The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Top News

February 13, 2013

Wisconsin scientists help search for alien life

MADISON, Wis. — Scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are helping search for evidence of alien life not by looking into outer space, but by studying some rocks right here on Earth.

Some of the rocks are up to 3.5 billion years old. The scientists are looking for crucial information to understand how life might have arisen elsewhere in the universe and guide the search for life on Mars one day.

"There's a story always hidden in rocks," said geoscientist Clark Johnson, the lead investigator for the Wisconsin Astrobiology Research Consortium. "... It's up to (geologists) to be clever enough to find the tools that we need to interrogate those rocks to find what story they preserve."

The project is funded through NASA, which provided a $7 million, five-year grant that started in January. It was the group's second five-year, $7 million grant.

The consortium includes about 50 staff, students and post-doctoral fellows from 24 institutions in five countries. About 25 of the participants are at UW-Madison.

The consortium's goal is finding footprints of biological activity, or biosignatures, which are substances such as elements or isotopes that show evidence of ancient life. The scientists are looking for microscopic signs of life, including microbes, which are bacteria, and other tiny, one-celled organisms that are much more adaptable than more complex organisms.

The team is also sending microbes into Earth's orbit on the International Space Station to see how they react to radiation and a space environment.

In the process, they are learning more about Earth's history. They've found new details of microbial life that dates back 2 billion to 3 billion years, before the planet's atmosphere contained oxygen. They've found that microbes then relied more on iron than sunlight for energy.

Eventually their work will be used to interpret data beamed back from Mars by the six-wheel spacecraft Curiosity, which landed in August on a two-year mission to determine whether the environment was ever favorable for microbial life. Their work will also be used to prepare for future Mars missions.

Text Only
Top News
  • Take a 'National Night Out'

    For one night every year, communities across the country celebrate National Night Out, a nationwide initiative to fight crime and promote safe communities.

    July 31, 2014

  • David Evers Evers' duck decoy hits auction block

    From just a block out of a basswood tree, David Evers creates award-winning pieces of artwork.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • The virtues of lying

    Two computational scientists set out recently to simulate the effects of lying in a virtual human population. Their results, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, show that lying is essential for the growth of a cohesive social network.

    July 31, 2014

  • Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 2.12.55 PM.png VIDEO: Five-year-old doesn't want her brother to grow up

    Sadie, an adorable 5-year-old from Phoenix, wants her brother to stay young forever, so much so that her emotional reaction to the thought of him getting older has drawn more than 10 million views on YouTube.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • Well affected by mercury spill is working again

    Mercury remains in one of Clinton’s Archer Daniels Midland wells, stemming from a November 2013 spill. But according to an independent study, threat levels are below Iowa Department of Natural Resources standards.
    The affected Well No. 4 returned to operation earlier this month.

    July 31, 2014

  • Blake Holovach Holovach converting back to a starting pitcher

    When Blake Holovach takes the mound tonight along the Mississippi River in Davenport, it’ll be in the first inning, which he wasn’t accustomed to in the past.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • Relay for Life: Stepping toward awareness

    Statistics reveal that cancer continues to remain the second most common cause of death in the United States, claiming one out of four deaths every day.

    July 31, 2014

  • Holly Youngquist Friends of the Library book sale is underway

    Friends of the Library Book Sale is open now. The sale is open to all until 8 p.m. today and on Friday, Aug. 1, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Finally, Saturday, Aug. 2, is box day. From 9 a.m. to  3 p.m., books will sell at $3 per box.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Cremation service helped pet owner in her time of need

    I wanted to share some positive news about a business located in Clinton that I’m guessing most residents aren’t aware even exists. It’s Northridge Pet Cremation on Main Avenue and for me they were recently a godsend.

    July 31, 2014

  • Darryl Hogue Fulton superintendent settles in to new position

    One month into the permanent River Bend School District superintendent job, Darryl Hogue has experienced the long hours, stress and the learning curve that comes with any new position.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

AP Video