COEL ExtRev

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Published on January 16, 2008

Author: Silvestre

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NAI External Review:  NAI External Review Chartered by ARC Director, Scott Hubbard Facilitated by the Astrobiology Strategic Analysis and Support Office Chaired by Charles Kennel Director, Scripps Institution of Oceanography Chair, NASA Advisory Council Charter The scope of the review will not include NASA’s Astrobiology program per se, the scientific content and objectives of the NASA Astrobiology Roadmap, nor the performance of individual NAI teams. …the Review Committee is asked to evaluate the institutional performance of the NAI, which is given direction through its internally-developed mission statement NAI External Review:  NAI External Review In its evaluation of NAI’s institutional performance, the Review Committee is also requested to address the following Broad Questions Has the NAI developed, as envisioned, as an evolving experiment in cutting-edge, distributed, collaborative science and education in astrobiology? Are the research, training, and public educational activities of the NAI appropriately balanced in terms of investments and outcomes, services to internal members and external partners, and activities that engage and support the wider astrobiology community and the needs of young professionals? How effective are the current management approach and structure of the NAI, how can they be improved, and how can they be made more appropriately responsive to changing needs? What other activities/roles not currently undertaken by the NAI might be appropriate in future? Science Accomplishments:  Science Accomplishments Astrobiology: The Study of the Living Universe Christopher Chyba and Kevin Hand of the NAI’s SETI Institute Team published in the Annual Reviews of Astronomy and Astrophysics (ARAA) on the habitability of the Galaxy in general and of planets and moons in particular, and summarize current controversies in origins-of-life research and in evidence for the earliest life on Earth. Chyba, C.F. & Hand, K.P. (2005). ASTROBIOLOGY: The Study of the Living Universe. Annual Review of Astronomy & Astrophysics. Dust Around an Old Star? Investigators from NAI's UCLA Team observed dust orbiting an old, relatively dead star, GD 362, and their results have been accepted for publications in the Astrophysical Journal. This enigmatic observation could form the basis for predictions about the end of our own solar system. E.E. Becklin, J. Farihi, M. Jura, Inseok Song, A. J. Weinberger, B. Zuckerman. (2005) A Dusty Disk Around GD 362, a White Dwarf With a Uniquely High Photospheric Metal Abundance. Astrophysical Journal in press. Preparing for TPF: Disk-Averaged Synthetic Spectra of Mars Giovanna Tinetti et al of NAI's Virtual Planetary Laboratory Team published a study using their model of a Mars-like planet to ascertain the detectability of a planet’s surface and atmospheric properties from disk-averaged spectra. Tinetti, G., Meadows, V., Crisp, D., Fong, W., Velusamy, T. & Snively, H. (2005). Disk Averaged Synthetic Spectra of Mars. Astrobiology, 5(4). Shark Bay Stromatolites Revealed Members of NAI's University of Colorado Team published a study of the composition and structure of the Shark Bay stromatolites in Applied and Environmental Microbiology. Their rRNA studies revealed the most abundant sequences representing novel proteobacteria, with a surprising less than 5% representing cyanobacteria. Papineau, D., Walker, J.J., Mojzsis, S.J. & Pace, N.R (2005). Composition and structure of microbial communities from stromatolites of Hamelin Pool in Shark Bay, Western Australia. Appl. Environ. Microbio., 71. Science Accomplishments:  Science Accomplishments Hydrogen and Bioenergetics in the Yellowstone Geothermal Ecosystem, New studies from NAI's University of Colorado Team published in PNAS implicate the oxidation of molecular hydrogren as the source of energy for primary productivity in high temperature microbial ecosystems in Yellowstone. Spear, J.R., Walker, J.J., McCollom, T. & Pace, N.R. (2005). Hydrogen and bioenergetics in a geothermal ecosystem. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 102:2555-2560. New Endolithic Microbial Community at Yellowstone Members of NAI's University of Colorado Team published their description of an extremely acidic, endolithic, microbial community inhabiting the pore spaces between rocks Yellowstone National Park's Norris Geyser Basin in the April 21 issue of Nature. The community includes mainly photosynthetic algae and previously unknown Mycobacterium species. Walker, J.J., Spear, J.R. & Pace, N.R.  (2005).  A novel endolithic microbial community in the Yellowstone geothermal environment.  Nature, 434:1011-1014. A Solar Analogue Explored Astronomers from NAI's Teams at UCLA and the Carnegie Institution of Washington describe their observations of large quantities of warm dust debris surrounding a Sun-like star some 300 light years from Earth. The dust is orbiting close to the star, and is similar in composition to dust in the Solar System. The composition and quantity of the dust may indicate massive and/or frequent collisions of large objects, perhaps similar to the theorized impactor that struck Earth to form the Moon. Song, I., Zuckerman, B., Weinberger, A.J. & Becklin, E.E. (2005) Extreme collisions between planetesimals as the origin of warm dust around a Sun-like star. Nature 436, 363-365 (21 July 2005). Characterizing the Early Solar Nebula Jim Lyons and Ed Young of NAI's UCLA Team postulate a cause for oxygen isotope anomalies in meteorites that overthrows a long accepted explanation. They propose CO photodissociation due to a far ultraviolet flux caused by a nearby O or B star as a mechanism to produce the isotope fractionation that is consistent with the anomalies observed in the meteorites. Lyons, J.R. & Young, E.D. (2005). CO Self-shielding as the origin of the oxygen isotope anomalies in the early solar nebula. Nature, 435:317-320. Science Accomplishments:  Science Accomplishments Formation of Methane on Mars by Fluid-rock Interaction in the Crust Members of NAI's UCLA Team published a paper in Geophysical Research Letters describing how hydrothermal fluid processes driven by a small subsurface magmatic intrusion can produce methane on Mars. Lyons, J.R., Manning, C.E. & Nimmo, F. (2005) Formation of methane on Mars by fluid-rock interaction in the crust. Geophysical Research Letters. 32, L1320. Evidence for Paleoproterozoic Cap Carbonates in North America Andrey Bekker, once with NAI's former Harvard Lead Team and now part of NAI's Carnegie Institution of Washington Team, led a study that for the first time documents chemostratigraphy and correlates Early Paleoproterozoic post-glacial carbonates of North America and South Africa. Bekker, A., Kaufman, A.J., Karhu, J.A. & Eriksson, K.A. (2005). Evidence for the Paleoproterozoic cap carbonates in North America. Precambrian Research, 137:167-206. Could Impacts Have Caused Flooding on Mars? NAI scientists on NAI’s University of California, Berkeley Team describe how meteoritic impacts on Mars may have caused Earth-like saturated soil liquefaction and potentially enabled violent groundwater eruption. Enough water, they say, could have been erupted to produce floods and outflow channels. Wang, C., Manga, M., & Wong, A. (2005) Floods on Mars released from groundwater by impact. Icarus.175: 551-555. Massive release of hydrogen sulfide to the surface ocean and atmosphere during intervals of oceanic anoxia NAI scientists on the NAI’s Penn State and University of Colorado Teams published their studies showing that increases in the level of hydrogen sulfide in the deep ocean during oceanic anoxic periods in Earth's history could cause elevated H2S levels in shallower waters and in the atmosphere. This may have caused, they propose, destruction of the ozone shield and an increase in atmospheric methane, and may have helped spell the end for life at several extinction events. Kump, L.R., Pavlov, A. & Arthur, M.A. (2005). Massive release of hydrogen sulfide to the surface ocean and atmosphere during intervals of ocean anoxia. Geology, 33:397-400. Science Accomplishments:  Science Accomplishments Zircon Thermometer Reveals Minimum Melting Conditions on Earliest Earth Mark Harrison of NAI's UCLA Team co-authored a study published in Science describing a titanium thermometer technique used to measure the temperature at which ancient zircons from the Jack Hills in Western Australia formed. The results paint a mild picture of the Hadean, complete with an atmosphere and liquid water. Watson, E.B. & Harrison, T.M. (2005). Zircon thermometer reveals minimum melting conditions on earliest Earth. Science, 308:841.844. Community Proteomics of a Natural Microbial Biofilm Members of NAI's UC BerkeleyTeam, led by Jill Banfield, published their study of the gene expression and protein complement of a microbial biofilm community living in a natural acid mine drainage at Iron Mountain in Northern California. The studies were done on non-cultivated, natural samples, and proteins involved in protein refolding and response to oxidative stress appeared to be highly expressed. Ram, R., VerBerkmoes, N., Thelen, M., Tyson, G., Baker, B., Blake, R., Shah, M., Hettich, R., & Banfield, J. (2005). Community Proteomics of a Natural Microbial Biofilm. Science, 308:1915-1920. A Hydrogen-Rich Early Earth Atmosphere Researchers on NAI’s University of Colorado Team published in Science describing an increased quantity of hydrogen in Earth's early atmosphere due to a slower escape rate. In contrast to the view that the early atmosphere was oxidizing, this work implies a more favorable "climate" for the production of pre-biotic organic compounds like amino acids, and ultimately, life. Tian, F., Toon, O.B., Pavlov, A.A. & DeSterck, H. (2005). A Hydrogen Rich Early Earth Atmosphere. Science, 308:1014-1017. Accomplishments:  Accomplishments Peter Ward (UW) 2005 Washington State Book Award winner for "Gorgon: The Monsters That Ruled the Planet Before Dinosaurs and How They Died in the Greatest Catastrophe in Earth's History" Baruch (Barry) Blumberg (Former NAI Director) elected President of the American Philosophical Society Russell Hemley (CIW) 2005 Balzan Prize in Mineral Physics Edna DeVore (SETI) Aerospace Awareness Award for work in education and public outreach Robert Hazen (CIW) published “gen•e•sis The Scientific Quest for Life’s Origin” David Morrison (NAI Central) awarded Carl Sagan medal for public communication of science by California Academy of Sciences David Jewitt (UH) elected to National Academy of Sciences and to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences David Paige (UCLA) “Diviner” instrument (“Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment") selected to fly on the "Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO)" to be launched in the Fall 2008 Jim Kasting (PSU) selected as Chair of the TPF-C Science and Technology Definition Team (STDT) and winner of the Faculty Scholar Medal of the Pennsylvania State University Vikki Meadows (VPL) selected as a Member of the TPF-I STDT V. Meadows

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