Imagine NASA’s Mars Perseverance Rover, now on its way to Mars — found microbial life there.
It would alter everything we know about the Solar System and beyond.
It could be. What if life was accidentally sent to Mars by a spacecraft? What if this is how life moves around in the Universe?
A new paper has been published this Week in Frontiers in Microbiology. It explores the possibility of microbes or extremophiles moving between planets to spread life around the Universe, and that spacecraft can also be sent from Earth and Mars.
This is the controversial theory known as “panspermia.”
What is “panspermia”?
This theory is unproven, untested and quite wild regarding interplanetary transfer. This theory suggests that microscopic life-forms such as bacteria can be transported through space to another planet. This could lead to the creation of life elsewhere.
It could also happen accidentally–such as with spacecraft–via asteroids and comets in the Solar System and possibly even between star system on interstellar objects such as Oumuamua.
Panspermia must be able to prove that bacteria can survive long distances through vacuum, temperature fluctuations and intense ultraviolet radiation from outer space.
The “Tanpopo project” is now available.
What is the mission of ‘Tanpopo?
Tanpopo– Dandelion in English – is a scientific experiment that aims to determine if bacteria can survive in extremes of outer space.
Researchers from Tokyo University, in collaboration with the Japanese national space agency JAXA, wanted to determine if the bacteria can survive in space. So they placed it in exposure panels outside the International Space Station (ISS). It is known for being resistant to radiation. Tests were conducted to determine if dried samples of various thicknesses survived in space environments for 1, 2, or 3 years.
It was largely due to a layer of dead bacteria that protected the colony below it. Researchers estimate that a colony with a diameter of 1 mm could survive for up to 8 years in outer-space conditions.
What does this all mean for “panspermia?”
“The results suggest deinococcus could survive the journey from Earth to Mars and vice-versa,” stated Akihiko Yamagishi (a professor at Tokyo University of Pharmacy and Life Sciences and the principal investigator of Tanpopo).
This means that spacecraft could potentially carry microorganisms to Mars and possibly contaminate its surface.
This isn’t about Earth and Mars. The ramifications that panspermia can have on our planet, if they are proven to be true, are extensive.
Dr. Yamagishi stated that the origin of life on Earth remains the greatest mystery to humankind. Scientists can hold completely different views. Some believe that life is rare and has only occurred once in the Universe. Others think that life could occur on any planet.
“If panspermia can be achieved, then life must exist more often than we thought.”
What is “lithopanspermia”?
This is bacteria that survives in space for long periods of time shielded by rocks, such as an asteroid or comet. These could spread bacteria and biologically rich matter throughout the Solar System.
The theory of panspermia is more complicated than that.
What are ‘interstellar and ‘galactic’ panspermias?
This is the hypothesis, and it has zero evidence. It states that life exists in the universe and galaxy because microorganisms and bacteria are spread by asteroids and comets.
A paper in 2018 concluded that Galactic Panspermia’s likelihood is heavily dependent on the survival of the organisms and the velocity of the comet/asteroid. This suggests that the entire Milky Way could be exchanging biotic elements over vast distances.
These theories gained credibility with the discovery of two extrasolar objects Oumuamua, and Borisov that passed through our Solar System.
While the implications are amazing, panspermia has not been proven to be a scientific process.
Many questions remain about how space-surviving microbes could transfer from one celestial body into another.
What will Perseverance look like on Mars?
NASA’s Perseverance Rover is scheduled to make its landing on Mars on February 18, 2021. It will land in the 28-mile-wide Jezero Crater, a river delta that is nearly four billion years old.
Jezero Crater is believed to have been home to a lake that was as big as Lake Tahoe over 3.5 billion years ago. There are a few possibilities that ancient rivers could have been home to organic molecules, and perhaps microorganisms.
Perseverance will analyze sediment and rock samples to determine if Mars had the right conditions for microorganisms. It will drill into Mars a few centimeters and collect core samples. The most promising ones will be placed in containers. The probe will leave the samples on Mars, where they can be collected later by a human mission. This is expected to happen in the early 2030s.
I wish you clear skies, wide eyes and clear skies.