Amid all the news about unknown objects flitting around in our military airspace and Elon Musk preparing to take us all to the moon, another story surfaced this week. There are two new rovers heading to the planet Mars in the near future and some of the scientists involved in the projects are predicting that they will almost certainly find life on the red planet when they arrive. Probably not aliens living in cities or anything like that, but at least some extremophiles living in the subsurface regions where we now know water remains.
The disappointing part of the story is the reaction of one of NASA’s leading scientists. He’s expressing concerns that humanity may not be ready to deal with the knowledge that life exists somewhere off of this planet. (The Independent)
Nasa is close to finding life on Mars but the world is not ready for the “revolutionary” implications of the discovery, the space agency’s chief scientist has said.
Dr Jim Green has warned that two rovers from Nasa and the European Space Agency (ESA) could find evidence of life within months of arriving on Mars in March 2021.
The ExoMars Rover, which has been dubbed “Rosalind” in memory of British chemist Rosalind Franklin, will search for extra-terrestrial life by drilling 6.5 feet down into Mars’ core to take samples.
Those samples will then be crushed up and examined for organic matter in a mobile laboratory.
Dr Green compared the potential discovery to when the astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus stated that the Earth revolves around the Sun in the 16th century.
First of all, the teams working on these rovers are probably still being a bit more optimistic than scientific when it comes to predictions of finding life on Mars by 2021. To date, all of the signals we’ve detected that might have indicated the presence of life (such as whiffs of methane or what appear to be fossilized microorganisms buried in Martian rocks) have turned out to be false positives or inconclusive.
But that doesn’t mean that we won’t find life. It’s now obvious that there was once a vast amount of water on the planet which means there was a thicker atmosphere then as well. And some of that water remains underground. If there was ever any type of life on Mars there’s probably still some remaining bits lurking under the surface.
But what about this idea that we’re not prepared to hear the news? Dr. Green is quoted as saying that such an announcement would “start a whole new line of thinking.” And that’s something he believes we as a species “aren’t prepared for the results.”
Sorry, but I have to disagree with that. And it sounds like the same line of reasoning that the government has used to be secretive about such subjects for decades. There may have been a time when that was true… maybe. Consider the chaos that erupted when War of the Worlds first debuted on the radio in New Jersey. But those were people who thought they were listening to a radio broadcast of an actual hostile alien invasion.
The more abstract question of alien life that isn’t shooting death rays at us seems to be much less disturbing to the public at large. Recent surveys have shown that half of the population already believes there is intelligent life elsewhere. More than 60% believe there’s some sort of life, even if it’s not intelligent.
On top of that, consider that 2017 New York Times article when we first learned that the government had been secretly studying UFOs in our airspace and the Navy’s recent admission that they have no idea what they are. That’s all but an admission that they’re extraterrestrial and you don’t see people freaking out in the streets.
I just think Dr. Green is off the mark here. I believe that humanity is ready to cope with such a revelation if it turns out to be true. I’m far more concerned about whether or not they turn out to be hostile and if we’re prepared for that eventuality. (There’s something for you to freak out over.) But the general idea that there’s life elsewhere in the galaxy? I think we can handle it.