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We may be approaching the discovery of extraterrestrial life. Are we prepared?



Over the next ten years, a headline may announce that NASA has found evidence of life in space.

Would you cause these messages to run screaming into the street? A recent article in the British Sunday Telegraph suggests that Jim Green, director of NASA's Planetary Science Department, believes the public could be disintegrated by the discovery of biology beyond the borders of our own planet. But Green does not really believe that. He fears that we have not given much thought to the next steps of scientists should we suddenly deal with the reality of Martian life.

Here is the backstory: By 2020, Mars and Earth will again be relatively close together, adjacent orbits around the Sun. To exploit these random orbital circumstances, space agencies will launch a small brigade of spacecraft on the Red Planet. Unlike the robotic explorers who now romp around in the dusty landscapes of Mars, these new ships ̵

1; launched by both NASA and a European-Russian collaboration – will perform a kind of reconnaissance that has been going on since the Viking lands NASA in the middle has not been tried -1970s. The new vehicle will not only search for places that were once suitable for life. They will be on the hunt for life. Dead or alive.

It is the imminent deployment of these new robot discoverers that prompted Green to say we could learn about life on Mars within a few years. They were able to find convincing evidence for biology. But he also said that the next steps are cloudy. Now he did not say that the news of extraterrestrial life would undoubtedly disturb the public. We know that this is not the case because we did this experiment more than two decades ago.

In 1996, the blockbuster science bulletin of the year was a claim that fossil microbes found in a meteorite were a piece of old Mars regolith or Earth. The meteorite – known as ALH 84001 – was a small Martian specimen containing seemingly shady bodies of ancient microbes.

This was a big story, but the public reaction was as calm as the dawn. People just wanted to know more. Unfortunately, the history of the Martian meteorite changed when the evidence was studied by other researchers. The argument for ancient microbes on the Red Planet was weak.

The point is that the public found this story intriguing but not alarming. It was about life on Mars, yes, but bacteria-like life – long dead.


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