Planetary overprotection: Have we made ourselves Mars' helicopter parents?

We've talked here before about the Office of Planetary Protection and efforts to make sure that we Earthlings don't contaminate the rest of the galaxy with our bacteria, viruses, and other assorted detritus. Now, some scientists are arguing that we've done this job too well, effectively barring ourselves from exploring the parts of Mars that are most likely to be hospitable to life precisely because they could also be hospitable to tagalong life from Earth.

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  1. I certainly wouldn't be booking tickets with plucky optimism about living on the land; but I'd probably bet a few hundred bucks on some earthly extremophiles being just ducky either under such polar ice as their is(dormant much; but not all, of the time), and possibly subsurface in some of the lower-elevation parts of the planet, where there is still something vaguely resembling an atmosphere.

    Perhaps more importantly: If earthly life, of any flavor, can survive (in a metabolically active way) on Mars, odds are good (I'd put considerably more money on this one) that the overlap between 'places earth life can live' and 'places remnants of mars life are holding out' is significant.

    That's the real downer. It doesn't matter if 99% of the planet is too brutal to do anything but kill spores slowly, if the 1% that might contain something of vast scientific interest is the same 1% that earthly life would be happy to have a go at...

  2. The lack of liquid water is a real buzzkill for Earth based life. The Atacama Desert on Earth has similar conditions in places, and is notably devoid of even bacterial life in the soil.

  3. That's why I'm perfectly unconcerned about writing off 95+% of the planetary surface as biologically viable. Too dry, too cold, atmosphere so thin that the vapor pressure of just about anything biological is remarkably high by comparison. It's just that if there are any exceptions, those exceptions are probably where the martian life would be making its last stand as well (unless it's something radically different from life as we know it). That's the contamination that I'd be concerned about avoiding.

  4. MarjaE says:

    Martian. When did academic English stop distinguishing adjectives from nouns? Why?

  5. uGH, let aplanet be, woodyah?


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