Although we still haven’t found any biological activity elsewhere, it’s hardly inconceivable that before your car gets its next oil change, robot spacecraft could discover a horde of microbes hidden beneath the Martian sands. Or maybe a few years down the road, some astrobiology experiment will stumble across alien pond scum floating in Titan’s rime-frosted lakes, or pick up a radio signal beamed earthward from the star system Gliese 581.
The impact of such news would be significant and, at this point, largely unknown. So to get a better grip on how astrobiological discoveries would play out, the SETI Institute and the NASA Astrobiology Institute recently held a three-day workshop to bring together scientists, ethicists, historians, lawyers, anthropologists, and the media to consider the societal consequences of this type of research.
It seems that everyone is jumping on the “find the alien” bandwagon this week, even Uncle Seth in his ultra-conservative, micro-organism, beamed radio signal kind of way.
Does that mean for sure the unwashed masses are being prepared for the “we are not alone” speech?
Speaking of Martian water and possible microbial life:
NASA’s Phoenix lander may have captured the first images of liquid water on Mars – droplets that apparently splashed onto the spacecraft’s leg during landing, according to some members of the Phoenix team.
The controversial observation could be explained by the mission’s previous discovery of perchlorate salts in the soil, since the salts can keep water liquid at sub-zero temperatures. Researchers say this antifreeze effect makes it possible for liquid water to be widespread just below the surface of Mars, but point out that even if it is there, it may be too salty to support life as we know it.
A few days after Phoenix landed on 25 May 2008, it sent back an image showing mysterious splotches of material attached to one of its legs. Strangely, the splotches grew in size over the next few weeks, and Phoenix scientists have been debating the origin of the objects ever since.
If NASA insists on just sending robot probes to explore planets, please, please let the next Martian mission have a real biological testing lab?
Water seems to be the choice which decided future outer solar system missions also, according to the European Space Agency and NASA:
The proposal could be the agencies’ next “flagship” endeavour, to follow on from the successful Cassini-Huygens mission to the Saturn system.
Officials had been considering the Jupiter mission along with a venture to Saturn’s moons Titan and Enceladus.
But they will target an earlier flight opportunity for the Europa mission.
A Saturnian return will have to wait until later in the century, agency chiefs say.
Must be that ol’ H2O-centric idea of biology, since it’s worked so well here.
At this rate, I sure as hell hope there’s going to be a Technological Singularity, if not, I’ll be long dead before humans even step foot back on the Moon!