tel: 256 961 7770
fax: 256 931 7524
Area of Expertise
Astrobiology, microbial extremophiles, diatoms; X-Ray/EUV Optics, microscopy
Richard B. Hoover established the Astrobiology Research Group at the NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center in 1997. He is currently Astrobiologist at Athens State University and Visiting Research Professor with the Centre for Astrobiology at the University of Buckingham in the United Kingdom. Prof. Hoover is a Fellow of SPIE, the International Society for Optical Engineering. He has Chaired 38 SPIE International Scientific Conferences on X-Ray/EUV Optics and Astrobiology and served on the SPIE Board of Directors for many years. He was President of SPIE in 2001. In 2009, Richard B. Hoover was awarded the SPIE Gold Medal, which is the highest honor awarded by this International Scientific Society, for his work on X-Ray Optics and Astrobiology.
Prof. Hoover joined the NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center in 1966 and developed the Telescope that produced high-resolution x-ray images of the Sun from SKYLAB, America's first Space Station. In 1992, he was selected NASA Inventor of the Year and Nominee for National Inventor of the Year for his invention of the Water Window Imaging X-ray Microscope designed to take x-ray images of the interiors of living cells. In 1996, he initiated the Astrobiology research program at the NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center. At MSFC his research concentrated on bacteria and other microorganisms that live in extreme environments (extremophiles) and searching for microfossils in ancient meteorites as evidence for the existence of extraterrestrial life. Hoover served as Science Team Leader for the Antarctica 2000 Expedition with Astronauts James A. Lovell (Gemini 7 & 12; Apollo 8 & Apollo 13) and Owen K. Garriott (Skylab III & Spacelab 1) that recovered 20 meteorites from the Thiel Mountains, Antarctica. He was Science Team Lead for the Joint US/Russia/Austria International Astrobiology Expeditions to study extremophiles in the Schirmacher Oasis and Lake Untersee, Antarctica in 2008. These Scientific Expeditions resulted in the discovery of several important new genera and 12 new species of bacteria and archaea.
In recognition of his work on Expeditions to Siberia, Alaska, Patagonia, South Africa, Iceland and Antarctica and for his research on novel microbial extremophiles and microfossils in meteorites, Prof. Hoover was elected a Fellow National of the Explorers Club and Honorary Life Member of the Planetary Studies Foundation. He has Authored and/or Edited over 50 books and ~350 scientific papers on X-Ray/EUV optics, Solar Physics, Astrophysics, Diatoms, Microbial Extremophiles, Meteorites, and Astrobiology. His work has been featured in many films produced by the National Science Foundation, the BBC; Discovery Channel, History Channel, National Geographic, National Science Foundation, Science Channel, and NHK Japan Television. He is featured in the TV Series NASA's Unexplained Files broadcast in the U.S. by the Science Channel. Prof. Hoover was recently appointed to the Advisory Committee on Astrobiology for the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JINR) in Dubna, Russia.
Is life restricted to the Planet Earth or is there life elsewhere in the Cosmos?
Abstract:This is the fundamental question of the newly emerging field of Astrobiology. It may be simply stated: Does Extraterrestrial Life Exist? Astonishing recent discoveries are providing an answer to this vital question. Expeditions to Earth's most extreme environments --- from the Polar Ice Caps and Glaciers to Volcanoes and Deep Sea Hydrothermal Vents -- have revealed that life exists on our planet wherever water, energy sources and approximately 20 life-critical (C, H, O, N, P, S, etc.) elements co-exist. Giant Radio Telescopes, Orbiting Observatories, Space Probes and Rovers have shown that these conditions are present on virtually every planet and moon of our Solar System (from Mercury to Pluto). Evidence has been found indicating these life-critical conditions are also present on ExtraSolar Planets and in Giant Molecular Clouds, Distant Galaxies and Quasars throughout the Cosmos.
Meteorites are extraterrestrial messengers from Space. Carbonaceous meteorites contain all biogenic elements required for life as well as large amounts of extraterrestrial water, carbon and complex organic chemicals. They contain olivine crystals and diamonds that formed in Supernova explosions 4.6 billion years ago - before our Solar System condensed from the Proto-Solar Nebula. Tracks left when heavy nuclei in galactic cosmic rays passed through ancient olivine have been used to search for evidence of Superheavy Elements in nature. The presence of volatile organic chemicals in carbonaceous meteorites proves they were never exposed to temperatures above 200 oC. and the extensive aqueous alteration of their minerals establishes that liquid water must have existed for very long time periods within their parent bodies. Study of meteorite entry trajectories and comparison of their albedo and spectral data indicate water-bearing asteroids or comets as their most probable parent bodies. The astonishing discovery of extraterrestrial nucleobases, chiral amino acids, pristane and phytane (remnants of the complex photosynthetic pigment chlorophyll) which are only produced by living organisms on Earth provided hints of extraterrestrial life.
Recent Scanning Electron Microscopy studies carried out in collaboration with Academician Alexei Yu. Rozanov, Director of the Astrobiology Sector, JINR in Dubna, Russia have resulted in the discovery of well-preserved fossils of cyanobacteria, diatoms and other algae embedded in the rock matrix of several carbonaceous meteorites. X-Ray Spectroscopy shows these recognizable microfossils have no detectable Nitrogen, which proves they are not modern terrestrial biological contaminants that entered the meteorites after they landed on Earth. Consequently these fossils are interpreted as providing direct evidence for the existence of extraterrestrial life. This presentation reveals these images and recent discoveries that are providing new Perspectives in Astrobiology.
Searching for Life in All the Wrong Places
This is a talk for the general public with a description of the wonders of Microbial Extremophiles and a lot of photos of Travels to North Siberia, Volcanoes, and to Patagonia (with Magellanic Penguins) and the Thiel Mountains and the South Pole (with Owen Garriott and Jim Lovell) to search for meteorites and microbes. I can provide an Abstract if you wish.