Understanding whether M dwarf stars may host habitable planets with Earth-like atmospheres and biospheres is a major goal in exoplanet research. If such planets exist, the question remains as to whether they could be identified via spectral signatures of biomarkers. Such planets may be exposed to extreme intensities of cosmic rays that could perturb their atmospheric photochemistry. Here, we consider stellar activity of M dwarfs ranging from quiet up to strong flaring conditions and investigate one particular effect upon biomarkers, namely, the ability of secondary electrons caused by stellar cosmic rays to break up atmospheric molecular nitrogen (N2), which leads to production of nitrogen oxides (NOx) in the planetary atmosphere, hence affecting biomarkers such as ozone (O3). We apply a stationary model, that is, without a time dependence; hence we are calculating the limiting case where the atmospheric chemistry response time of the biomarkers is assumed to be slow and remains constant compared with rapid forcing by the impinging stellar flares. This point should be further explored in future work with time-dependent models. We estimate the NOx production using an air shower approach and evaluate the implications using a climate-chemical model of the planetary atmosphere. O3 formation proceeds via the reaction O+O2+M→O3+M. At high NOx abundances, the O atoms arise mainly from NO2 photolysis, whereas on Earth this occurs via the photolysis of molecular oxygen (O2). For the flaring case, O3 is mainly destroyed via direct titration, NO+O3→NO2+O2, and not via the familiar catalytic cycle photochemistry, which occurs on Earth. For scenarios with low O3, Rayleigh scattering by the main atmospheric gases (O2, N2, and CO2) became more important for shielding the planetary surface from UV radiation. A major result of this work is that the biomarker O3 survived all the stellar-activity scenarios considered except for the strong case, whereas the biomarker nitrous oxide (N2O) could survive in the planetary atmosphere under all conditions of stellar activity considered here, which clearly has important implications for missions that aim to detect spectroscopic biomarkers. Key Words: M dwarf—Atmosphere—Earth-like—Biomarkers—Stellar cosmic rays. Astrobiology 12, 1109–1122.
Within the next few years, GAIA and several instruments aiming to image extrasolar planets will be ready. In parallel, low-mass planets are being sought around red dwarfs, which offer more favourable conditions, for both radial velocity detection and transit studies, than solar-type stars. In this paper, the authors of a model atmosphere code that has allowed the detection of water vapour in the atmosphere of hot Jupiters review recent advances in modelling the stellar to substellar transition. The revised solar oxygen abundances and cloud model allow the photometric and spectroscopic properties of this transition to be reproduced for the first time. Also presented are highlight results of a model atmosphere grid for stars, brown dwarfs and extrasolar planets.
PHOENIX; CO5BOLD; very-low-mass stars; brown dwarfs; stars; opacities
The detection of moons orbiting extrasolar planets (“exomoons”) has now become feasible. Once they are discovered in the circumstellar habitable zone, questions about their habitability will emerge. Exomoons are likely to be tidally locked to their planet and hence experience days much shorter than their orbital period around the star and have seasons, all of which works in favor of habitability. These satellites can receive more illumination per area than their host planets, as the planet reflects stellar light and emits thermal photons. On the contrary, eclipses can significantly alter local climates on exomoons by reducing stellar illumination. In addition to radiative heating, tidal heating can be very large on exomoons, possibly even large enough for sterilization. We identify combinations of physical and orbital parameters for which radiative and tidal heating are strong enough to trigger a runaway greenhouse. By analogy with the circumstellar habitable zone, these constraints define a circumplanetary “habitable edge.” We apply our model to hypothetical moons around the recently discovered exoplanet Kepler-22b and the giant planet candidate KOI211.01 and describe, for the first time, the orbits of habitable exomoons. If either planet hosted a satellite at a distance greater than 10 planetary radii, then this could indicate the presence of a habitable moon. Key Words: Astrobiology—Extrasolar planets—Habitability—Habitable zone—Tides. Astrobiology 13, 18–46.
Evolutionary mechanisms adopted by the photosynthetic apparatus to modifications in the Earth's atmosphere on a geological time-scale remain a focus of intense research. The photosynthetic machinery has had to cope with continuously changing environmental conditions and particularly with the complex ionizing radiation emitted by solar flares. The photosynthetic D1 protein, being the site of electron tunneling-mediated charge separation and solar energy transduction, is a hot spot for the generation of radiation-induced radical injuries. We explored the possibility to produce D1 variants tolerant to ionizing radiation in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii and clarified the effect of radiation-induced oxidative damage on the photosynthetic proteins evolution. In vitro directed evolution strategies targeted at the D1 protein were adopted to create libraries of chlamydomonas random mutants, subsequently selected by exposures to radical-generating proton or neutron sources. The common trend observed in the D1 aminoacidic substitutions was the replacement of less polar by more polar amino acids. The applied selection pressure forced replacement of residues more sensitive to oxidative damage with less sensitive ones, suggesting that ionizing radiation may have been one of the driving forces in the evolution of the eukaryotic photosynthetic apparatus. A set of the identified aminoacidic substitutions, close to the secondary plastoquinone binding niche and oxygen evolving complex, were introduced by site-directed mutagenesis in un-transformed strains, and their sensitivity to free radicals attack analyzed. Mutants displayed reduced electron transport efficiency in physiological conditions, and increased photosynthetic performance stability and oxygen evolution capacity in stressful high-light conditions. Finally, comparative in silico analyses of D1 aminoacidic sequences of organisms differently located in the evolution chain, revealed a higher ratio of residues more sensitive to oxidative damage in the eukaryotic/cyanobacterial proteins compared to their bacterial orthologs. These results led us to hypothesize an archaean atmosphere less challenging in terms of ionizing radiation than the present one.
Planetary climate can be affected by the interaction of the host star spectral energy distribution with the wavelength-dependent reflectivity of ice and snow. In this study, we explored this effect with a one-dimensional (1-D), line-by-line, radiative transfer model to calculate broadband planetary albedos as input to a seasonally varying, 1-D energy balance climate model. A three-dimensional (3-D) general circulation model was also used to explore the atmosphere's response to changes in incoming stellar radiation, or instellation, and surface albedo. Using this hierarchy of models, we simulated planets covered by ocean, land, and water-ice of varying grain size, with incident radiation from stars of different spectral types. Terrestrial planets orbiting stars with higher near-UV radiation exhibited a stronger ice-albedo feedback. We found that ice extent was much greater on a planet orbiting an F-dwarf star than on a planet orbiting a G-dwarf star at an equivalent flux distance, and that ice-covered conditions occurred on an F-dwarf planet with only a 2% reduction in instellation relative to the present instellation on Earth, assuming fixed CO2 (present atmospheric level on Earth). A similar planet orbiting the Sun at an equivalent flux distance required an 8% reduction in instellation, while a planet orbiting an M-dwarf star required an additional 19% reduction in instellation to become ice-covered, equivalent to 73% of the modern solar constant. The reduction in instellation must be larger for planets orbiting cooler stars due in large part to the stronger absorption of longer-wavelength radiation by icy surfaces on these planets in addition to stronger absorption by water vapor and CO2 in their atmospheres, which provides increased downwelling longwave radiation. Lowering the IR and visible-band surface ice and snow albedos for an M-dwarf planet increased the planet's climate stability against changes in instellation and slowed the descent into global ice coverage. The surface ice-albedo feedback effect becomes less important at the outer edge of the habitable zone, where atmospheric CO2 could be expected to be high such that it maintains clement conditions for surface liquid water. We showed that ∼3–10 bar of CO2 will entirely mask the climatic effect of ice and snow, leaving the outer limits of the habitable zone unaffected by the spectral dependence of water ice and snow albedo. However, less CO2 is needed to maintain open water for a planet orbiting an M-dwarf star than would be the case for hotter main-sequence stars. Key Words: Extrasolar planets—M stars—Habitable zone—Snowball Earth. Astrobiology 13, 715–739.
The search for a habitable extrasolar planet has long interested scientists, but only recently have the tools become available to search for such planets. In the past decades, the number of known extrasolar planets has ballooned into the hundreds, and with it, the expectation that the discovery of the first Earth-like extrasolar planet is not far off.
Here, we develop a novel metric of habitability for discovered planets and use this to arrive at a prediction for when the first habitable planet will be discovered. Using a bootstrap analysis of currently discovered exoplanets, we predict the discovery of the first Earth-like planet to be announced in the first half of 2011, with the likeliest date being early May 2011.
Our predictions, using only the properties of previously discovered exoplanets, accord well with external estimates for the discovery of the first potentially habitable extrasolar planet and highlight the the usefulness of predictive scientometric techniques to understand the pace of scientific discovery in many fields.
As a part of the near solar system exploration program, astronauts may receive significant total body proton radiation exposures during a solar particle event (SPE). In the Center for Acute Radiation Research (CARR), symptoms of the acute radiation sickness syndrome induced by conventional radiation are being compared to those induced by SPE-like proton radiation, to determine the relative biological effectiveness (RBE) of SPE protons. In an SPE, the astronaut’s whole body will be exposed to radiation consisting mainly of protons with energies below 50 MeV. In addition to providing for a potentially higher RBE than conventional radiation, the energy distribution for an SPE will produce a relatively inhomogeneous total body dose distribution, with a significantly higher dose delivered to the skin and subcutaneous tissues than to the internal organs. These factors make it difficult to use a 60Co standard for RBE comparisons in our experiments. Here, the novel concept of using megavoltage electron beam radiation to more accurately reproduce both the total dose and the dose distribution of SPE protons and make meaningful RBE comparisons between protons and conventional radiation is described. In these studies, Monte Carlo simulation was used to determine the dose distribution of electron beam radiation in small mammals such as mice and ferrets as well as large mammals such as pigs. These studies will help to better define the topography of the time-dose-fractionation versus biological response landscape for astronaut exposure to an SPE.
Personalized energy (PE) is a transformative idea that provides a new modality for the planet’s energy future. By providing solar energy to the individual, an energy supply becomes secure and available to people of both legacy and non-legacy worlds, and minimally contributes to increasing the anthropogenic level of carbon dioxide. Because PE will be possible only if solar energy is available 24 hours a day, 7 day a week, the key enabler for solar PE is an inexpensive storage mechanism. HX (X = halide or OH−) splitting is a fuel-forming reaction of sufficient energy density for large scale solar storage but the reaction relies on chemical transformations that are not understood at the most basic science level. Critical among these are multielectron transfers that are proton-coupled and involve the activation of bonds in energy poor substrates. The chemistry of these three italicized areas is developed, and from this platform, discovery paths leading to new HX and H2O splitting catalysts are delineated. For the case of the water splitting catalyst, it captures many of the functional elements of photosynthesis. In doing so, a highly manufacturable and inexpensive method has been discovered for solar PE storage.
The Earth's chemical composition far from chemical equilibrium is unique in our Solar System, and this uniqueness has been attributed to the presence of widespread life on the planet. Here, I show how this notion can be quantified using non-equilibrium thermodynamics. Generating and maintaining disequilibrium in a thermodynamic variable requires the extraction of power from another thermodynamic gradient, and the second law of thermodynamics imposes fundamental limits on how much power can be extracted. With this approach and associated limits, I show that the ability of abiotic processes to generate geochemical free energy that can be used to transform the surface–atmosphere environment is strongly limited to less than 1 TW. Photosynthetic life generates more than 200 TW by performing photochemistry, thereby substantiating the notion that a geochemical composition far from equilibrium can be a sign for strong biotic activity. Present-day free energy consumption by human activity in the form of industrial activity and human appropriated net primary productivity is of the order of 50 TW and therefore constitutes a considerable term in the free energy budget of the planet. When aiming to predict the future of the planet, we first note that since global changes are closely related to this consumption of free energy, and the demands for free energy by human activity are anticipated to increase substantially in the future, the central question in the context of predicting future global change is then how human free energy demands can increase sustainably without negatively impacting the ability of the Earth system to generate free energy. This question could be evaluated with climate models, and the potential deficiencies in these models to adequately represent the thermodynamics of the Earth system are discussed. Then, I illustrate the implications of this thermodynamic perspective by discussing the forms of renewable energy and planetary engineering that would enhance the overall free energy generation and, thereby ‘empower’ the future of the planet.
habitability; free energy; thermodynamics; global change; geoengineering
We examined a low-energy mechanism for the transfer of meteoroids between two planetary systems embedded in a star cluster using quasi-parabolic orbits of minimal energy. Using Monte Carlo simulations, we found that the exchange of meteoroids could have been significantly more efficient than previously estimated. Our study is relevant to astrobiology, as it addresses whether life on Earth could have been transferred to other planetary systems in the Solar System's birth cluster and whether life on Earth could have been transferred from beyond the Solar System. In the Solar System, the timescale over which solid material was delivered to the region from where it could be transferred via this mechanism likely extended to several hundred million years (as indicated by the 3.8–4.0 Ga epoch of the Late Heavy Bombardment). This timescale could have overlapped with the lifetime of the Solar birth cluster (∼100–500 Myr). Therefore, we conclude that lithopanspermia is an open possibility if life had an early start. Adopting parameters from the minimum mass solar nebula, considering a range of planetesimal size distributions derived from observations of asteroids and Kuiper Belt objects and theoretical coagulation models, and taking into account Oort Cloud formation models, we discerned that the expected number of bodies with mass>10 kg that could have been transferred between the Sun and its nearest cluster neighbor could be of the order of 1014 to 3·1016, with transfer timescales of tens of millions of years. We estimate that of the order of 3·108·l (km) could potentially be life-bearing, where l is the depth of Earth's crust in kilometers that was ejected as the result of the early bombardment. Key Words: Extrasolar planets—Interplanetary dust—Interstellar meteorites—Lithopanspermia. Astrobiology 12, 754–774.
The EPOXI Discovery Mission of Opportunity reused the Deep Impact flyby spacecraft to obtain spatially and temporally resolved visible photometric and moderate resolution near-infrared (NIR) spectroscopic observations of Earth. These remote observations provide a rigorous validation of whole-disk Earth model simulations used to better understand remotely detectable extrasolar planet characteristics. We have used these data to upgrade, correct, and validate the NASA Astrobiology Institute's Virtual Planetary Laboratory three-dimensional line-by-line, multiple-scattering spectral Earth model. This comprehensive model now includes specular reflectance from the ocean and explicitly includes atmospheric effects such as Rayleigh scattering, gas absorption, and temperature structure. We have used this model to generate spatially and temporally resolved synthetic spectra and images of Earth for the dates of EPOXI observation. Model parameters were varied to yield an optimum fit to the data. We found that a minimum spatial resolution of ∼100 pixels on the visible disk, and four categories of water clouds, which were defined by using observed cloud positions and optical thicknesses, were needed to yield acceptable fits. The validated model provides a simultaneous fit to Earth's lightcurve, absolute brightness, and spectral data, with a root-mean-square (RMS) error of typically less than 3% for the multiwavelength lightcurves and residuals of ∼10% for the absolute brightness throughout the visible and NIR spectral range. We have extended our validation into the mid-infrared by comparing the model to high spectral resolution observations of Earth from the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder, obtaining a fit with residuals of ∼7% and brightness temperature errors of less than 1 K in the atmospheric window. For the purpose of understanding the observable characteristics of the distant Earth at arbitrary viewing geometry and observing cadence, our validated forward model can be used to simulate Earth's time-dependent brightness and spectral properties for wavelengths from the far ultraviolet to the far infrared. Key Words: Astrobiology—Extrasolar terrestrial planets—Habitability—Planetary science—Radiative transfer. Astrobiology 11, 393–408.
Earth's cusp proton aurora occurs near the prenoon and is primarily produced by the precipitation of solar energetic (2–10 keV) protons. Cusp auroral precipitation provides a direct source of energy for the high-latitude dayside upper atmosphere, contributing to chemical composition change and global climate variability. Previous studies have indicated that magnetic reconnection allows solar energetic protons to cross the magnetopause and enter the cusp region, producing cusp auroral precipitation. However, energetic protons are easily trapped in the cusp region due to a minimum magnetic field existing there. Hence, the mechanism of cusp proton aurora has remained a significant challenge for tens of years. Based on the satellite data and calculations of diffusion equation, we demonstrate that EMIC waves can yield the trapped proton scattering that causes cusp proton aurora. This moves forward a step toward identifying the generation mechanism of cusp proton aurora.
Astronomical observations have shown that carbonaceous compounds in the gas and solid state, refractory and icy are ubiquitous in our and distant galaxies. Interstellar molecular clouds and circumstellar envelopes are factories of complex molecular synthesis. A surprisingly large number of molecules that are used in contemporary biochemistry on Earth are found in the interstellar medium, planetary atmospheres and surfaces, comets, asteroids and meteorites, and interplanetary dust particles. In this article we review the current knowledge of abundant organic material in different space environments and investigate the connection between presolar and solar system material, based on observations of interstellar dust and gas, cometary volatiles, simulation experiments, and the analysis of extraterrestrial matter. Current challenges in astrochemistry are discussed and future research directions are proposed.
Complex organic molecules are present in cosmic dust, comets, and meteorites, which could have delivered material necessary for the emergence of life on Earth and other planets.
Interaction of solar protons and galactic cosmic radiation with the atmosphere and other materials produces high-energy secondary neutrons from below 1 to 1000 MeV and higher. Although secondary neutrons may provide an appreciable component of the radiation dose equivalent received by space and high-altitude air travelers, the biological effects remain poorly defined, particularly in vivo in intact organisms. Here we describe the acute response of Japanese medaka (Oryzias latipes) embryos to a beam of high-energy spallation neutrons that mimics the energy spectrum of secondary neutrons encountered aboard spacecraft and high-altitude aircraft. To determine RBE, embryos were exposed to 0–0.5 Gy of high-energy neutron radiation or 0–15 Gy of reference γ radiation. The radiation response was measured by imaging apoptotic cells in situ in defined volumes of the embryo, an assay that provides a quantifiable, linear dose response. The slope of the dose response in the developing head, relative to reference γ radiation, indicates an RBE of 24.9 (95% CI 13.6–40.7). A higher RBE of 48.1 (95% CI 30.0–66.4) was obtained based on overall survival. A separate analysis of apoptosis in muscle showed an overall nonlinear response, with the greatest effects at doses of less than 0.3 Gy. Results of this experiment indicate that medaka are a useful model for investigating biological damage associated with high-energy neutron exposure.
Planetary anthropic selection, the idea that Earth has unusual properties since, otherwise, we would not be here to observe it, is a controversial idea. This paper proposes a methodology by which to test anthropic proposals by comparison of Earth to synthetic populations of Earth-like planets. The paper illustrates this approach by investigating possible anthropic selection for high (or low) rates of Milankovitch-driven climate change. Three separate tests are investigated: (1) Earth-Moon properties and their effect on obliquity; (2) Individual planet locations and their effect on eccentricity variation; (3) The overall structure of the Solar System and its effect on eccentricity variation. In all three cases, the actual Earth/Solar System has unusually low Milankovitch frequencies compared to similar alternative systems. All three results are statistically significant at the 5% or better level, and the probability of all three occurring by chance is less than 10−5. It therefore appears that there has been anthropic selection for slow Milankovitch cycles. This implies possible selection for a stable climate, which, if true, undermines the Gaia hypothesis and also suggests that planets with Earth-like levels of biodiversity are likely to be very rare. Key Words: Planetary habitability and biosignatures—Intelligence—Paleoenvironment and paleoclimate—Co-evolution of Earth and life—Complex life. Astrobiology 11, 105–114.
In the coming decades human space exploration is expected to move beyond low-Earth orbit. This transition involves increasing mission time and therefore an increased risk of radiation exposure from solar particle event (SPE) radiation. Acute radiation effects after exposure to SPE radiation are of prime importance due to potential mission-threatening consequences. The major objective of this study was to characterize the dose–response relationship for proton and γ radiation delivered at doses up to 2 Gy at high (0.5 Gy/min) and low (0.5 Gy/h) dose rates using white blood cell (WBC) counts as a biological end point. The results demonstrate a dose-dependent decrease in WBC counts in mice exposed to high- and low-dose-rate proton and γ radiation, suggesting that astronauts exposed to SPE-like radiation may experience a significant decrease in circulating leukocytes.
Space flight conditions within the protection of Earth’s gravitational field have been shown to alter immune responses, which could lead to potentially detrimental pathology. An additional risk of extended space travel outside the Earth’s gravitational field is the effect of solar particle event (SPE) radiation exposure on the immune system. Organisms that could lead to infection include endogenous, latent viruses, colonizing pathogenics, and commensals, as well as exogenous microbes present in the spacecraft or other astronauts. In this report, the effect of SPE-like radiation on containment of commensal bacteria and the innate immune response induced by its breakdown was investigated at the radiation energies, doses and dose rates expected during an extravehicular excursion outside the Earth’s gravitational field. A transient increase in serum lipopolysaccharide was observed 1 day after irradiation and was accompanied by an increase in acute-phase reactants and circulating proinflammatory cytokines, indicating immune activation. Baseline levels were reestablished by 5 days postirradiation. These findings suggest that astronauts exposed to SPE radiation could have impaired containment of colonizing bacteria and associated immune activation.
On June 27–28, 2011 scientists from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), NASA, and academia met in Bethesda to discuss major lung cancer issues confronting each organization. For NASA – available data suggest lung cancer is the largest potential cancer risk from space travel for both men and women and quantitative risk assessment information for mission planning is needed. In space the radiation risk is from high energy and charge (HZE) nuclei (such as Fe) and high energy protons from solar flares and not from gamma radiation. By contrast the NCI is endeavoring to estimate the increased lung cancer risk from the potential wide-spread implementation of computed tomography (CT) screening in individuals at high risk for developing lung cancer based on the National Lung Cancer Screening Trial (NLST). For the latter, exposure will be x-rays from CT scans from the screening (which uses “low dose” CT scans) and also from follow-up scans used to evaluate abnormalities found during initial screening. Topics discussed included the risk of lung cancer arising after HZE particle, proton, and low dose Earth radiation exposure. The workshop examined preclinical models, epidemiology, molecular markers, “omics” technology, radiobiology issues, and lung stem cells (LSC) that relate to the development of lung cancer.
In a solar particle event (SPE), an unshielded astronaut would receive proton radiation with an energy profile that produces a highly inhomogeneous dose distribution (skin receiving a greater dose than internal organs). The novel concept of using megavoltage electron-beam radiation to more accurately reproduce both the total dose and the dose distribution of SPE protons and make meaningful RBE comparisons between protons and conventional radiation has been described previously. Here, Yucatan minipigs were used to determine the effects of a superficial, SPE-like proton dose distribution using megavoltage electrons. In these experiments, dose-dependent increases in skin pigmentation, ulceration, keratinocyte necrosis and pigment incontinence were observed. Five of 18 animals (one each exposed to 7.5 Gy and 12.5 Gy radiation and three exposed to 25 Gy radiation) developed symptomatic, radiation-associated pneumonopathy approximately 90 days postirradiation. The three animals from the highest dose group showed evidence of mycoplasmal pneumonia along with radiation pneumonitis. Moreover, delayed-type hypersensitivity was found to be altered, suggesting that superficial irradiation of the skin with ionizing radiation might cause immune dysfunction or dysregulation. In conclusion, using total doses, patterns of dose distribution, and dose rates that are compatible with potential astronaut exposure to SPE radiation, animals experienced significant toxicities that were qualitatively different from toxicities previously reported in pigs for homogeneously delivered radiation at similar doses.
Quantum tunnelling is a phenomenon which becomes relevant at the nanoscale and below. It is a paradox from the classical point of view as it enables elementary particles and atoms to permeate an energetic barrier without the need for sufficient energy to overcome it. Tunnelling might seem to be an exotic process only important for special physical effects and applications such as the Tunnel Diode, Scanning Tunnelling Microscopy (electron tunnelling) or Near-field Optical Microscopy operating in photon tunnelling mode. However, this review demonstrates that tunnelling can do far more, being of vital importance for life: physical and chemical processes which are crucial in theories about the origin and evolution of life can be traced directly back to the effects of quantum tunnelling. These processes include the chemical evolution in stellar interiors and within the cold interstellar medium, prebiotic chemistry in the atmosphere and subsurface of planetary bodies, planetary habitability via insolation and geothermal heat as well as the function of biomolecular nanomachines. This review shows that quantum tunnelling has many highly important implications to the field of molecular and biological evolution, prebiotic chemistry and astrobiology.
Biomolecular nanomachines; Interstellar; Life; Nucleosynthesis; Planetary habitability; Prebiotic; quantum tunnelling; Radioactive decay.
Stars in the late stages of evolution are able to synthesize complex organic compounds with aromatic and aliphatic structures over very short time scales. These compounds are ejected into the interstellar medium and distributed throughout the Galaxy. The structures of these compounds are similar to the insoluble organic matter found in meteorites. In this paper, we discuss to what extent stellar organics has enriched the primordial Solar System and possibly the early Earth.
Interstellar medium; Planetary nebulae; Asymptotic giant branch stars; Solar system; Meteorites; Pre-solar grains; Interplanetary dust particles
Immune system adaptation during spaceflight is a concern in space medicine. Decreased circulating leukocytes observed during and after space flight infer suppressed immune responses and susceptibility to infection. The microgravity aspect of the space environment has been simulated on Earth to study adverse biological effects in astronauts. In this report, the hindlimb unloading (HU) model was employed to investigate the combined effects of solar particle event-like proton radiation and simulated microgravity on immune cell parameters including lymphocyte subtype populations and activity. Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell critical for adaptive immune responses and T lymphocytes are regulators of cell-mediated immunity, controlling the entire immune response. Mice were suspended prior to and after proton radiation exposure (2 Gy dose) and total leukocyte numbers and splenic lymphocyte functionality were evaluated on days 4 or 21 after combined HU and radiation exposure. Total white blood cell (WBC), lymphocyte, neutrophil, and monocyte counts are reduced by approximately 65%, 70%, 55%, and 70%, respectively, compared to the non-treated control group at 4 days after combined exposure. Splenic lymphocyte subpopulations are altered at both time points investigated. At 21 days post-exposure to combined HU and proton radiation, T cell activation and proliferation were assessed in isolated lymphocytes. Cell surface expression of the Early Activation Marker, CD69, is decreased by 30% in the combined treatment group, compared to the non-treated control group and cell proliferation was suppressed by approximately 50%, compared to the non-treated control group. These findings reveal that the combined stressors (HU and proton radiation exposure) result in decreased leukocyte numbers and function, which could contribute to immune system dysfunction in crew members. This investigation is one of the first to report on combined proton radiation and simulated microgravity effects on hematopoietic, specifically immune cells.
Material from the surface of a planet can be ejected into space by a large impact and could carry primitive life-forms with it. We performed n-body simulations of such ejecta to determine where in the Solar System rock from Earth and Mars may end up. We found that, in addition to frequent transfer of material among the terrestrial planets, transfer of material from Earth and Mars to the moons of Jupiter and Saturn is also possible, but rare. We expect that such transfers were most likely to occur during the Late Heavy Bombardment or during the ensuing 1–2 billion years. At this time, the icy moons were warmer and likely had little or no ice shell to prevent meteorites from reaching their liquid interiors. We also note significant rates of re-impact in the first million years after ejection. This could re-seed life on a planet after partial or complete sterilization by a large impact, which would aid the survival of early life during the Late Heavy Bombardment. Key Words: Panspermia—Impact—Meteorites—Titan—Europa. Astrobiology 13, 1155–1165.
Planet Earth has experienced repeated changes of its climate throughout time. Periods warmer than today as well as much colder, during glacial episodes, have alternated. In our time, rapid population growth with increased demand for natural resources and energy, has made society increasingly vulnerable to environmental changes, both natural and those caused by man; human activity is clearly affecting the radiation balance of the Earth. In the session “Climate Change and Mitigation” the speakers offered four different views on coal and CO2: the basis for life, but also a major hazard with impact on Earth’s climate. A common denominator in the presentations was that more than ever science and technology is required. We need not only understand the mechanisms for climate change and climate variability, we also need to identify means to remedy the anthropogenic influence on Earth’s climate.
Climate change; Carbon sequestration; Methanol economy; Artificial climate control
Metabolic innovation has facilitated the radiation of microbes into almost every niche environment on the Earth, and over geological time scales transformed the planet on which we live. A notable example of innovation is the evolution of oxygenic photosynthesis which was a prelude to the gradual transformation of an anoxic Earth into a world with oxygenated oceans and an oxygen-rich atmosphere capable of supporting complex multicellular organisms. The influence of microbial innovation on the Earth's history and the timing of pivotal events have been addressed in other recent themed editions of Philosophical Transactions of Royal Society B (Cavalier-Smith et al. 2006; Bendall et al. 2008). In this issue, our contributors provide a timely history of metabolic innovation and adaptation within unicellular eukaryotes. In eukaryotes, diverse metabolic portfolios are compartmentalized across multiple membrane-bounded compartments (or organelles). However, as a consequence of pathway retargeting, organelle degeneration or novel endosymbiotic associations, the metabolic repertoires of protists often differ extensively from classic textbook descriptions of intermediary metabolism. These differences are often important in the context of niche adaptation or the structure of microbial communities. Fundamentally interesting in its own right, the biochemical, cell biological and phylogenomic investigation of organellar metabolism also has wider relevance. For instance, in some pathogens, notably those causing some of the most significant tropical diseases, including malaria, unusual organellar metabolism provides important new drug targets. Moreover, the study of organellar metabolism in protists continues to provide critical insight into our understanding of eukaryotic evolution.
adaptation; cellular metabolism; endosymbiosis; organellar genomes; organellogenesis; protein targeting