How Do You Make an Earth-like Planet?

Astronomers have spotted many Earth-like worlds around other stars, but are these exoplanets really similar to our home, and could they support life? The CLEVER Planets project, including UC Davis professor Sarah Stewart, has received a $7.7 million NASA grant to explore how rocky planets like Earth acquire, sustain, and nurture the chemical conditions necessary for life.

Recipe for a planet

Credit: Courtney Dressing, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Clues to Life on Mars in a Polluted California Mine

By Becky Oskin

To find evidence of life on Mars, scientists from UC Davis and the U.S. Geological Survey are chasing clues in Mars-like environments on Earth.

Pollution at the disused Iron Mountain mine near Redding, Calif. turns the soil red and makes the environment Mars-like. Amy Williams, Towson University

The environment at the Iron Mountain mine near Redding, Calif. is similar to Mars. Amy Williams, Towson University

The researchers hope to find rock patterns and textures that are uniquely linked to microscopic life such as bacteria and algae. “It’s challenging to prove that a mineral was made by a living organism,” said lead study author Amy Williams, an assistant professor at Towson University in Towson, Maryland. Williams led the research as a graduate student at UC Davis. Finding similar textures in Mars rocks could bolster confidence that microscopic shapes in Red Planet rocks were formed by living creatures.

Looking For Martians At McLaughlin Reserve

By Kathleen Wong

In a universe with billions upon billions of planets, narrowing the search for extraterrestrial life is no mean feat. One approach seeks analogs of otherworldly conditions here on Earth, and characterizes the mineralogy, geochemistry and biology of these areas.

A NASA team is drilling at McLaughlin Natural Reserve. By studying soils and microbes in this area, they hope to learn about similar environments on Mars. (NASA photo)

A NASA team is drilling at McLaughlin Natural Reserve. By studying soils and microbes in this area, they hope to learn about similar environments on Mars. (NASA photo)