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Scientists worried Mars rocks retrieved by NASA may host alien germs

Published May 4th, 2022 6:20PM EDT

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NASA is planning to bring rocks from Mars to Earth. The space agency has asked for the public’s opinion on its plan to retrieve samples that Perseverance has gathered. It’s a monumental moment in our efforts to explore the Red Planet. Despite the excitement around it, some scientists are concerned alien germs could catch a ride back, too.

Scientists warn that Martian samples could hold alien germs

A concept of the Mars sample retriever that could bring alien germs to Earth
An artist’s concept of a Mars Sample Retrieval Lander. Image source: NASA

NASA is currently holding public meetings this week and asking for feedback about its sample retrieval plans. As it stands, the space agency plans to land a spacecraft with Martian samples at a U.S. Air Force base in the early 2030s. That’s still a long way off, but some scientists warn NASA needs to ensure we’re protected from any alien germs that might piggyback a ride back, too.

“I think that it’s a very low probability that there’s anything living at the surface of Mars,” says Peter Doran, a geologist at Louisiana State University. “But there is a possibility.” (via NPR)

NASA’s current plan will see a container with the samples shot into orbit from the surface of the planet. From there, another container will collect the sample container from orbit. From there, the samples will be delivered to Earth, so they can be studied. Again, it’s a monumental move, and one that we’ve been building toward for quite a while. But what happens if those samples do have alien germs on them?

Ill-suited survival

A photo captured by the Mars Perseverance rover as it looks for samples to collect. Image source: NASA/JPL-Caltech

If you’ve seen a lot of science fiction movies, then you’re probably in the concerned camp. While it might seem improbable that we’d have to worry about alien germs affecting us on Earth, it is always a possibility. However, Jim Bell, a planetary scientist at Arizona State University says that any life on Mars would be ill-suited to survive on the Earth.

“We’re talking about a completely different ecosystem, a completely different potential biosphere,” Bell says. “And, of course, we don’t know if there is or was a biosphere on Mars at all.” (via NPR)

As such, the chance of any alien germs surviving on the Martian samples is low. However, NASA isn’t disregarding the danger. The space agency is planning to take a conservative approach to bringing the samples to Earth. And NASA will sterilize and contain anything that has contacted Mars directly.

Of course, how NASA plans to carry this plan out is subject to change. And, in future months, we could see more news about how NASA plans to handle any alien germs that might be found. If we really do want to make Mars breathable, as well as find a way for humans to live on Mars, we’re going to need to study those samples more in-depth.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.

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