Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

NASA Grant Supports New York Center for Astrobiology in Search for Conditions of Life in the Universe

21.07.2010
The New York Center for Astrobiology will widen the scope of its search for the building blocks of life beyond Earth with the help of a new NASA grant. Based at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the center is devoted to investigating the origins of life on Earth and the conditions that lead to formation of habitable planets in our own and other solar systems.

“We are looking for the conditions of life, rather than life itself,” said Douglas Whittet, director of the New York Center for Astrobiology and a Rensselaer professor of physics, applied physics, and astronomy. The center opened in 2008 with support from NASA.

One interesting finding from its research thus far is that stars aid in the process of forming the more complex matter found on planets and in life.

“You need energy to drive the chemistry. A star itself can cook simple molecules into something more interesting,” Whittet said.

The new four-year $630,000 grant will allow the center to expand operations.

“It will allow us to support some more collaborations, which in turn lets us acquire and analyze more data,” Whittet said.

Researchers at the center study the chemical, physical, and geological conditions on Earth that gave birth to life. That information, in turn, is used to search for similar conditions elsewhere – on Mars and other bodies in our solar system, and on planets orbiting other stars.

“A lot of organic molecules present on Earth may have been delivered shortly after it was formed. The evidence for this comes from meteorites, which contain amino acids,” Whittet said. “We aim to find out what was happening in the solar system 4.5 billion years ago when it was formed. When and how was this matter synthesized, and how common is it?”

The researchers look for clues within young solar systems, where stars are surrounded by molecular clouds or pre-planetary disks that have not yet coalesced into planets.

The key to their research is spectroscopy – or light signature – of the clouds and disks. The early universe was composed of hydrogen and helium, from which other elements were formed, and later combined into molecules in interstellar clouds. By examining the light signature of the material, researchers can determine which chemicals are present in a particular cloud or pre-planetary disk.

“You use the star as a source of radiation. The material between you and the star is absorbing some of it. We look at the absence of light caused by the material,” Whittet said.

Whittet said researchers are currently analyzing data gathered from the Spitzer Space Telescope – an infrared telescope orbiting the sun that gathered data from 2003 to 2009.

“There’s a huge archive of data that’s being analyzed, and the grant will afford us access to more of that material,” Whittet said.

Already that material has yielded the insight that stars play a role in the creation of more complex matter. Whittet explained that molecular clouds around stars mature into pre-planetary disks and then planets. Complex matter is found in increasing abundance as the stages progress.

“Organic molecules such as hydrocarbons and alcohols are more common in pre-planetary disks compared with molecular clouds,” Whittet said. “These molecules form with the help of energy from the star.”

A less promising finding – at least from the standpoint of finding life elsewhere in the universe – is the relative scarcity of complex hydrocarbons.

“The most common material we’ve found is carbon dioxide, which is not very useful in making life,” Whittet said. “It would be a lot more interesting if the carbon were going into hydrocarbons, which are a stepping point to much more complicated molecules.”

Mary Martialay | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.rpi.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Igniting a solar flare in the corona with lower-atmosphere kindling
29.03.2017 | New Jersey Institute of Technology

nachricht NASA spacecraft investigate clues in radiation belts
28.03.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A Challenging European Research Project to Develop New Tiny Microscopes

The Institute of Semiconductor Technology and the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, both members of the Laboratory for Emerging Nanometrology (LENA), at Technische Universität Braunschweig are partners in a new European research project entitled ChipScope, which aims to develop a completely new and extremely small optical microscope capable of observing the interior of living cells in real time. A consortium of 7 partners from 5 countries will tackle this issue with very ambitious objectives during a four-year research program.

To demonstrate the usefulness of this new scientific tool, at the end of the project the developed chip-sized microscope will be used to observe in real-time...

Im Focus: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Researchers shoot for success with simulations of laser pulse-material interactions

29.03.2017 | Materials Sciences

Igniting a solar flare in the corona with lower-atmosphere kindling

29.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

As sea level rises, much of Honolulu and Waikiki vulnerable to groundwater inundation

29.03.2017 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>