LPL Newsletter for December 2020

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Searching for evidence of life elsewhere and for the origins of life on Earth and elsewhere has become an increasingly important topic in recent years. This month, NASA established a new Interdisciplinary Consortia for Astrobiology Research program, and two of the first eight teams selected are led by LPL faculty, Dániel Apai and Betül Kaçar. Meanwhile, the nearest body to Earth that seems like a promising candidate to have had life is Mars, but the red planet has very little water, at least compared to the amount that geological evidence suggests was there in the past. Now a team led by LPL grad student Shane Stone has shown that the water-loss process is much more complicated than previously appreciated.

Enjoy reading these stories, as well as a story relating to the OSIRIS-REx mission, in this month's newsletter. On a sad note, we also include an item about the demise of the radio telescope at the Arecibo Observatory, where several members of the LPL community have worked and/or collected data over the years.

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Director and Department Head
Illustration of Earth or Earth-like planet

Life on Ancient Earth and Alien Planets: UArizona to Lead NASA Astrobiology Projects

NASA awarded approximately $12 million to UArizona astrobiology researchers to establish two major new research teams tasked with advancing our fundamental understanding of early Earth biology and biogeochemistry, and with exploring which nearby planets outside our solar system may be suitable for hosting life.

This artist's concept depicts the early Martian environment (right) – believed to contain liquid water and a thicker atmosphere – versus the cold, dry environment seen at Mars today (left).NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Escape from Mars: How Water Fled the Red Planet

New LPL-led research updates our understanding of how water escaped Mars–not like a leaky faucet but with a sudden splash.

Ronald Ballouz

How Bullet Holes in Beirut Buildings Led to a Discovery about Bennu

Ronald Ballouz, a postdoctoral research associate at LPL, came to UArizona to work on the OSIRIS-REx mission. In a recent interview, he describes how growing up in a war-torn country shaped his interests and outlook on life and his passions, and even inspired an exciting discovery on asteroid Bennu.

Arecibo Observatory's 305-meter telescope in November of 2020. University of Central Florida.

Lamenting the Loss of the Arecibo Observatory

Arecibo Observatory’s iconic radio telescope, which has bridged earth and sky from its base in Puerto Rico for 57 years, is to be dismantled, having sustained irreparable damage.