Johns Hopkins University biologist Jocelyne DiRuggiero has launched a citizen science/crowdsourcing project, called Rockiology, to help her find rocks – but not just any rocks.
What DiRuggiero wants for her lab are rocks that harbor microorganisms that can eke out life in Earth’s most hostile conditions, creatures that are so tough they might even survive on other planets or moons.
DiRuggiero specializes in studying these single-cell microbes, called extremophiles – for the extreme conditions in which they survive. To know more about them she needs more samples, and to gather more samples she needs help reaching the most dry, barren places on Earth: deserts, dry valleys in Antarctica, places that resemble other planets.
DiRuggiero said in a statement:
We can go to some places and collect rocks, but we can’t go everywhere.
That’s why she’s asking for help from citizen scientists. To join the project, go to the Rockiology website, where you’ll find instructions on what sort of rocks to look for and how to send in photos of the rocks – and perhaps eventually the rocks themselves – as well as information on where they were found.
DiRuggiero has been cracking Earth’s rocks while engaged in the work of astrobiology, which NASA defines this as the study of the origins, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe.
Although, so far, no actual astrobiology off the Earth has been found, DiRuggiero believes that the cosmos is too vast, and its perhaps 2 trillion galaxies too crowded with stars and planets for there not to be life out there somewhere.
To shed light on the mystery of whether life could exist elsewhere, DiRuggiero hopes to know more about creatures that live in conditions on Earth that resemble that on other planets. Some of those places are very dry, or very salty, or both.
Bottom line: How to join the Rockiology citizen scientist project to help an astrobiologist learn about extremophiles living in rocks.
Eleanor Imster has helped write and edit EarthSky since 1995. She was an integral part of the award-winning EarthSky radio series almost since it began until it ended in 2013. Today, as Lead Editor at EarthSky.org, she helps present the science and nature stories and photos you enjoy. She also serves as one of the voices of EarthSky on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and G+. She and her husband live in Tennessee and have two grown sons.