Astrobiology: June 2019 Archives

NASA's Dragonfly Will Fly Around Titan Looking for Origins, Signs of Life, NASA

"NASA has announced that our next destination in the solar system is the unique, richly organic world Titan. Advancing our search for the building blocks of life, the Dragonfly mission will fly multiple sorties to sample and examine sites around Saturn's icy moon. ... Titan is an analog to the very early Earth, and can provide clues to how life may have arisen on our planet. During its 2.7-year baseline mission, Dragonfly will explore diverse environments from organic dunes to the floor of an impact crater where liquid water and complex organic materials key to life once existed together for possibly tens of thousands of years. Its instruments will study how far prebiotic chemistry may have progressed. They also will investigate the moon's atmospheric and surface properties and its subsurface ocean and liquid reservoirs. Additionally, instruments will search for chemical evidence of past or extant life. ... "With the Dragonfly mission, NASA will once again do what no one else can do," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. "Visiting this mysterious ocean world could revolutionize what we know about life in the universe. ... evidence of past liquid water, organics - the complex molecules that contain carbon, combined with hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen - and energy, which together make up the recipe for life. ... Dragonfly will visit a world filled ith a wide variety of organic compounds, which are the building blocks of life and could teach us about the origin of life itself." ... The moon's weather and surface processes have combined complex organics, energy, and water similar to those that may have sparked life on our planet. ... and exploring a near-Earth asteroid for the building blocks of life," said Lori Glaze, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division."

Keith's note: Look at these multiple references to one of the prime tasks of Dragonfly - to search for organic compounds on Titan due to their relevance to the possibility of life. Once again, for those of you who have not been paying attention: NASA has an astrobiology program and this is what it does. I was in the auditorium at the Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon) in Seattle when this was announced. A loud cheer went up (see video below). With all this blatant relevance to topics key to Astrobiology and broad enthusiasm for the mission from the Astrobiology community you'd think that NASA SMD and NASA PAO would use the word "astrobiology" at least once or link to the NASA Astrobiology program webpage. Guess again. Alana Johnson from PAO is listed as a contact on this press release. She attended the entire Astrobiology Science Conference. Either she was not paying attention to the topic of the meeting or she had no influence on the wording of this press release.

NASA complains that people do not understand the scope and breadth of its programs. Small wonder when NASA so effectively and deliberately ignores some of its own programs the way that it ignores "Astrobiology".

- NASA Leads The World In Astrobiology. Wow, Who Knew?, earlier post
- NASA Can't Figure Out What Astrobiology Is - Or Who Does It, earlier post
- NASA Is Incapable Of Explaining How It Does Astrobiology, earlier post
- NASA's Astrobiology Program Works Hard To Ignore Itself, earlier post
- NASA's Astrobiology Programs Ignore One Another, earlier post
- NASA Leads In Astrobiology. It Needs To Act That Way., earlier post

Curiosity Detects Unusually High Methane Levels On Mars

"This week, NASA's Curiosity Mars rover found a surprising result: the largest amount of methane ever measured during the mission -- about 21 parts per billion units by volume (ppbv). One ppbv means that if you take a volume of air on Mars, one billionth of the volume of air is methane. The finding came from the rover's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) tunable laser spectrometer. It's exciting because microbial life is an important source of methane on Earth, but methane can also be created through interactions between rocks and water."

Keith's note: This story on detection of Methane on Mars - a possible biosignature - has been featured on thousands of websites. By coincidence NASA is hosting the largest meeting of Astrobiologists on Earth. I'm attending it. You'd think that NASA PAO would want to link - and then promote - the visibility and synergy of these two events. Guess again. No mention at NASA.gov or NASA's Main Science page.

Look at the official NASA online feature about detection of Methane on Mars - a potentially significant biosignature - the sort of thing NASA Astrobiology program worries about. But does it mention/link to NASA's Astrobiology Program? Of course not.

NASA Can't Figure Out What Astrobiology Is - Or Who Does It, earlier post

"If you go to the main NASA science page (which makes no mention of "Astrobiology") and use the search function to search for "astrobiology" you get a search results page that says "no results found" but has some old Astrobiology press releases from 2008."

Keith's note: If you visit the NASA Mars 2020 website and go to the Science page it talks about the mission's strategy as being to "Seek Signs of Life" on Mars. That is what NASA's Astrobiology program does, right? Alas, this JPL website does not use the word "astrobiology" - anywhere. Not even in the Instruments page. Nor does this other JPL website on the mission.

Oddly If you go to the NASA Mars Exploration Program page on science there is a link to "Astrobiology" which refers to Mars 2020. If you go to the NASA Astrobiology page on Mars 2020 it describes the Mars 2020 mission as a mission with lots of Astrobiology on it.

If you go to the main NASA science page (which makes no mention of "Astrobiology") and use the search function to search for "astrobiology" you get a search results page that says "no results found" but has some old Astrobiology press releases from 2008.

Oh yes the NASA Mars 2020 website has two different addresses: https://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/mars2020/ and https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/. Then there is another Mars 2020 webpage at NASA HQ which does not point to either of these web links but points to yet another Mars 2020 page at NASA HQ instead.

Why are these parts of NASA incapable of presenting a common description of this mission and/or its relevance to Astrobiology?

- Overhauling NASA's Tangled Internet Presence, earlier post
- NASA's Semi-Stealth Astrobiology Mission, earlier post
- Dueling NASA Websites Update, earlier post
- NASA's Astrobiology Programs Ignore One Another, earlier post

Breakthrough Watch and European Southern Observatory Achieve First Light on Upgraded Planet-finding Instrument

"Pete Worden, Executive Director of the Breakthrough Initiatives, said: "We're delighted to collaborate with the ESO in designing, building, installing and now using this innovative new instrument. If there are Earth-like planets around Alpha Centauri A and B, that's huge news for everyone on our planet." "ESO is glad to bring its expertise, existing infrastructure, and observing time on the Very Large Telescope to the NEAR project," commented ESO project manager Robin Arsenault. "This is a valuable opportunity, as -- in addition to its own science goals -- the NEAR experiment is also a path-finder for future planet-hunting instruments for the upcoming Extremely Large Telescope, " says Markus Kasper, ESO's lead scientist for NEAR. "NEAR is the first and (currently) only project that could directly image a habitable exoplanet. It marks an important milestone. Fingers crossed - we are hoping a large habitable planet is orbiting Alpha Cen A or B" commented Olivier Guyon, lead scientist for Breakthrough Watch. "Human beings are natural explorers," said Yuri Milner, founder of the Breakthrough Initiatives, "It is time we found out what lies beyond the next valley. This telescope will let us gaze across."


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This page is an archive of entries in the Astrobiology category from June 2019.

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