In the next decade, it is possible that you will see a headline reporting that NASA has found evidence of life in space.
Will this news cause you running screaming outside? A recent article in the Sunday Sunday Telegraph hints that NASA's Jim Greene, director of Planetary Sciences, believes the public may be disrupted by the discovery of biology outside our planet. But Green doesn't really believe that. He is concerned that we have not thought too much about the next steps of scientists, whether we should suddenly face the reality of Martian life.
Here is the backstory: In 2020, Mars and Earth will again be relatively close to each other in their neighboring orbits around the sun. To take advantage of this random orbit, space agencies will lobby a small crew of spaceships to the Red Planet. Unlike the employers now occupied by the dusty landscapes of Mars, this new ship, launched by NASA and European-Russian cooperation, will be engaged in a type of exploration that has not been attempted since the NASA Vikings landed there in the mid-1
Soon, the departure of these new robotics researchers prompted Green to say that we can learn about life on Mars in a few years. They could dig up convincing evidence of biology. But he also said that the next steps are murky. Now he did not say that news of extraterrestrial life inevitably disturbs the public. We know it won't, because, after all, we conducted this experiment more than two decades ago.
In 1996, the blockbuster news story was a statement that fossil microbes were found in a meteorite known as the onion of ancient Martian regolith, or soil. The meteorite – known as ALH 84001 – was a small sample of Mars that apparently contained shady corpses of ancient germs.
It was a huge story, but the public reaction was as calm as dawn. People just wanted to know more. Unfortunately, the story of the Martian meteorite has changed as evidence has been explored by other researchers. The argument for the ancient germs on the Red Planet was weak.
The fact is that the public found the story intriguing but not disturbing. It was about life on Mars, but about life like bacteria – and long dead.
But what if we find life on Mars – for example, a layer of fussy bacteria lying a few meters below the sterile Mars surface? What would we do? Someone will tell Elon Moscow to stop its planned excursions to Mars because the planet has an indigenous population?
Obviously, this is a scenario we're not ready for. Even if new Mars researchers find only the evidence of a biota that died out billions of years ago, it's not clear we have a battle plan for the science we want to do next. Green's application applies: Unlike the scout guys, we're not quite ready.
Of course, it can be said that the Spanish court was unprepared for the discovery of the new world in 1492, and it was too improvised reaction. But we hope we can do better in finding evidence of life on Mars because, after all, we can see that it is approaching.
And this is it: For many people, the term "Martians" refers to intelligent beings, usually with less favorable attitude toward Earthlings. For these people, the statement that "we are not ready to open life on Mars" sounds like a worrying shortage of military readiness.
For anyone who is familiar with the real conditions on Mars, this is unwise. There are no civilized species on the Red Planet, and no evidence that they have ever existed. If the Martians are clinging to a little red friend on Earth, you need a 40x magnification to see them. They don't come to Earth unless we pack them up and bring them back into our missiles.
In addition, a recent poll by Arizona State University shows that most Earthlings welcome smart newcomers. Apparently, they consider it likely that such creatures will be benevolent. Thank you, E.T.
Obviously, what steps we would take if Martian were found is still undetermined. As Green said in the conversation, "What we do next depends on what we find first." But this is very true: Discovering what was or was life in Mars would be extremely important. It would be a testament to the fact that life is a process that begins in many worlds and, therefore, the universe is overflowing with biology – an idea that, to date, is no more than an attractive hypothesis.
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