

"The NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 established "The search for life's origin, evolution, distribution, and future in the universe," as one of the national space program's objectives. The hearing will survey recent breakthroughs in a variety of fields that contribute to astrobiology, such as the continued discovery of exoplanets and research efforts to understand life's origin on Earth and in the lab."

Comittee member statements: Rep. Babin, Rep. Johnson, Rep. Bera, Rep. Smith

Hearing witness statements: Thomas Zurbuchen, Adam Burgasser, James Kasting, Seth Shostak

Archived Webcast

Astrobiology Then and Now

Astrobiology Has Arrived: A Personal Recollection, Keith Cowing

"I am currently attending the Astrobiology Science Conference where the world's astrobiologists all meet to showcase their results and share ideas. There was a time, barely 20 years ago, when there were no astrobiologists. I was one of the lucky people to be present as this amazing 21st century discipline came into existence."

Keith's note: This coming week I will be at the Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon). As such my posting on NASAWatch will be somewhat limited. But Marc will be keeping an eye on things. I will be tweeting about the meeting from @NASAWatch and @Astrobiology and posting updates at AbSciCon Sessions will be streamed live at

Breakthrough Initiatives Summit on Life in the Universe and Space Exploration

"Breakthrough Initiatives today announced its second annual Breakthrough Discuss scientific conference, which will bring together leading astronomers, engineers, astrobiologists and astrophysicists to advance discussion surrounding recent discoveries of potentially habitable planets in nearby star systems. The two days of discussions will focus on newly discovered Earth-like 'exoplanets' in the Alpha Centauri and TRAPPIST-1 planetary systems, and new evidence that these planets could be habitable, as well as their potential as targets for novel methods of space exploration."

Breakthrough Discuss Opens with Lively Sessions Dedicated to the Search for Planets and Life in Our Cosmic Neighborhood, Breakthrough Initiatives

"Peter Michelson emphasized that the last century of scientific investigation has transformed questions about origins from the realm of metaphysics to a place where they can be investigated observationally."

Breakthrough Discuss Conference Closes with Full Day Dedicated to Newly Discovered Exoplanets and SETI, Breakthrough Initiatives

"Breakthrough Initiatives are a suite of scientific and technological programs exploring the big questions around life in the Universe, such as, Are we alone? What are the nearest habitable planets? And can we become an interstellar civilization?"

Keith's note: I had a few thoughts about this official Science March T-shirt design.

New Insights into Ocean Worlds Enceladus and Europa

"Two veteran NASA missions are providing new details about icy, ocean-bearing moons of Jupiter and Saturn, further heightening the scientific interest of these and other "ocean worlds" in our solar system and beyond. The findings are presented in papers published Thursday by researchers with NASA's Cassini mission to Saturn and Hubble Space Telescope. In the papers, Cassini scientists announce that a form of chemical energy that life can feed on appears to exist on Saturn's moon Enceladus, and Hubble researchers report additional evidence of plumes erupting from Jupiter's moon Europa."

Keith's note: correction - "Linda" who made the shrimp comment is not from PAO - she is Dr. Linda Spilker the Cassini Project Scientist. NASA gets all upset when newspapers start to make things up about these upcoming announcements - especially when they start speculating on all sorts of alien life forms that might be on the verge of being announced. NASA PAO constantly complains that they have to shoot down all of the loony speculation. Then someone at NASA starts asking about shrimp on Enceladus in an official capacity at a NASA press event.

Hydrothermal Activity in The Seas of Enceladus: Implications For Habitable Zones,

First posted on 11 April 2017 at 7:16 pm EDT. "On Thursday NASA will announce evidence that hydrothermal activity on the floor of an ice-covered ocean on Saturn's moon Enceladus is most likely creating methane from carbon dioxide. The process is indicative of possible habitable zones within the ocean of Enceladus. But before we go any further, "habitable" does not mean "inhabited". NASA bases this determination on the amount of hydrogen in plumes emanating from the moon's south pole. The large amount of hydrogen is strongly suggestive of a constant hydrothermal process wherein the ocean under the surface of Enceladus is interacting with rock and organic compounds. The amount of hydrogen present is in disequilibrium i.e. if there was not a process that was constantly generating hydrogen the observed hydrogen levels would likely be lower than what is seen. Something is pumping it out."

NASA News Conference on Oceans Beyond Earth, NASA

"NASA will discuss new results about ocean worlds in our solar system from the agency's Cassini spacecraft and the Hubble Space Telescope during a news briefing 11 a.m. PDT (2 p.m. EDT, 18:00 UTC) on Thursday, April 13. These new discoveries will help inform future ocean world exploration -- including NASA's upcoming Europa Clipper mission planned for launch in the 2020s -- and the broader search for life beyond Earth."

A revolution is brewing: observations of TRAPPIST-1 exoplanetary system fosters a new biomarker, physics.pop-ph

"One of the key questions that has arisen in recent times is the boundaries of the Habitable Zone, classically defined as the range of orbital distances in a stellar system where surface liquid water could be stable (Kasting et al. 1993). It is, however, seldom addressed how this concept might become obsolete in exoplanetary worlds where the priorities for living a good life are different than getting liquid water everywhere and at all times (Kim Kardashian, personal communication). A groundbreaking paper to that respect is the study by Kane and Zelsiz (2014) which demonstrated that the existing concepts about the Hab- itable Zone completely overlooked the risk posed by Zombie attacks."

Read the paper



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