NASA Kepler Visionary Honored By American Association for the Advancement of Science

William J. Borucki, principal investigator for NASA's Kepler mission at the agency's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California, has been named a Fellow by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Borucki is recognized for distinguished contributions to the field of astrophysics, with his leadership of the Kepler Mission leading to the discovery of thousands of exoplanets.

"This is a worthy acknowledgment of Bill Borucki's vision and the commitment of the Kepler mission team," said Michael Bicay, director for science at Ames. “Kepler has re-written the narrative in contemporary astronomy by proving what scientists long suspected—that planets are common in our Milky Way galaxy. This essential leap in knowledge allows us to take the next important steps in ascertaining whether life could exist elsewhere."

Click to see large imageKepler is the first NASA mission to find Earth-size planets in the habitable zone--the region in a planetary system where liquid water might pool on the surface of an orbiting planet. To date, Kepler has identified more than 5,100 planet candidates, of which more than 2,500 have been verified as bona fide planets confirming that planets are everywhere.

Beginning in 1992, with the first proposal for the Kepler mission to NASA Headquarters, Borucki led a determined team through a decade of tackling questions about technology that had not been flown in space yet. With the final concerns addressed, the mission once deemed impossible was approved for flight in 2000. 

"I am truly honored to be named a fellow by an organization that has a proud history of promoting advances in the sciences," said Borucki. 

Borucki will be presented with an official certificate and a gold and blue (representing science and engineering, respectively) rosette pin at a ceremony Feb. 18, 2017 at the 2017 AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston, Massachussetts.

Previous honors Borucki has received include the 2016 Franklin Institute Bower Award and Prize; the 2015 Shaw Prize; the 2013 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals presented by United States President Obama; and the 2013 Henry Draper Medal.

Borucki earned a Master of Science degree in physics from the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 1962 and joined Ames as a space scientist that same year. The results of Borucki's early work developing spectroscopic instrumentation to determine the plasma properties of hypervelocity shock waves was used in the design of the heat shields for the Apollo mission. In July 2015, Borucki retired from NASA after 52 years of service at the agency. 

Ames manages the Kepler and K2 missions for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. JPL managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation operates the flight system with support from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

For more information about the Kepler and K2 missions, visit:

For more information on the AAAS Fellows program, visit:

Crucible of Worlds: A System for Space Synthetic Biology Experiments

Aaron Berliner is the Science PI on a recently funded NASA Ames SIF project to investigate Mars habitability. He will talk about the development of the "extreme conditions" Crucible environmental chamber. The project is a collaboration between NASA Ames Research Center, UC Berkeley, and Autodesk to build a system that will allow for biology experiments under extreme conditions as a step towards space synthetic biology.

The Life, The Sea, The Space Viking Sigur Ros (Jónsi, Orri Páll Dýrason, Georg Hólm), the whispering muse in Iceland

Throughout October and November, the SETI Institute will release some of the short videos and trailers developed in house at the SETI Institute by our Designer of Experiences Nelly Ben Hayoun as part of the project The Life, the Sea and the Space Viking which deals with the contemporary debates on astrobiology and terraforming. Two areas of expertise developed at the SETI Institute by our world class scientists.

Read our previous post on the project here: 

Within this clip Nelly discusses the soundtrack to the expedition The Life, The Sea and the Space Viking with the Icelandic band Sigur Ros. 

THE LIFE, THE SEA AND THE SPACE VIKING// Sigur Ros (Jónsi, Orri Páll Dýrason, Georg Hólm), the whispering muse in Iceland

Sigur Rós is an Icelandic post-rock band from Reykjavík, who have been active since 1994. Known for their ethereal sound, frontman Jónsi's falsetto vocals, and the use of bowed guitar, the band's music is also noticeable for its incorporation of classical and minimalist aesthetic elements. The band is named after Jónsi's sister Sigurrós Elín. 

View more updates and the trailer at

Dec 14 - Nathalie Cabrol presents the Sagan Lecture at AGU 2016

On Wednesday December 14, at 10:25 AM PST, Nathalie Cabrol will be presenting this year's Sagan Lecture at the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. The lecture is not open to the general public, but is available as a live stream on the day of the talk.


Physicochemical and environmental conditions determine the range of possible biogeochemistries on planets and moons. Yet, the Earth shows that as soon as life took hold, it modified its environment, from the mineralogy of sediments to the global composition of the atmosphere. In their evolution, life and environment are intertwined and cannot be separated. This coevolution is one of the most fundamental concepts in astrobiology, one that is central to our understanding of what, where, and how to search for life beyond Earth.

In that quest, Mars will be the first destination for planetary missions seeking biosignatures. Both Earth and Mars had shared traits during the Archean/Noachian period. However, for Mars, the impact of a different environmental evolution on the development of life and the preservation of biosignatures remains unclear. In addition to an irreversible global climate change, Mars always had greater environmental variability than Earth due to its astronomical characteristics. Biological evolution, if any, would have had to proceed in this distinct context. If parallels can be drawn, the major metabolisms supporting Earth’s biogeochemical cycles had evolved early. Understanding the succession of physical and environmental processes and their combination in the first 700 million years of Mars history is, therefore, essential to envision possible metabolisms, adaptation strategies life would have required to survive changes, and the biosignatures that could still be preserved today.

Ultimately, the astrobiological significance of exploring Mars is also about teaching us invaluable lessons about the uniqueness of each planetary experiment, regardless of similarities. Beyond the Solar System, this notion can be expanded to the search for earth-like exoplanets, and for what it means to search for life as we know it, simple or complex.

Arrival: Squid Pro Quo

By Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer

Who speaks for Earth?

If scientists ever succeed in making contact with extraterrestrial beings, who gets to steer the conversation? Indeed, how do we even have a conversation? Despite what Gene Roddenberry told you, any real aliens’ command of English will be meager.

A major new sci-fi film, Arrival, deals with these and other frequently ignored matters. Its unconventional style is both understated and cerebral. This is not a shoot-‘em-up alien flick; rather, the makers have emphasized empathy and character development, an approach that may disappoint middle school boys, but is refreshing for the rest of us.

The first thing that becomes obvious once the film gets into its second reel is that it has veered from the usual playbook for cosmic encounters. In nine out of ten films featuring space beings, the aliens - presumably cranky from a peanutless trip of hundreds of trillions of miles - take it out on the locals. A favorite amusement is to level cities and zap the citizenry. The hunt is on, and the peasants are the pheasants. Cue the computer-generated imagery.

That, at least, makes for a straightforward story line, and is an excuse for an alien wilding in which iconic buildings are the first to go.

But the visitors in Arrival aren’t interested in giving postcard cities instant urban renewal. They’ve got some problem in their future that only our descendants can solve. Consequently, they’re here to negotiate and play nice.

Unfortunately, there’s still that pesky language barrier. A linguist (Amy Adams) and a theoretical physicist (Jeremy Renner) are brought to bear, seeking ways to converse with these squid-like guests.

There’s a faint hint of reality in this, because honest-to-goodness academics have thought about how we might deal with the language problem should our radio telescopes pick up a signal from another world. Some scientists have proposed devising patter based on mathematics. My preference would be to simply compile a picture dictionary. Even a few hundred words might be adequate for simple conversation of the kind found in most dive bars.

In the film, this latter approach is taken and, gratifyingly, works out. The calamari creatures are soon spelling out sentences in their own inefficient writing style while bellowing like a sousaphone quartet. It’s better banter than what Chris Columbus was able to manage with the Caribbean natives.

But even aside from the chit-chat, you have to admire the innovative way in which Arrival depicts its aliens. Central Casting’s little gray guys, with their glabrous complexions, big eyes, and anthropomorphic build, have been jettisoned in favor of large, shadowy creatures who stay behind glass in their own life-sustaining atmosphere. Indeed, you might suspect that they share some evolutionary heritage with redwood trees, given their preference for a foggy environment.

Whatever they’re breathing, it can’t be put in tanks, ‘cause these aliens never leave their spaceships. That’s novel too. Imagine sending humans to the moon, but with instructions to keep the hatch closed and never, ever take a small step for your species. And unlike the interiors of most interstellar rockets, the ones in Arrival are devoid of flashing lights, computer screens, knobs, dials, white plastic, or any other geeky accoutrements. Their vessels are more spartan than Leonidas.

And then there’s the aliens’ peculiar conception of time that, like their writing style, is somehow circular. I had a vague unease that this probably violates fundamental physics, but at least it’s something new in an invasion film.

One concern: While it’s not a certainty that these aliens are sea creatures, that seems a good bet. After all, they have tentacles and a pair of arms that can mess up the furniture by belching gallons of ink. But these guys are big, and I figure that, given their unthreatening behavior, they’re vulnerable to ending up as delicacies at Japanese restaurants. Best estimate: at least two thousand sushi rolls per alien.

How refreshing to think that visitors from another world have landed, and the cookbook applies to them.

Aliens have been the go-to bad guys for movies ever since the Soviet Union imploded, at which time humorless villains with Slavic accents were replaced by extraterrestrials marinated in mucus. That was good for Hollywood, as these computer-generated characters didn’t argue about residuals. However, like many film fixtures, most aliens have become typecast and are vaguely similar from one film to the next.

Not here. Arrival dances to the beat of a different drum, and - because of its imaginative take on familiar situations - will still be buzzing your brain the day after you see it.

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