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STS-74: Adding to Mir

The second American shuttle flight to dock with the space station Mir brought a new module to the Russian outpost. The astronauts narrate highlights from the Nov. 1995 mission.

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STS-73: Microgravity lab

The STS-73 mission in 1995 marked two weeks in space for shuttle Columbia and the second trip for the U.S. Microgravity Lab.

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STS-55: German lab 2

The international crew of STS-55 narrates the highlights from the second German flight of Spacelab.

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STS-43: Building TDRSS

The STS-43 crew narrates the highlights of its mission to expand NASA's Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System.

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Delta 2 launches GPS

A Delta 2 rocket lifts off Dec. 20 from Cape Canaveral carrying the GPS 2R-18 navigation satellite for the Global Positioning System.

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35 years ago: Apollo 17

Apollo's final lunar voyage is relived in this movie. The film depicts the highlights of Apollo 17's journey to Taurus-Littrow and looks to the future Skylab, Apollo-Soyuz and shuttle programs.

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Harmony's big move

The station's new Harmony module is detached from the Unity hub and moved to its permanent location on the Destiny lab.

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Delta 4-Heavy launch

The first operational Delta 4-Heavy rocket launches the final Defense Support Program missile warning satellite for the Air Force.

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Red dust in disk may harbor precursors to life
CARNEGIE INSTITUTION NEWS RELEASE
Posted: January 5, 2008

WASHINGTON, DC - Astronomers at the Carnegie Institution have found the first indications of highly complex organic molecules in the disk of red dust surrounding a distant star. The eight-million-year-old star, known as HR 4796A, is inferred to be in the late stages of planet formation, suggesting that the basic building blocks of life may be common in planetary systems.

In a study published in the current Astrophysical Journal Letters, John Debes and Alycia Weinberger of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Terrestrial Magnetism with Glenn Schneider of the University of Arizona report observations of infrared light from HR 4796A using the Near-Infrared Multi-Object Spectrometer aboard the Hubble Space Telescope. The researchers found that the spectrum of visible and infrared light scattered by the star's dust disk looks very red, the color produced by large organic carbon molecules called tholins. The spectrum does not match those of other red substances, such as iron oxide.

Tholins do not form naturally on present-day Earth because oxygen in the atmosphere would quickly destroy them, but they are hypothesized to have existed on the primitive Earth billions of years ago and may have been precursors to the biomolecules that make up living organisms. Tholins have been detected elsewhere in the solar system, such as in comets and on Saturn's moon Titan, where they give the atmosphere a red tinge. This study is the first report of tholins outside the solar system.

"Until recently it's been hard to know what makes up the dust in a disk from scattered light, so to find tholins this way represents a great leap in our understanding," says Debes.

HR 4796A is located in the constellation Centaurus, visible primarily form the southern hemisphere. It is about 220 light years from Earth. The discovery of its dust disk in 1991 generated excitement among astronomers, who consider it a prime example of a planetary system caught in the act of formation. The dust is generated by collisions of small bodies, perhaps similar to the comets or asteroids in our solar system, and which may be coated by the organics. These planetesimals can deliver these building blocks for life to any planets that may also be circling the star.

"Astronomers are just beginning to look for planets around stars much different from the Sun. HR 4796A is twice as massive, nearly twice as hot as the sun, and twenty times more luminous than the Sun," says Debes. "Studying this system provides new clues to understanding the different conditions under which planets form and, perhaps, life can evolve."

This research is based on observations with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and was supported by NASA and the NASA Astrobiology Institute.

The Carnegie Institution has been a pioneering force in basic scientific research since 1902. It is a private, nonprofit organization with six research departments throughout the U.S. Carnegie scientists are leaders in plant biology, developmental biology, astronomy, materials science, global ecology, and Earth and planetary science.

John Glenn Mission Patch

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The historic first orbital flight by an American is marked by this commemorative patch for John Glenn and Friendship 7.
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Final Shuttle Mission Patch

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The crew emblem for the final space shuttle mission is available in our store. Get this piece of history!
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Celebrate the shuttle program

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This special commemorative patch marks the retirement of NASA's Space Shuttle Program. Available in our store!
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Anniversary Shuttle Patch

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This embroidered patch commemorates the 30th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Program. The design features the space shuttle Columbia's historic maiden flight of April 12, 1981.
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Mercury anniversary

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Celebrate the 50th anniversary of Alan Shephard's historic Mercury mission with this collectors' item, the official commemorative embroidered patch.
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Fallen Heroes Patch Collection
The official patches from Apollo 1, the shuttle Challenger and Columbia crews are available in the store.
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