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NASA chief says the world may not be ready for Martian life

Published Oct 1st, 2019 3:37PM EDT
mars life
Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

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NASA’s Mars 2020 mission will attempt to answer a number of questions about the Red Planet, and one of the most pressing is the search for life. Today, Mars is largely barren and dry, but things were a lot different billions of years ago, and the possibility that life once existed there has loomed large as scientists search for clues using rovers and landers.

But if we do eventually find evidence of life on Mars, how will mankind react? In an interview with the Telegraph, NASA chief scientist Jim Green says that we’re not ready to find out.

Part of the Mars 2020 mission will be to prepare samples of Martian material for return back to Earth later. Those samples could hold the clues that researchers have been searching for, and they may well reveal that some form of life did (or maybe still does) call Mars home. If NASA’s Mars 2020 or the ESA’s ExoMars missions get particularly lucky, the rovers themselves might confirm the presence of life before samples even make it back to our planet.

“It will be revolutionary,” Green said in an interview. “It will start a whole new line of thinking. I don’t think we’re prepared for the results. We’re not.”

Green argues that finding the faint traces of Martian life, past or present, will unleash countless new questions that we’re not prepared to answer.

There is, of course, a religious angle to all of this. The origins of life on Earth are still the subject of debate today, and science has always had to compete with stories for mindshare. I mean, we live in a time where a not-insignificant chunk of people still claim to believe that the Earth is flat, so finding alien life on another world is sure to come with its own host of conspiracy theories and true-believers spouting… whatever it is they truly believe.

Green may be right, and mankind may not be ready to deal with the implications of finding life outside of Earth. But science waits for no one, and if there’s life to be found on Mars, those discoveries aren’t going to wait until we’re ready to deal with them. Brace yourselves.

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