“What to do if we find life”


"So what would happen if we learned that there is microbial life on Mars, or that it has existed there in the past? Well it would only challenge everything we know. We would have to come to grips with not having a unique status in the universe and will have to work out how to include extraterrestrial "life" in our existential or religious beliefs – to name a few.

On a scientific level, there's a lot at stake. Of course, it would also lead to major new efforts to find life on planets beyond Mars and even beyond our own solar system.

The first challenge if life is ever detected will be to prove that we didn't bring it there from Earth – a difficult task to achieve. Careful cataloguing of the "bioburden" load on the spacecraft and from the cleanrooms it was assembled in can provide a check on what organisms might have been present on the spacecraft when it left the Earth. Fundamentally though, life that arose beyond the Earth would likely result from subtly different chemical processes, so to find out for sure, a detailed in situ biochemical analysis would be required."  phys.org


The political farce in the US and the never ending spectacle of the Borg's failures in the ME are boring.  Now, here is something interesting.  pl  


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39 Responses to “What to do if we find life”

  1. Dubhaltach says:

    Fyunch (click)!

  2. rjj says:

    It’s there, and they SURE AS HELL don’t want to bring it back from wherever they find it. Perhaps Old Microbiologist will have something to say about this.

  3. Fred says:

    Hopefully it’s not a reverse of the tale of the microbes that killed off the Martian invaders as depicted in the War of Worlds. Just how does one filter out microbes that could be harmful before a return flight to Earth?

  4. cynic says:

    Just imagine the extraterrestrial Star Trekkers visiting Earth and saying the equivalent of,”Beam me up, Scotty. There’s no intelligent life down here.”

  5. Seems the RC Church would have no problem with such a discovery. The head of the Vatican Observatory has this to say in 2014. Of course he’s a Jesuit Brother.
    “The new president of the Vatican Observatory Foundation has said that it is only a matter of time before alien life forms are discovered, which will pave the way to questions about God’s relationship to intelligent beings outside our planet.”
    Pope Francis also talked about alien life that year and even said that Martians visiting Earth would be welcomed to receive baptism. He sure likes to stir things up.
    And on a lighter note, here’s one of the funniest SNL skits I’ve seen in recent times from Kate McKinnon, the same woman who does Hillary.

  6. Hood Canal Gardner says:

    It’s a reach, but okay. What are the numbers that ‘our’ MIC-IT/DOD gang will have their fingerprints on the contracts .. and bugs too?

  7. Pat,
    Finding evidence of life either on other planets/moons in the solar system, or via exoplanet astronomy seems pretty likely over the next 50 years. Personally my money is more on finding life via exoplanet astronomy. There are plans being developed for telescopes that are sensitive enough to be able to visually image habitable planets around nearby stars and do spectroscopy on their atmospheres. At least for life similar to what we understand it on earth, finding bio-signatures in exoplanet atmospheres (gas traces that are currently expected to be products of life like say excess oxygen) should be feasible. I know people working on such telescopes.
    Finding life inside the solar system is also possible, and it will be interesting to see what happens if we do. I know some have suggested that especially if there is evidence for existing life on Mars, that some would want to preserve the planet from human landings, to avoid contamination. If it’s just past life though, they’d have a harder time making that argument. Also, Mars isn’t the only place to look for life. There are asteroids like Ceres with tons of water in them (I think more than Earth!), moons like Europa that have subsurface liquid water oceans (heated by tidal forces), etc.
    I guess that religious or not, the idea that Earth is the only planet in the universe with life on it seems so ridiculously unlikely. From an irreligious standpoint, the idea that somehow earth is unique among hundreds of billions of planets in our galaxy alone seems crazy. But even from a religious perspective, the idea that God would create a huge universe with trillions of trillions of solar systems and planets, and only put life on one of them also seems silly and wasteful.
    Of course, I’m Mormon, and while I roll my eyes at some of the sci-fi mischaracterizations of our beliefs, we do believe that the Earth isn’t the only planet with life on it. That said, the interesting question for me is how ubiquitous is life really? How common are other intelligent species out there? Any close enough we could eventually detect and/or communicate with them? If there are, how do you resolve Fermi’s Paradox?
    Who knows. But it’s going to be awesome to start finding out. 🙂

  8. Pat Lang,
    I’m not of the opinion that it would challenge everything we know. For instance, we know that water exists on Mars and that there was previously more of it. I think that we also know that at one time, the atmosphere was thicker. Thus, wouldn’t it be logical to deduce that conditions have existed for organisms to have developed. On the other hand, we’ve never known that no form of life ever existed on Mars. Anyway, I vote yes.

  9. BabelFish says:

    Set the Alderson Drive for the Coalsack Nebula.

  10. BabelFish says:

    Arthur C. Clarke got it right in the beginning of Childhood’s End, where all the Cold War passion just dissolves with the arrival of proof of our not so unique status in the universe.

  11. Old Microbiologist says:

    Personally, other than it being of only mild interest, it will neither help nor hinder us. To me, thus is all a fantastic waste of money. We have serious problems right here on Earth. I’ll go a bit further. Mans a microbiologist I am particularly aware that we are individuals comprised from billions of individual organism (being multi-cellular). We developed here on our own planet with a very defined set of environmental constraints and IMHO we cannot live anywhere else successfully. To me the entire fantasy of interstellar exploration is just a huge waste of time and money. We might be able to genetically modify our elves to live somewhere else, but the we wouldn’t be humans anymore.
    The other problem is the Fermi paradox, and I believe we are on the verge of that phenomena and will, like 99.999% of all civilizations may destroy themselves before they leave their own planets. We need to focus on real problems and not ridiculous things like this. But, I know scientists love to feather their own beds and for some dumb reason politicians give into this, probably due to pork funding.

  12. ISL says:

    I have been updating my research on exo-oceans, one of the most exciting discoveries in the last decades, IMO, because they demonstrate that the key ingredient to life as we know it – liquid water – is actually not that uncommon even in our own solar system. Although less immediately accessible than Mars, the ocean on Ganymede with more fresh water than on earth is amazing in the true meaning of the word. And the methane/ethane oceans of Titan, with more hydrocarbons than all the oil and gas reservoirs on earth….
    If only the Chinese or Russian’s would launch a mission to claim Titan’s methane oceans for themselves, the US might look up and out again, rather than focusing on some pop diva’s choice of underwear or the national embarrassment that is how this country selects a president.

  13. Laguerre says:

    They’ve only sent a mission to discover if the methane is of life origin. It’s far from certain. If you’ve read as many science-fiction novels as I have, you’d realise that alien life has to exist somewhere. Statistically it has to. Why not Mars? Though I think that one is unlikely. Still we have to find out. One could ask the question, though, is it the best use of resources? Or would it be better to invest in the exploration of Mars, and discover whether or not there are microbes, as a by-product?

  14. Dubhaltach says:

    In reply to BabelFish 14 March 2016 at 01:51 PM
    Just don’t bring back any watchmakers or warriors.

  15. Walrus says:

    One thing is certain. If we discover life elsewhere in the solar system or universe, then the mission for the human race for the next Ten thousand years is to colonise outer space.

  16. Laguerre says:

    “To me the entire fantasy of interstellar exploration is just a huge waste of time and money.”
    Recognising, as I do, your scientific qualifications, I would have thought that finding out what happens elsewhere is an inevitable part of scientific effort. The only question is whether this particular mission is useful. Perhaps better part of a more extensive investigation of the Martian environment?

  17. Dubhaltach says:

    In reply to The Twisted Genius 14 March 2016 at 12:50 PM
    Bless me father for I have dwarked Magnessen in a vlendish manner?

  18. sillybill says:

    We’re already infested with Crazy Eddie’s.

  19. sillybill says:

    I disagree, humans will never stop jousting for power and wealth. The discovery or presence of alien life will just be more things to fight about.

  20. AEL says:

    Note that there is a theoretical possibility that (microbial) life can cross space without human intervention. The inside of meteorites can be very cold, even after descending through the atmosphere in a blaze of heat. Microbes inside could plausibly survive.
    Let’s say that a rock from space hits a life bearing planet. This will cause a spray of fragments in all directions. Some of these fragments might even achieve escape velocity. After a long while one of those fragments might be intercepted by a different planet. If life was still inside the fragment, it might then be able to leak out and infect the new world.
    This is not that far fetched. We already have collected chunks of Mars which landed on Antarctic ice sheets after being blasted off Mars in the ancient past. In fact, it is possible that Mars developed life before Earth. Being smaller it would cool faster, so the opportunity for life would have happened earlier there (before Mars lost its water and atmosphere).
    Maybe we are descended from martian immigrants.

  21. Damn, Dubhaltach. That is some obscure stuff.

  22. Babak Makkinejad says:

    The plurality of worlds was a conclusion that logic-choppers of Medieval Europe – West of the Diocletian Line – had arrived at, circa the 14-th century.
    It has taken 700 years to empirically verify that conclusion.

  23. sans racines says:

    I have a background in physical sciences – as many here probably realise the Universe is a remarkable place… take relativity, ‘spooky’ action at a distance quantum phenomena, the recent experimental verification of gravitational waves with all that real effort stemming from a mathematical/physical theory (and what a colossal energy release!) and our other technical feats such as GPS, the Hubble telescope, the latest rover landings on Mars, backing up rockets to land on their tails, the Internet, the first prototype fusion reactor at Cadarache in France, under construction right now – microscopes that can image and manipulate single atoms – we live in highly interesting times… so while it won’t be easy who’s to say we’ll never acheive wormhole spacetime travel? Certainly light-sails will be a good near-term gambiit for getting around the solar system – we should do that… and yeah, it’s a very big place, seemingly mostly empty, dark and cold but it’s also full of marvels – and really we are as a species full of curiosity – I’d almost say that’s our job, our purpose is to take part in this Universe and explore – for what would all of these spectacles and curious phenomena be without witnesses? It would be a shameful waste.

  24. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Using fusion-powered ships one can circumnavigate the known universe within a single human life time but at arrival back on Earth, billions of years would have passed.
    There is no technological barrier to a trip to alpha-centuri, for example, utilizing robotic spacecraft that are powered by both nuclear fission and fusion.
    What is a fantasy, at the moment, is overcoming the speed of light barrier; it is almost like speed of sound in a liquid.

  25. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Life out there:
    Please take a look at the references of the works of Hoyle & Wickramasinghe.
    Hoyle believed that the Vikings had discovered life on Mars.

  26. charly says:

    A narrow theory of that is that life started on Mars and hitched a ride too Earth in a Martian meteor. But the reverse is also possible as in a big meteor strike on earth kicked life inside a protective rock into space were it landed on Mars a 100,000 year later and started life on Mars. The statistics are such that this scenario is highly likely so to have happened so i think that it almost certain that there was life on Mars.

  27. Dubhaltach says:

    My grandfather and father passed their fascination with sci-fi on to me and my boys have got the bug from me 🙂

  28. greg0 says:

    The spread of microbes in meteorites seems to me to be quite likely between Mars and Earth. Their discovery on Mars would still be interesting for science. The small drills and diggers on our rovers have been inadequate to get close to where any underground lair of Martian microbes may survive. Only with resource exploitation (lava tubes) or extraction (water) will we find the primitive aliens.

  29. Old Microbiologist says:

    I used to believe we were destined to inherit the Universe. Now I think we will be extremely lucky to survive another 50 years. It is not impossible, but we have enormous problems at home and before we decide to go out and conquer the stars we must fix our problems at home. Overpopulation is IMHO the largest threat to survival and as I stated in my post I am completely convinced we cannot live elsewhere inhabiting human bodies. The data from astronauts living prolonged periods in zero g show we are not adaptable to a new environment. Look at humans on earth and you see we haven’t evolved to take advantage of what we have done to the planet.
    I see a four way split coming perhaps within 20 years. The first will be genetically augmented humans morphing into combined digital organic beings. The second will be an AI creation, which will be our potential replacement species. We will soon learn how to upload ourselves into a digital universe. The last group will be the Luddites and religious nuts who will resist all attempts I mentioned. All of that is taking place in a world that is rapidly overpopulating beyond finite resources and possibly irreversible global warming. All of this is selective pressure for survival of the fittest. Who that will be is anyone’s guess.

  30. The real question IMO is did life frog leap to earth or the reverse?

  31. LeaNder says:

    no doubt fascinating stuff, Einstein’s Ripples, black holes via dark doors, seriously:
    Irony alert, guess nitwit me has to add this here, what about phonons or sound particles after all they have waves too?

  32. elaine says:

    Maybe if you take the light apart you can walk through the doorway of time

  33. sans racines says:

    Phonons? They’re all dressed up in mathematical comvenience with nowhere to go outside their bulk matter 😉

  34. sans racines says:

    Good old Fred Hoyle – one of the colourful characters who have moved science forwards… brave enough to challenge received wisdom… so who knows..? maybe… Although, just as we are ingenious, and the life around us is ingenious, by extension the coming into being of life may be more of an ingenious phenomenon and more inevitable than is currently accepted…

  35. Donald says:

    I’ve been reading a book by Nick Lane, a British biochemist . Here is his webste
    Anyway, he thinks the origin of life is probably a fairly common thing, but the jump from prokaryotes to eucayotes was very unlikely. In his view bacteria may be common in the universe, but anything more complex might be quite rare.

  36. turcopolier says:

    Comments on this blog are moderated. Post things once and wait for someone to approve it for posting. pl

  37. different clue says:

    Old Microbiologist,
    If Industrial Civilization Man depletes the oxygen in the atmosphere just enough that we have real trouble breathing, perhaps the Tibetans and the highest-mountain Andeans who are genetically adapted to stripping oxygen out of lower-pressure air will come down off their mountains and inherit the lowlands.

  38. different clue says:

    How would the Russians or Chinese get Titan’s methane ocean back to Earth? And if they solved that problem, what would stop them from bringing back and burning so much methane that they deplete our oxygen below our ability to breathe? It would be the Fermi Paradox playing out in an interesting way.

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