Features & News

Microbes living in a toxic volcanic lake could hold clues to life on Mars

May 2

LASP-led research has discovered microbes living in a toxic volcanic lake that may rank as one of the harshest environments on Earth. Their findings, published recently online, could guide scientists looking for signs of ancient life on Mars.

The team, led by LASP planetary scientist Brian Hynek, braved second-degree burns, sulfuric acid fumes, and the threat of eruptions to collect samples of water from the aptly-named Laguna Caliente. Nestled in Costa Rica’s Poás Volcano, this body of water is 10 million times more acidic than tap water and can reach near boiling temperatures. It also resembles the ancient hot springs that dotted the surface of early Mars, Hynek said.

The Costa Rican lake supports living organisms—but only one. Hynek and his colleagues found microbes belonging to just a single species of bacteria in the lake water, a rock-bottom level of diversity.

CHESS-4 will examine building blocks of stars and planets

March 23

NASA will launch a LASP-built astronomy experiment to study the chemistry involved in the formation of stars and planets in the Milky Way galaxy. The Colorado High-resolution Echelle Stellar Spectrograph, or CHESS 4, is scheduled for launch on April 13 from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands on a NASA Black Brant IX sounding rocket.

The CHESS-4 mission will study the interstellar me­dium, the matter between stars. The mission focuses on translucent clouds of gas that provide the fundamental building blocks for stars and planets. These clouds have very low densities and the only way to study them is to measure how a cloud is affected by a star—and its associated outpouring of stellar material, the stellar wind—moving through it. CHESS will point at the star Gamma Ara, in the constellation Ara.

NASA powers on LASP instrument suite staring at the Sun

March 15

NASA has powered on its latest space payload to continue long-term measurements of the Sun’s incoming energy. The LASP-built Total and Spectral solar Irradiance Sensor (TSIS-1), installed on the International Space Station, is now fully operational with all instruments collecting science data.

TSIS-1 was launched from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Dec. 15, 2017. After a two-week pause, the instrument suite was extracted from the trunk of the SpaceX Dragon capsule and integrated onto its permanent home on the space station.