(This article contains excerpts from an article by Mark Muckenfuss, published in the Press-Enterprise on October 8, 2014)
A UC Riverside-led research team is part of a $50 million NASA program designed to detect life on distant planets. Biogeochemistry professor Timothy Lyons has spent years studying the chemistry of ancient rocks on Earth. The data from that work has allowed him and his colleagues to theorize about the environmental conditions on the planet at various times in its early evolution.
Biogeochemistry Professor, Timothy Lyons
This research initiative, as part of the NASA program, is an extraordinary example of Seizing Our Destiny’s catalyst for innovation pillar, and UC Riverside is at the forefront. The people and educational institutions of Riverside cultivate and support research and exploration in the scientific community. Creativity and innovation permeate all that we do, which makes our community a trendsetter for the region, nation, and world to follow.
The $8 million that Lyons’ multi-disciplinary team will receive from the NASA Astrobiology Institute is for a five-year study. He believes it won’t take much longer than that before astrobiologists will be able to detect life on distant planets.
He’s excited by the current exploration of Mars, using rovers to sample the soil and, among other things, look for any signs of ancient life. With new, more powerful telescopes due to come on line soon, he expects the number of identified exoplanets to further grow. With each one, he said, there is the possibility of finding extraterrestrial life. The best way to discover such life, he said, is to look at our own planet.
The broad spectrum of scientists involved – 19 researchers from 11 universities and labs – includes experts in genomics, tectonics, geochemistry, paleontology and earth system modeling.
Two of the team members are former graduate researchers who worked in Lyons’ lab. UCR graduates Noah Planavsky, now at Yale, and Christopher Reinhard, at Georgia Tech, helped Lyons gather ancient rock samples and reconstruct the conditions on Earth from the period when those rocks were formed. Having that team centered at UCR will bring greater recognition to the school, he said.
“It’s a good thing for UCR, and it’s a good thing for the Inland Empire”, said Lyons.
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