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  • 1
    Publication Date: 2019-07-19
    Description: Scientists are currently designing instruments, telescopes, and spacecraft to search for evidence of life beyond Earth. This search for life beyond Earth comes with an expectation to detect life that is different than the life found on modern-day Earth. But scientists will also be expected to provide compelling proof behind any claims that we are not alone. These two expectations are seemingly at odds with each other, because it will be easiest to provide compelling evidence for life when we have a deep understanding of the life we are looking at.The study of Earth history provides a means to reconcile this tension. Different periods of Earth history present us with biospheres that are dramatically different from modern-day Earth, but for which we have abundant data. This informs our understanding of habitability, because of the variety of global chemical and climatic conditions in Earth history for which we know life has thrived. The study of Earth history also informs our understanding of how to detect life; as the global influences of life have completely changed, so have the detectable features of Earth's biosphere.The appreciation of our home planet as a tightly coupled system also provides us top-level lessons for how to search for an even broader set of biospheres with a wider variety of detectable features. The study of Earth history has taught us that life is a both a function of and critical forcing on the planetary environment. Numerical models of these interactions can by driven by our understanding of Earth history, and be validated against the geological and geochemical data. These models can then be applied to a wider variety of planetary conditions. This will help scientists determine what kinds of life are possible, and eventually help them recognize and confirm the presence of life on rocky planets around other stars.
    Keywords: Lunar and Planetary Science and Exploration; Exobiology
    Type: GSFC-E-DAA-TN59891 , Congreso Nacional de Astrobiologia (National Congress of Astrobiology); Sep 20, 2018 - Sep 21, 2018; Cuernavaca; Mexico
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  • 2
    Publication Date: 2019-07-19
    Description: We know that planetary dynamics can have a significant affect on the climate of planets. Planetary dynamics dominate the glacial-interglacial periods on Earth, leaving a significant imprint on the geological record. They have also been demonstrated to have a driving influence on the climates of other planets in our solar system. We should therefore expect th.ere to be similar relationships on extrasolar planets. Here we describe a simple energy balance model that can predict the growth and thickness of glaciers, and their feedbacks on climate. We will also describe model changes that we have made to include planetary dynamics effects. This is the model we will use at the start of our collaboration to handle the influence of dynamics on climate.
    Keywords: Space Sciences (General)
    Type: GSFC.ABS.6787.2012
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  • 3
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    In:  CASI
    Publication Date: 2019-07-19
    Description: In this talk, I will give the AbGradCon attendees an overview of astrobiology activities ongoing at NASA as well as a brief description of the various funding programs and careers that they can pursue. After this, I will present to them the case that the future of the field is theirs to determine, and give input on how to effectively make astrobiology and NASA responsive to the needs of the community. This presentation will leverage my experiences leading various efforts in the early career astrobiology community, where I have served as a conference organizer, primer lead editor, community blogger, and unofficial liaison to NASA headquarters.
    Keywords: Exobiology
    Type: GSFC.ABS.6994.2012 , Astrobiology Graduate Conference 2012 (AbGradCon); Aug 23, 2012 - Aug 30, 2012; Pasadena, CA; United States
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  • 4
    Publication Date: 2019-07-13
    Description: Characterizing the bulk atmosphere of a terrestrial planet is important for determining surface pressure and potential habitability. Molecular nitrogen (N2) constitutes the largest fraction of Earth's atmosphere and is likely to be a major constituent of many terrestrial exoplanet atmospheres. Due to its lack of significant absorption features, N2 is extremely difficult to remotely detect. However, N2 produces an N2-N2 collisional pair, (N2)2, which is spectrally active. Here we report the detection of (N2)2 in Earth's disk-integrated spectrum. By comparing spectra from NASA's EPOXI mission to synthetic spectra from the NASA Astrobiology Institute's Virtual Planetary Laboratory three-dimensional spectral Earth model, we find that (N2)2 absorption produces a ~35% decrease in flux at 4.15 m. Quantifying N2 could provide a means of determining bulk atmospheric composition for terrestrial exoplanets and could rule out abiotic O2 generation, which is possible in rarefied atmospheres. To explore the potential effects of (N2)2 in exoplanet spectra, we used radiative transfer models to generate synthetic emission and transit transmission spectra of self-consistent N2-CO2-H2O atmospheres, and analytic N2-H2 and N2-H2-CO2 atmospheres. We show that (N2)2 absorption in the wings of the 4.3 m CO2 band is strongly dependent on N2 partial pressures above 0.5 bar and can significantly widen this band in thick N2 atmospheres. The (N2)2 transit transmission signal is up to 10 ppm for an Earth-size planet with an N2-dominated atmosphere orbiting within the habitable zone of an M5V star and could be substantially larger for planets with significant H2 mixing ratios.
    Keywords: Lunar and Planetary Science and Exploration
    Type: GSFC-E-DAA-TN26550 , Astrophysical Jpournal (ISSN 0004-637X) (e-ISSN 1538-4357); 810; 2; 57
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  • 5
    Publication Date: 2019-07-13
    Description: Over the last few years, a number of authors have suggested that, under certain circumstances, molecular oxygen (O2) or ozone (O3) generated by abiotic processes may accumulate to detectable concentrations in a habitable terrestrial planet's atmosphere, producing so-called "false positives" for life. But the models have occasionally disagreed with each other, with some predicting false positives, and some not, for the same apparent set of circumstances. We show here that photochemical false positives derive either from inconsistencies in the treatment of atmospheric and global redox balance or from the treatment (or lack thereof) of lightning. For habitable terrestrial planets with even trace amounts of atmospheric N2, NO produced by lightning catalyzes the recombination of CO and O derived from CO2 photolysis and should be sufficient to eliminate all reported false positives. Molecular oxygen thus remains a useful biosignature gas for Earth-like extrasolar planets, provided that the planet resides within the conventional liquid water habitable zone and has not experienced distinctly non-Earth- like, irrecoverable water loss.
    Keywords: Lunar and Planetary Science and Exploration
    Type: GSFC-E-DAA-TN62235 , Astrophysical Journal (ISSN 0004-637X) (e-ISSN 1538-4357); 866; 1; 56
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  • 6
    Publication Date: 2019-07-13
    Description: Hazes are common in known planetary atmospheres, and geochemical evidence suggests that early Earth occasionally supported an organic haze with significant environmental and spectral consequences. The UV spectrum of the parent star drives organic haze formation through methane photochemistry. We use a 1D photochemical-climate model to examine production of fractal organic haze on Archean Earth-analogs in the habitable zones of several stellar types: the modern and early Sun, AD Leo (M3.5V), GJ 876 (M4V), epsilon Eridani (K2V), and sigma Bootis (F2V). For Archean-like atmospheres, planets orbiting stars with the highest UV (ultraviolet) fluxes do not form haze because of the formation of photochemical oxygen radicals that destroy haze precursors. Organic hazes impact planetary habitability via UV shielding and surface cooling, but this cooling is minimized around M dwarfs, whose energy is emitted at wavelengths where organic hazes are relatively transparent. We generate spectra to test the detectability of haze. For 10 transits of a planet orbiting GJ 876 observed by the James Webb Space Telescope, haze makes gaseous absorption features at wavelengths less than 2.5 microns times 2-10 sigma shallower than a haze-free planet, and methane and carbon dioxide are detectable at greater than 5 sigma. A haze absorption feature can be detected at 5 sigma near 6.3 microns, but a higher signal-to-noise ratio is needed to distinguish haze from adjacent absorbers. For direct imaging of a planet at 10 parsecs using a coronagraphic 10 meter class ultraviolet-visible-near-infrared telescope, a UV-blue haze absorption feature would be strongly detectable at greater than 12 sigma in 200 hours.
    Keywords: Astronomy
    Type: GSFC-E-DAA-TN51571 , The Astrophysical Journal (ISSN 2041-8205) (e-ISSN 2041-8213); 836; 1; 49
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  • 7
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    Unknown
    In:  Other Sources
    Publication Date: 2019-07-13
    Description: Any claims for evidence of life on other worlds have the potential to be transformative events in human history. ccordingly, any such claims will be met with intense scrutiny from the scientific community. This will be particularly true for claims for evidence of life on exoplanets-planets around other stars-for which we will only have remote-sensing data and no ability to grab a piece of that world and put it under both literal and figurative microscopes. The data upon which these claims will be made will be the integrated product of the entire careers of some of the world's greatest scientists and engineers, paid for by considerable taxpayer expense. This presents astrobiologists with a paradox: How can such investments be justified if the end goal is destined to be a highly scrutinized discovery?
    Keywords: Exobiology; Astronomy
    Type: GSFC-E-DAA-TN51157 , Astrobiology (ISSN 1531-1074) (e-ISSN 1557-8070); 17; 10
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  • 8
    Publication Date: 2019-08-21
    Description: "Are we alone" is a question whose ambition can only be met with a NASA-led global collaboration. In this white paper, we describe how this makes "The Search for Life Beyond Earth" a new Grand Challenge for NASA. As described in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the White House National Economic Council, Grand Challenges are "ambitious but achievable goals that harness science, technology, and innovation to solve important national or global problems and that have the potential to capture the public's imagination." NASA had identified an "Asteroid Grand Challenge" centered on the Asteroid Retrieval Mission, which was closed out in June, 2017. Here, we explain how NASA's next Grand Challenge could be focused on "The Search for Life Beyond Earth," with a flagship-scale mission in Astrophysics as its centerpiece.
    Keywords: Law, Political Science and Space Policy; Exobiology
    Type: GSFC-E-DAA-TN70946
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  • 9
    Publication Date: 2019-08-27
    Description: Understanding what processes govern atmospheric escape and the loss of planetary water is of paramount importance for understanding how life in the universe can exist. One mechanism thought to be important at all planets is an ambipolar electric field that helps ions overcome gravity. We report the discovery and first quantitative extraterrestrial measurements of such a field at the planet Venus. Unexpectedly, despite comparable gravity, we show the field to be five times stronger than in Earths similar ionosphere. Contrary to our understanding, Venus would still lose heavy ions (including oxygen and all water-group species) to space, even if there were no stripping by the solar wind. We therefore find that it is possible for planets to lose heavy ions to space entirely through electric forces in their ionospheres and such an electric wind must be considered when studying the evolution and potential habitability of any planet in any star system.
    Keywords: Geophysics
    Type: GSFC-E-DAA-TN40916 , Geophysical Research Letters (ISSN 0094-8276); 43; 12; 5926-5934
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  • 10
    Publication Date: 2019-07-12
    Description: For the first time in human history, we will soon be able to apply to the scientific method to the question "Are We Alone?" The rapid advance of exoplanet discovery, planetary systems science, and telescope technology will soon allow scientists to search for life beyond our Solar System through direct observation of extrasolar planets. This endeavor will occur alongside searches for habitable environments and signs of life within our Solar System. While these searches are thematically related and will inform each other, they will require separate observational techniques. The search for life on exoplanets holds potential through the great diversity of worlds to be explored beyond our Solar System. However, there are also unique challenges related to the relatively limited data this search will obtain on any individual world.
    Keywords: Lunar and Planetary Science and Exploration
    Type: GSFC-E-DAA-TN52771
    Format: application/pdf
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