What, exactly, does NASA hope to accomplish if astronauts really do set their boots on the surface of Mars? One thing they hope to discover are clues to the origins of life on Earth. The gringa asks, “What exactly does that mean?” It means that NASA is considering the theory of “panspermia” and is exploring outer space to see if stellar evidence proves this theory to be true.
Panspermia is nothing new. As far back as 5BC scientists were considering panspermia as the explanation for how humans came into existence here on Earth. In 1871 it was officially proposed in the scientific community of that day. Panspermia posits that it is possible for life to planet hop, possibly even hop among star systems, and seed the planets it visits with life. In a nutshell, that would mean that the primitive biological material that evolved into the original ancestors of humans was not created here on Earth, but, rather, were alien hitchhikers who made their way here on cosmic fragments.
NASA’s exploration policy is to “follow the water” because it is necessary to produce life as we know it. Water is found throughout the universe, just not in the form we need, liquid. It’s usually frozen. However, wherever there is frozen water, perhaps, in that planet’s history, it was once liquid. And, if so, perhaps that is where human origins can be found if the panspermia theory is true, that life exists in the universe and can travel via meteors to other planets and eventually develop on other worlds where the environment is sufficient to support its development.
Since Mars was a warm world with water long ago, the necessary ingredients for life as we know it, it makes it a logical planet to explore for evidence of panspermia. The exploration and data collected so far from the rovers and satellites studying Mars have been limited to studying the surface of the Red Planet. No evidence has been found on the surface. It is possible, however, that important evidence could be buried beyond the reach of the rovers’ digging capabilities or a satellite’s imaging. That is why it is important to get some human explorers out there.
What would the implications be if Earth-like microbes were discovered on Mars? Every human would first want to go have a very long look in the mirror and then a very long look up into the heavens and ponder the concept. NASA, however, would not be surprised. NASA has already conducted studies on over 130 meteorites from Mars and determined that none contained any microbial evidence despite the fact that some claims to the contrary were made. NASA understands the serious repercussions that would occur around the world if such a discovery is made and we can trust them to report the truth without any hype. NASA takes scientific truth seriously.
They even have a program established that studies the effects such discoveries might have throughout the world. They understand that an announcement that extraterrestrial life exists will have serious philosophical, religious, legal, ethical and cultural implications that will impact people all over the world.
Despite NASA’s interest in this theory and their willingness to explore space with the idea in mind to search for supportive evidence, they are also realistic about its probability. They believe that it is probably unlikely that life as we know it on Earth was seeded from Mars origins. However, because science is not about “probably”, they must continue the studies until the theory can be proven or disproven.
There are some scientists who do believe that Mars was an ideal place for life to have existed at some time. They believe that since such life would have existed long before life on Earth ever existed, it is then not unreasonable to consider the possibility that microbes traveled to Earth on a meteorite and introduced life here on the Blue Planet.
One reason some scientists support the idea of panspermia via Mars is because Martian meteorites contain the precursors to RNA, boron and molybdenum. In fact, they contain more of these two elements than what is found in early Earth. And why does that matter? RNA is a molecule that plays a critical role in regulating genes and its presence is necessary for all life forms as we Earthlings know them. So, if an old rock from Mars contains such a molecule, it only stands to reason, at least from an Earthling perspective, that it existed on Mars for the purpose of regulating the genetic codes of some Martian life form.
Another Martian discovery that further supports the belief that life once existed on Mars has to do with phosphates. It has already been established that Mars has provided evidence of the presence of RNA. In order for RNA to form, phosphates must be present. Well, not only does Mars have phosphates, but Martian phosphates dissolve in water much better than Earth’s phosphates. The logic then goes that since life as we know it here on Earth originated in water, Martian conditions were even more friendly to the aspect of life forming than conditions on Earth. So, if it could happen here, it most certainly should have happened on Mars.
So, basically, the theory goes that about 4 billions years ago a comet or meteorite of Martian origins blasted through our galaxy and slammed into Earth. Now this could have been an accident or, according to “directed panspermia” theory, a deliberate action by an intelligent civilization.
Historically panspermia has been considered “fringe” science. However, it is now gaining new consideration in light of the Mars mission. In fact, in 2013 Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe of the University of Buckingham claims to have discovered fossilized remains of organisms in meteorites found within Earth’s atmosphere. This proves that it is possible for primitive life forms to survive the intense heat of entry into Earth’s atmosphere and make its way to Earth’s surface. He believes it is possible that the entire Milky Way Galaxy could have been teeming with life at one time long, long ago. He also believes that organic, possibly even living, stellar material is constantly being exchanged throughout the cosmos through meteoric impact.
So, the gringa awaits the exciting mission of boots on the ground on Mars. I eagerly await the drill, baby, drill action that will delve deep below the dusty surface of the Red Planet. I can’t wait to find out what may lie beneath the frozen crust of the vast Martian ocean. Scientists believe the Martian seas are not frozen solid. Could a Martian “Nessie” be swimming about waiting for visitors to come feed her a few breadcrumbs? It very well could be. And, she could be our distant cousin.
Photo credit: www.groundzeromedia.org