Building blocks of life are not life or even really close, but they are hopeful signs.  NASA has announced that the Curiosity rover has found signs of the building blocks of life, as we know it, on Mars.   

These building blocks are common throughout the cosmos.  Even in interstellar clouds.  To have life, as we know it, requires liquid water.  Remember the signs of liquid water found on Mars back in 2011? Since then it has been convincingly argued that they may have just be flows of fine sand grains without water being involved at all.  Further study continues.  

Mars is extraordinarily cold and dry, like our most arid deserts. Harsh but possibly not totally lifeless. There is a chance of life there, hidden away perhaps in thin layers of brines just a couple of centimeters below the surface, or as spores within the dust. Our astronauts will be covered in microbes from Earth too and our habitats filled with life. What happens when life mixes together from these two biospheres?

This is a debate hosted by the SETI institute between Robert Zubrin, founder and head of the Mars Society, and one of NASA’s former planetary protection officers, John Rummel. They debate the requirements of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 to protect both Earth and other celestial bodies like Mars from any harmful effects from the exchange of living organisms between the planets on our spacecraft.

Visual observation of the planets of our solar system has always been an appealing pastime for amateur astronomers, but the digital era has taken away a little bit of glamour to this activity. Until 30 years ago you could spot with your eye more detail than was at reach of normal photography even for large telescopes, so amateur astronomers could contribute to planetary science by producing detailed drawings of the surface of Jupiter, Saturn, Venus, and Mars. 
I've noted the following about a chained orbital resonance system with base period P: If an observer at ~138° from our vantage point is well-positioned to observe transits pass by at intervals that are multiples of P, then we would see transits pass by at intervals that are approximate multiples of P / 13. More often than not, transits would show up at intervals that are multiples of ~2 × P / 13.

ESA have just signed a letter of intent to co-operate with NASA on a Mars sample return mission (see Agencies aim to bring back rocks from Mars). I hope this does not mean a change of focus for ESA, from in situ searches, to a sample return. This expensive NASA program is more of a geological sample return and technology demo than an astrobiology mission. It's not likely to resolve any of the central questions in astrobiology. Yet there is so much involved in ensuring that Earth's environment is protected, both legally and technically, that  it is unlikely that they are ready to return an unsterilized sample to Earth before 2040.

The reason we know so little about the polar regions is not lack of interest. The polar regions are of great interest, for instance the Martian dry ice geysers in Richardson crater, one of the most interesting dynamic processes on Mars and the polar regions also have astrobiological interest too. There are potential habitats there that might even have fresh liquid water within 7 cms of the surface, beneath clear ice - of all the unexpected things to find on Mars with its near vacuum atmosphere!

One of the most fundamental predictions of Einstein's theory of relativity is the existence of black holes.

Although gravitational waves from binary black holes have been detected, direct evidence using electromagnetic waves hasn't happened and astronomers are searching for it with radio telescopes.  But then how can you tell them apart? Radio images have a limited resolution and image fidelity and at realistic image resolutions, even highly non-Einsteinian black holes seem like normal black holes.

Lisa Pratt, the new planetary protection officer for NASA takes up her job at a challenging time for astrobiology. We are approaching a major decision point for Mars. If Elon Musk succeeds in his ambitious plans, then some time in the next couple of decades we may introduce trillions of hardy microbial spores to the planet. Not deliberately, but just because we can't help but take them with us wherever we go.