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SOLUTION

CHALLENGE

What can ancient rock formations teach us about possible life in the universe? Following NASA’s confirmation of evidence that liquid water flows on Mars, the world is pondering the possibility of life existing on other planets. While a growing number of exoplanets—planets outside our solar system—have been discovered orbiting other stars in our galaxy, we are a long way from the technology required to visit them. Nonetheless, what can we learn from our planet that will inform our exploration of life in the universe?

To answer that question, an “Alternative Earths” team led by UCR biogeochemist Timothy Lyons is looking for evidence on Earth to determine how our planet became habitable. Sharing a $50 million grant from the NASA Astrobiology Institute, the team is mapping the different states of life on Earth from 3.2 billion years ago—when bacteria may have first begun oxygen-producing photosynthesis—to about 700 million years ago, about the time animals came on the scene. As the only planet known to sustain life, Earth holds the key in determining what might be on Mars or an exoplanet far, far away.

S U S T A I N A B I L I T Y

Timothy Lyons

Distinguished Professor, Biogeochemistry College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences

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