SETI bioastro: Marsbugs Vol. 7, No. 14 (text)

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The Electronic Astrobiology Newsletter
Volume 7, Number 14, 17 April 2000.


Dr. David J. Thomas, Biology and Chemistry Division, Lyon College,
Batesville, AR 72503-2317, USA.

Dr. Julian A. Hiscox, School of Animal and Microbial Sciences,
University of Reading, Reading, RG6 6AJ, United Kingdom.

Marsbugs is published on a weekly to quarterly basis as warranted by
the number of articles and announcements. Copyright of this
compilation exists with the editors, except for specific articles, in
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etc. Back issues and Adobe Acrobat PDF files suitable for printing
may be obtained from the official Marsbugs web page at

The purpose of this newsletter is to provide a channel of information
for scientists, educators and other persons interested in exobiology
and related fields. This newsletter is not intended to replace peer-
reviewed journals, but to supplement them. We, the editors, envision
Marsbugs as a medium in which people can informally present ideas for
investigation, questions about exobiology, and announcements of
upcoming events.

Astrobiology is still a relatively young field, and new ideas may
come from the most unexpected places. Subjects may include, but are
not limited to: exobiology and astrobiology (life on other planets),
the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), ecopoeisis and
terraformation, Earth from space, planetary biology, primordial
evolution, space physiology, biological life support systems, and
human habitation of space and other planets.

University of Rochester release

By H. Paul Schuch

Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation

JPL release

JPL release

JPL release

JPL releases

JPL release

JPL release

University of Rochester release

7 April 2000

Researchers are turning their attention to the culinary habits of
microbes in their search for a few chemical "crumbs" of evidence of
ancient, remote, and even extra-terrestrial life. Scientists are
analyzing rocks from the furthest reaches of Earth, and beyond, using
new and sensitive instrumentation to check for telltale signs of
ancient life. In a paper in the April 8 issue of Science, a
University of Rochester team has contributed to the effort. The
scientists announced that they were able to re-create in the
laboratory chemical signatures that were previously thought to be
produced only by living organisms.

"The situation is a little more complicated than some people have
thought," said geochemist Ariel Anbar, the lead investigator and an
assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences and
chemistry. "It's like someone saying that they have found a way to
use fingerprints to identify people, and we're saying we can produce
those same fingerprints in the lab without having that person

The work is part of an expanding worldwide effort to use increasingly
sensitive chemical tools to look for signs of past life in remote
places. Anbar's research focuses on the evidence that microbes leave
behind after they munch on metals like molybdenum, copper, iron and
zinc. The scientists say it's likely that as tiny organisms scour
for these nutrients, they select certain isotopes of elements
(isotopes are forms of the same element with a slightly different
mass) over others, and the evidence is locked into rocks for millions
of years. Researchers measure the amounts of different isotopes of
certain metals as a way of knowing whether bacteria or other
organisms once lived there.

It's a little bit like coming downstairs in the morning and finding
the kitchen a mess, perhaps with the lid off a hidden cookie jar and
crumbs on the counter. If the husband is the only person in the home
who loves cookies and knows where the goodies are kept, then the
missing cookies and the crumbs would implicate him as the midnight

Anbar's team found an "imposter," a chemical process that doesn't
necessarily involve any living organisms but nevertheless leaves
evidence that scientists had thought might only be due to microbes.
The team turned its attention to iron, a particularly appealing
indicator for scientists because it's present in a majority of rocks,
creating many potential candidates for signs of ancient life.
Researchers studied the properties of different chemical forms of
iron and found that simple chemical processes in the laboratory can
account for the proportions that scientists previously believed
indicated past life. The scientists suspect the same chemical
signatures could be created naturally in groundwater and sediments
whether life is present or not.

Chemistry graduate student Jo Roe did much of the laboratory work.
She fed different forms of iron into a small vertical column, then
measured the rate at which different isotopes of iron traveled
through this chemical environment. Formerly a nurse, Roe decided to
switch careers and obtained bachelor's and master's degrees in
chemistry before joining Anbar's laboratory and joining the hunt for
exotic life. Also contributing to the project were research
scientist Jane Barling of the Department of Earth and Environmental
Sciences, and scientist Kenneth Nealson of the Jet Propulsion
Laboratory in California.

The work comes as scientists are rapidly expanding their criteria for
environments that can support life. Living organisms have been found
at the bottom of the ocean, far from any light source, and in highly
acidic environments. With each of these findings, the possibility
that life exists or once existed in a harsh or remote outpost of our
solar system, like Mars or one of Jupiter's moons, moves up a notch.
Says Anbar, "Life can exist in a much wider variety of conditions
than we thought before. People are optimistic that the conditions
for life are out there."

Among the group's next research projects is the analysis of an iron
meteorite that is part of the rubble from the formation of our solar
system. The team will study the rock to develop techniques for
tracking the chemical activity of the metals within, then hopes to
use those methods to study other meteorites that may hold signs of

"Understanding biological fingerprinting is a little like deciphering
an ancient treasure map," says Anbar, whose work is supported by the
NASA Astrobiology Institute and the National Science Foundation. "We
do our best to understand the map, but we don't really know where it
will lead."

By H. Paul Schuch

11 April 2000

As you [may] be aware, the PUBLIC open email list was set up by The
SETI League to encourage discussion of topics directly related to
SETI science. Subjects peripheral to SETI, such as space
exploration, biology and astronomy, are certainly of interest to many
of our members, although news posts from those fields on this list
have been considered off-topic. Recognizing the need to establish an
open list with a broader charter than PUBLIC, The SETI League is
pleased to announce the establishment of the BioAstro list, hosted by
our own Larry Klaes, a frequent contributor to these pages.

The BioAstro list is now open for business, and invites interested
SETIzens to sign up now. Details are available at

Larry invites you to post there such information as may be
peripherally related to SETI, but which might be considered off-topic
at PUBLIC. He will, I hope, be using BioAstro to disseminate his
interesting news items on topics related to bioastronomy and
astrobilogy. I thank Larry for taking on leadership of this new
list, and you all for your active participation on The SETI League's
various email lists.

Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation release

12 April 2000

On April 14, a unique Australian scientific mission sets sail from
Cairns in North Queensland to plumb the depths of the Pacific Ocean
for extraordinary life forms that can survive in boiling water and
which dine on minerals containing copper, gold and nickel. The CSIRO
expedition aboard the research vessel Franklin will conduct a
pioneering search of active volcanic vents a kilometer down on the
seabed of the Manus Basin, north of Papua New Guinea. Their aim is
to discover "extremophile" microbes endowed with the natural ability
to process minerals at high temperature, to help make Australia's $37
billion mineral export industry cleaner, greener, safer and more

The search will be conducted in an eerie landscape of smoking
undersea chimneys that pump mineral fluids from deep in the earth's
mantle into the surrounding ocean, shattered mineral columns
resembling ancient ruins and hills mantled in snow-white carpets of
bacteria and organic hydrates--compounds which can only exist at the
extreme pressures of the deep sea. The project was initiated by Dr
Bruce Hobbs, Chief of CSIRO Exploration and Mining, Dr. Rod Hill,
Chief of CSIRO Minerals and Dr. Dave Dekker of CSIRO Exploration &
Mining. Dr. Ray Binns of CSIRO Exploration and Mining discovered
these particular deposits and will lead the shipborne expedition,
which is an international collaboration.

CSIRO is working closely with Papua New Guinea authorities to ensure
the scientific and commercial interests of our nearest neighbor are
protected. "Their scientists will directly benefit from
participation in this expedition," says Dr. Dekker.

Dr. Hobbs says that the goal is to find particular microbes that can
be used to process minerals on dry land, and so develop more
efficient and cleaner ways to win metals. "When times are tough in
the minerals industry, the miners who survive are the ones who can
obtain pure minerals for the lowest cost.

"This trip is all about prospecting--but in this case, we're
prospecting for microbes rather than actual minerals," he says. "To
do so we're exploring exactly the same sort of system as the ones
that formed Australia's mightiest orebodies, like Broken Hill and Mt

Dr. Hobbs believes the deep sea bugs will enable Australia's miners
to exploit lower grade ore deposits, extract metals more cheaply,
clean up waste streams and may even improve mine safety.
Microbiologist Dr. Peter Franzmann says that the mineral-mining bugs
are possibly relatives of some of the earliest forms of life to
emerge on the planet, more than three billion years ago.

"Back then, conditions were similar to what we now see in these
seafloor hydrothermal vents--high temperatures, intense pressure,
lots of volcanic activity, darkness, with the nutrients to sustain
life pouring out of the earth itself."

While similar mineral-eating bugs exist on land--and are used in some
mining industries--the researchers expect these "extremophile"
bacteria to be able to process mineral ores far more efficiently.

"The minerals are pouring out of the earth in fluids at temperatures
of 300-400 degrees into the much colder sea water. The bugs live
right where the superheated fluid meets the sea and the temperatures
are between 80 and 110 degrees, at pressures around 150 atmospheres.

"We know they thrive down there. Some of the undersea landscapes are
smothered in a mat of bacteria, dining on the mineral-rich

More information:

Dr. Dave Dekker, CSIRO Exploration & Mining
(07) 4051 8955 or 0418 737 480

Dr. Ray Binns, CSIRO Exploration & Mining
(07) 4051 8955

Dr. Peter Franzmann, CSIRO Land & Water
(07) 4051 8955

Ms. Margaret Bryant, CSIRO Land & Water
08 9333 6215 or 0417 247 241

JPL release

14 April 2000

"Interferometry: Seeing New Worlds" is a public lecture that will
explain how researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory are
developing innovative technologies to look for planets around distant

Dr. Michael Shao, director of the Interferometry Center of Excellence
at JPL and the project scientist for NASA's Space Interferometry
Mission, (SIM) will make the presentation, which is part of JPL's von
Karman Lecture Series, on Thursday, April 20 at JPL, and, Friday,
April 21 at Pasadena City College. Both lectures begin at 7 PM.
Admission is free, and seating is on a first-come, first-served

Detecting planets outside of our solar system is challenging because
the tiny, pale planets are typically lost from view in the intense
glare of light from their parent star. Interferometry is a new
technology that gets past this obstacle by allowing astronomers to
measure a star's position accurately enough to detect small "wobbles"
caused by the gravitational pull of any orbiting planets. This
observing method also suppresses the light of the star so that the
dim light of planets can be distinguished.

JPL's Keck Interferometer and the Space Interferometry Mission are
two near-term projects that will make significant advances in
detecting planets beyond our solar system. SIM will be one of the
very first space-based opportunities to use interferometry for seeing
new worlds, potentially giving us the first evidence of another
Earth-like planet.

The lecture on April 20 is at JPL, 4800 Oak Grove Drive, Pasadena, CA
off the 210 (Foothill) freeway. Detailed directions are available at The April 21 lecture is
at Pasadena City College's Forum at 1570 East Colorado Blvd.

More information about the von Karman Lecture Series is available at JPL is a division of the
California Institute of Technology.

JPL release

14 April 2000

Mars Polar Lander, Landed Configuration
1/24 Scale Model

We invite you to build your own Mars Polar Lander:

First, browse the assembly instructions (PDF file) at

Then, if you decide to tackle the project, you can download the two
parts sheets (PDF file) to print, cut out, and glue together at

You'll need a printer, some card stock, and a few other items listed
in the assembly instructions. The parts sheets are available as PDF
files, which can be read by the Adobe Acrobat Reader on just about
any kind of computer. You may download the Adobe Acrobat Reader from
Adobe free of charge

This detailed scale model is a construction project that is probably
not appropriate for people younger than about ten years of age,
depending on skill and motivation. Children should have adult
supervision to assemble the model. Assembly will require at least 6
hours of time and great care. Once you assemble the model, we
guarantee you'll know the landed configuration of the Mars Polar
Lander spacecraft very well indeed!

The launch of the Mars Polar Lander was on a Boeing Delta II rocket
on January 3, 1999. The Mars Polar Lander entered the martian
atmosphere directly from the hyperbolic transfer orbit on December 3,
1999, and was designed to decelerate to a soft landing using a heat
shield to aerobrake, a parachute, and actively guided propulsion to
touchdown on the surface of Mars. Unfortunately, the lander
telemetry signal was never acquired after entry into the martian
atmosphere, and the spacecraft was declared lost. The Lander was
targeted to the northernmost boundary of the polar layered deposits
at a high southern latitude site, about 76 degrees south latitude.
The 90-day surface science mission was planned to start during late
spring on Mars in the southern hemisphere and extend through the
early martian summer season.

The Lander carried the Mars Volatiles and Climate Surveyor (MVACS)
instrument suite, which was designed to perform in situ
investigations to address the science theme "Volatiles and Climate
History", the Mars Descent Imager (MARDI), and a LIDAR instrument
supplied by the Russian Space Agency. The Lander was designed to
search for near-surface ice and possible surface records of cyclic
climate change, and characterize physical processes key to the
seasonal cycles of water, carbon dioxide and dust on Mars.

The Mars Surveyor spacecraft was designed and manufactured at
Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Denver, Colorado. Model design
completed by Greg Bollendonk and Kurt Buhler, Mars Surveyor Program,
Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Denver, Colorado (an after-hours

Copyright 2000 Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of
Technology. All rights reserved. Permission for commercial
reproduction other than for single-school in-classroom use must be
obtained from JPL Commercial Programs Office.

[The PDF files for the model are attached to the PDF version of this
issue of Marsbugs.]

JPL release

10-16 April 2000

In a relatively quiet week, Galileo's activities are dedicated to the
return of science data stored on its onboard tape recorder. The data
were acquired during the spacecraft's February flyby of Jupiter's
volcanic moon Io. The data returned this week are from a second pass
through the data stored on the tape recorder. This additional pass
provides Galileo's science community the opportunity to return new
data, replay data lost in previous transmissions, and/or reprocess
and compress data for transmission with different parameters.

This week's playback schedule contains two regions on Io observed by
both the Solid-State Imaging camera (SSI) and the Near-Infrared
Mapping Spectrometer (NIMS). The first is Chaac Patera, a new hot
spot identified in data acquired by Galileo in November 1999. Chaac
Patera includes one of the areas on Io that are informally known as
Io's golf courses because of their greenish color. The second region
that was jointly observed is the Prometheus volcanic region.

NIMS then returns a mosaic of several different volcanic regions on
Io's surface. SSI follows suit with the return of two observations.
In the first, SSI returns parts of three images, taken through
different color filters, of Tvashtar Catena, a chain of giant
calderas found in Io's northern hemisphere. One of these calderas
was seen to be erupting a curtain of lava 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles)
high and 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) long during a previous encounter.
SSI then returns parts of an observation of the Zal volcanic region.

Throughout the week, the Fields and Particles instruments continue to
return parts of a high resolution recording of the plasma, dust, and
electric and magnetic fields surrounding Io. The Fields and
Particles instruments are comprised of the Dust Detector, Energetic
Particle Detector, Heavy Ion Counter, Magnetometer, Plasma Detector,
and Plasma Wave instrument.

On Thursday, Galileo makes a minor modification to its radio signal
as it approaches a period of unreliable communications. In a few
weeks, the orbital motion of Earth and Jupiter will bring the sun
between the two, creating radio interference and making reliable
communications impossible. Although this geometrical situation,
known as superior solar conjunction, is still a few weeks away, the
sun's effect on Galileo's radio signal gradually increases in the
weeks prior to the main event and then gradually decreases in the
weeks after.

For more information on the Galileo spacecraft and its mission to
Jupiter, please visit the Galileo home page at one of the following

JPL releases

5 April 2000

Launch / Days since Launch = Nov 7, 1996 / 1245 days
Start of Mapping / Days since Start of Mapping = April 1, 1999 / 370
Total Mapping Orbits = 4820
Total Orbits = 6423

Recent events

The spacecraft continues to operate nominally in performing the beta
supplement daily recording and transmission of science data. The
mm026 sequence executed successfully from 00-90(3/30/00) through 00-
93 (4/3/00). The mm027 sequence also successfully executed from 00-
94 (4/4/00) through 00-96 (4/6/00). The mm028 sequence was
successfully uplinked on 00-95 (4/5/00) and will begin execution on
00-97 (4/8/00). Included in the mm028 sequence, is the fifth and
last star scan of the current MOC focus campaign, and a 24-hour
period of MOLA off-nadir scans of the North and South Poles,
scheduled on 00-99 through 00-100 (4/8-4/9/00). The mm029 sequence
is scheduled to be uplinked on 00-99 (4/8/00) and will execute from
00-101 (4/10/00) through 00-103 (4/12/00).

The mz049 mini-sequence, containing the first four MOC star scans,
has begun execution. The first three scans have completed to date.
The MOC successfully acquired the desired stars from the first scan,
but the stars were on the edge of their image. The second scan
resulted in the MOC not seeing the stars. On the third scan the
stars were acquired but were again on the edge of the image. The
spacecraft attitude control errors were very small during each of the
scans, leading us to believe there is some kind of knowledge error in
the design of the scans, resulting in the stars not being centered in
the image. AACS is currently analyzing the data and working with JPL
and the MOC team to determine the cause of this error. Depending on
the success of the fourth and fifth scans, additional scans may be
performed in the next couple of weeks to ensure the MOC focus

Spacecraft health

All subsystems are reporting nominal health.


There have been 14 uplinks to the spacecraft during the last week,
including new star catalogs and ephemeris files, instrument command
loads, and the mm028 and mm029 sequences. Total command files
radiated to the spacecraft since launch is 4565.

Upcoming events

Planning for the replacement of the monthly fixed-HGA periods for the
purpose of obtaining radio science atmospheric occultation egress
data, prohibited in normal beta supplement operations due to HGA
gimbal constraints, proceeds. The first Radio Science occultation
egress scans are scheduled for 5/20-5/22/00.

12 April 2000

Launch / Days since Launch = Nov 7, 1996 / 1253 days
Start of Mapping / Days since Start of Mapping = April 1, 1999 / 377
Total Mapping Orbits = 4906
Total Orbits = 6509

Recent events

The spacecraft continues to operate nominally in performing the beta
supplement daily recording and transmission of science data. The
mm028 sequence executed successfully from 00-97 (4/6/00) through 00-
100 (4/9/00). The mm029 sequence also successfully executed from 00-
101 (4/10/00) through 00-103 (4/12/00). The mm030 sequence was
successfully uplinked on 00-102 (4/11/00) and will begin execution on
00-104 (4/13/00).

Included in the mm028 sequence, was the fifth and last star scan of
the current MOC focus campaign, and a 24-hour period of MOLA off-
nadir scans of the North and South Poles, on 00-99 through 00-100
(4/8-4/9/00). The spacecraft performance during the final MOC star
scan was nominal, but the stars were not seen in the image. Thus two
of the five scans resulted in not seeing the stars. All indications
are that the missed stars were due to a knowledge error in designing
the scans. A retry of the two missing star scans will be scheduled
for later in April, with an updated scan attitude.

Spacecraft performance during the MOLA scans was also nominal, with a
single STAREX (star processing code) anomaly occurring proceeding the
first MOLA off-nadir orbit. A STAREX autonomous reset occurred
shortly after the sequence commanded the IMU to high rate mode and
issued an intentional bias reset prior to the first off-nadir slew.
After the autonomous reset STAREX converged properly and performed
nominally for the duration of the MOLA scans.

Spacecraft health

All subsystems are reporting nominal health.


There have been 16 uplinks to the spacecraft during the last week,
including new star catalogs and ephemeris files, instrument command
loads, and the mm030 and mm031 sequences. Total command files
radiated to the spacecraft since launch is 4581.

Upcoming events

Planning for the replacement of the monthly fixed-HGA periods for the
purpose of obtaining radio science atmospheric occultation egress
data, prohibited in normal beta supplement operations due to HGA
gimbal constraints, proceeds. The first Radio Science occultation
egress scans are scheduled for 5/20-5/22/00. Work has been underway
over the last month on determining the feasibility of performing a
bistatic radar experiment, in which the Spacecraft signal will be
reflected off the martian surface to Earth. All design hurdles have
been cleared and work is now underway to implement this experiment
for a May 14 opportunity.

JPL release

12 April 2000

Two new photo mosaics, created with images from NASA's Mars Global
Surveyor spacecraft now in orbit at Mars, may help scientists
understand what materials make up the exotic, multi-layers of the
South Pole. Scientists theorize that the thickness and the
composition of the layers in the south polar region could hold a
record of climate change in a way that is similar to how years of
drought and years of plentiful rain change the width of rings in a
tree trunk on Earth. Because the south polar terrain is so strange
and new to human eyes, no one as yet has an entirely adequate
explanation as to what is being seen. The layers may be made up of
frozen carbon dioxide, water ice and fine dusts that have been eroded
over time.

The mosaics were produced by imaging team scientists at the U.S.
Geological Survey, Flagstaff, AZ and the California Institute of
Technology, Pasadena, CA. The Global Surveyor images are available
at or Mars
Global Surveyor is managed by the Jet Propulsion
Laboratory for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, DC. JPL
is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

JPL release

14 April 2000

There were two Deep Space Network (DSN) tracking passes during the
past week. All subsystems are performing normally. Interstellar
dust collection is continuing and the grid collection angle was
updated to keep the grid perpendicular to the interstellar dust
stream. Flight sequence SC017 was successfully transmitted to the
spacecraft and will go active on April 24.

The Stardust Project management, including Education and Public
Outreach (E/PO), participated in the 3 day NASA Discovery Office
Workshop to explain the roles and responsibilities of the NASA
Discovery Office, to review all Discovery projects, and to review
lessons learned for development, operations and E/PO. A presentation
was made to the California State University of Northridge Department
of Physics and Astronomy about comets in general and the Stardust

For more information on the Stardust mission--the first ever comet
sample return mission--please visit the Stardust home page at

End Marsbugs, Volume 7, Number 14

David J. Thomas, PhD
Assistant Professor of Biology
Biology and Chemistry Division
Lyon College
2300 Highland Road
Batesville, AR 72501
Phone: (870) 698-4269 Fax: (870) 698-4622
E-mail: or

Editor of Marsbugs: The Electronic Astrobiology Newsletter


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