Stardust: analyses of cometary and interstellar dust in the laboratory

Stardust was the first spacecraft ever to bring back to Earth extraterrestrial materials from beyond the Moon. It was two missions in one spacecraft. Stardust returned the first samples from a known primitive solar system body, the Jupiter-family comet Wild 2. Stardust also carried a separate collector that was exposed the interstellar dust stream for 200 days before the encounter with the comet.

Starspots and the dynamic evolution of hot-Jupiter exoplanet systems

When a hot-Jupiter transits its host star and crosses an active region there is a possibility that it will occult a starspot. When this happens a starspot anomaly is usually seen in the resulting transit lightcurve. Generally viewed as a nuisance, the most common approach is to remove the affected data points before performing an analysis to determine the lightcurve properties. However, when a starspot anomaly is found in transit photometry it can allow a wealth of information to be discovered.

It's Life Jim, but Not as We Know It: The Prospects of Life in Titan's Seas

The prerequisites for life are thought to be: (1) a liquid solvent; (2) chemical building blocks; and (3) an energy source. Life like we have on the Earth uses water for its solvent and organic molecules for its building blocks. Hence searches for Earth-like life can focus on habitable zones around stars where liquid water can be stable on planetary surfaces.

Rosetta: Wild Bounce at comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko

Abstract:  Rosetta is the third cornerstone mission of the European Space Agency's (ESA) Horizon 2000 Programme.

The Habitable Zones of Pre-Main-Sequence Stars

The habitable zone (HZ) is the region around a star in which liquid water could exist on a planetary surface. Although most HZ studies have focused on the main-sequence period, here we argue that the pre-main-sequence HZ likely provides additional targets for observers. The spatial distribution of liquid water and its change during the pre-main-sequence phase of protoplanetary systems is important in understanding how planets become habitable.

Rise of the Machines: Mining the Kepler Data for Astrobiology

Kepler space telescopeAbstract: Since its launch in 2009, NASA's Kepler Mission has transformed our knowledge of exoplanetary system demographics. Kepler's primary mission goal-- to quantify the occurrence rate of habitable zone Earth-size planets around Sun-like stars-- has a clear connection to astrobiology.

Paleoenvironmnetal Reconstruction and the Identification of Habitable Conditions on Ancient Earth and Mars Using Clay Minerals

Clay minerals often form at or near rocky planetary surfaces under low temperature hydrous conditions. Careful identification of the types of clay minerals and consideration of their geological context can yield information on ancient environmental conditions, including inferences of atmospheric composition. However, this task is complicated by multiple potential sources of clays and overprinting by subsequent diagenetic or hydrothermal processes.

A link between meteoritic organic compounds and the homochirality of life?

Abstract: Current theories suggest that portions of interstellar compounds should eventually be incorporated into the comets, "asteroids" and planets of new planetary systems. Astronomical observations point to processes such as the formation of comet and asteroid belts, familiar to our solar system, as likely occurring in many star systems. As with comets and asteroids, the formation of organic compounds around new-formed stars might be a common process.

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