Fact or fiction

What is the probability that the rover will find Martians and what happens if it does

Now that NASA’s Martian rover has successfully landed, and the space news is full of stunning images, we’re expecting more footage from the planet’s surface over the next few months and years.

The six-legged, more than $2 billion nuclear-powered robot has already sent back many images of Gale Crater, where it has landed and will soon be heading towards a nearby nearly 5-kilometer-high mountain. The scientific community – and with it the whole world – are waiting with bated breath for the Curiosity finds, which the rover must make in 2 months of daily digging, taking samples from the Martian surface and conducting analyzes.

Many will also be waiting for evidence of the presence of life on Mars, and Curiosity may present them – even if they do not really exist. NASA footage has long been a fantasy fodder for UFO fans and conspiracy theorists who tirelessly pored over countless photos and footage looking for signs of extraterrestrial life (or evidence that NASA knows about the presence of aliens but carefully hides it).

Indeed, there have already been statements about the discovery of the presence of life forms on Mars.

Richard Hoagland claimed that there was a human face in the 1976 photographs of the Martian region of Cydonia. The so-called “Face on Mars” sparked an international outcry when Hoagland speculatively sparked interest in the bizarre find: “Are aliens sending us a signal? Where are those who erected this magnificent monument? 

On April 5, 1998, the Mars Global Surveyor took higher resolution photographs of the region than was possible in 1976. New images showed a heavily eroded area, and made it possible to verify that the “face” was nothing more than a figment of the imagination of people viewing the low quality pictures, and it appeared due to pareidolia – our brain tendency to guess human shapes and faces in the play of light and shadows.

In 2001, David Martines, an amateur astronomer discovered what he thought was a mysterious rectangular structure on the surface of Mars while browsing satellite images of the planet on Google Maps. Martines called it “Biostation Alpha.”

Professional astronomers explained that it was in fact an artificial object created by the interference of cosmic rays; and the unusual shape of the object was given by the camera with which the picture was taken, and the surface of Mars had nothing to do with it at all.

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History and human psychology tell us that sooner or later, in one of the thousands of images that Curiosity will transmit to our planet, there will be some kind of defect, fuzzy outlines or a play of light, which will be perceived by someone as proof of the presence of Martians. 

It is possible though – and no one excludes this – that the rover will indeed meet life on the Red Planet, but only it is unlikely that it will be able to stumble upon the smoking chimneys of a Martian plastic bottle recycling plant.

What happens if a Mars rover finds signs of life?

Let’s assume the devices showed the presence of complex organic compounds. At first, NASA will lie low, because the last thing she wants to do is re-claim the sensation, and then make excuses if a mistake has occurred. The Mars rover will take a new sample and do a new analysis. Then more and more. Geologists and chemists will consider all options for possible contamination with organic matter brought from the Earth. Then NASA will still declare: there was life on Mars!

What will be next?

The daily life of the Earth will not change. Although there is a flock of conspiracy theorists on the Internet who believe that the news about Martian life will inevitably cause mass suicides, religious crises, the fall of any faith and the collapse of the entire world economy. NASA has already said this from the threshold of the White House, and the queues for the suicide booth did not line up. So really, nothing will change for us. 

Major changes will take place in the world of scientists. After the answer “There was life on Mars”, the most important task will be to find out if it has an earthly origin. Or whether earthly life has a Martian origin. Meteorites have been found on Earth that came from Mars. And there are some studies that, in theory, recognize the possibility of a reverse exchange. So, even if both planets have/had life, it can only have one of the two homelands.

To clarify this issue, NASA has equipped the latest rover with a microscope, a DNA sequencer and some other instruments to Mars.

It is likely that automatic probes will not be enough and we will finally wait for the implementation of a manned expedition to the Red Planet. The prestige of a microbiologist’s education will rise sharply, as it will offer a chance for a ticket to the most exciting expedition of the century.

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What will happen if it turns out that there is only one source of life on our planets?

This is the most likely option. This knowledge will largely confirm the current research, which demonstrates the ability of unicellular and multicellular organisms to survive in outer space. The panspermia theory will be confirmed, if only as a method of spreading life, not of its origin.

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Of course, scientists will have to work very hard to determine where life originated first: on Mars or on Earth. While they will be puzzled over where our homeland is, surely cinema and science fiction writers will please us with more than one work about moving from one planet to another.

What would happen if Martian life originated on its own?

This is the most interesting but most unlikely outcome of Mars exploration. But still suppose: they found signs of life and they turned out to be of Martian origin.

Such a find would have broader implications.

First: it will confirm that we are not alone in the universe. If on two planets, one unremarkable star, life appeared on its own, then almost every star system should have it.

Secondly: this would almost certainly mean that there is life on Titan, Europa and Enceladus too, and not extinct like on Mars, but alive, since there are liquid, warm oceans of water under the crust, and in places the water breaks out:

And, finally, thirdly: new questions will arise before humanity: if there are a lot of habitable planets in the Universe, then why do we not detect any signs of intelligent activity? Are we the first civilization, at least in this galaxy? Or the last one? Or are we “under the hood” of powerful civilizations that try not to interfere with us to grow up on our own, and do not indicate their presence or anyone’s presence before the deadline? In general, there is expanse for science fiction writers, philosophers and religious figures.

Scientists, on the other hand, will try to knock out budgets for new missions to the satellites of the giant planets, to search for life there. They are still trying, but in such an optimistic scenario, there is a better chance of getting funding.

The search for exoplanets near neighboring star systems will be more active. Perhaps, after confirming the fact of original Martian life, these studies will receive additional funding and increase their scope.

According to the results of the search, it will be possible to rebuild the principle of the SETI project for listening to the sky in the radio range. Now a person will know where there is a chance to hear signals and will proceed to a point analysis of selected star systems.

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The scientific program of the orbiting giant James Webb telescope, which is potentially capable of finding signs of organic matter on planets near other stars, will most likely be seriously adjusted.

Maybe in 40 years or less, world scientists will seriously think about the first automated interstellar or even manned spacecraft.

In any case, Martian life, even the former, should spur exploration of Mars, the solar system, and the entire universe. Therefore, now all hopes are for the metal beetle, which is now carefully examining Martian stones 5 km from the place where it should look for traces of life.

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