Tuesday, April 01, 2008

I want to be a Virgle pioneer!


Google's latest collaboration has a science fiction lover squarely in mind. They've teamed up with Virgin to establish a pioneer settlement on a terraformed Mars. The so-called Virgle project has a 100 Year Plan, and has clearly planed for every eventuality, including the possibility of finding Martian life.

Do you think you'll find life there?

Maybe. We know that in the past, the surface of Mars was covered with water, had a thicker atmosphere and volcanic activity, and was much warmer than it is today -- all conditions in which life could have developed. Scientists have also observed, on one Martian meteorite collected in the Antarctic, strange features that might, or might not, be organic in origin.

If life does exist on Mars today, it's almost certain to be primitive, i.e. bacterial, and it's almost certain not to exist on the planet surface, which is currently baked in UV radiation. However, since ice and perhaps water could exist a few meters below the surface, it's possible that life exists there today in these spots. Also, new data suggest the presence of methane in the Martian atmosphere. Since atmospheric methane is destroyed by solar radiation, it isn't clear where all this new methane would be coming from.

Project Virgle's primary concern, though, is not the search for life on Mars, but the creation of a self-sufficient human colony there. Our outpost, however, will naturally be a great place for geologists and egzobiologists to study the question.

Even if life is discovered, how do we know it's not from Earth?

Good question. Life on Mars could indeed be from Earth. "Planetary transfer" theory suggests that early in both planets' histories, material from the frequent meteorite strikes could have been ejected from Earth and sent towards Mars. So yes, Earth could have theoretically seeded life on Mars (or vice versa; we could all be "Martians" in that sense).

What is of greater concern to the Virgle team is to develop the Mars settlement observing the so-called PP (planetary protection) protocols, which call for special attention to, and protection of, areas of Mars where life is most likely to exist today, or have existed in the past. We take this responsibility seriously and will consistently act so as to protect any possible sites and to research them as quickly and thoroughly as possible.

You can apply online today to be a Virgle pioneer. Maybe I'll see you on the way to Mars!

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1 comment:

Ford said...

If there's life there and it evolved independently, I can imagine a microbiologist with terminal cancer volunteering for the one-way trip. As a place to live, though, Mars is much less habitable than the south pole or the top of Everest; both are warmer and breathable air. Ganymede is even colder, but it least it's got lots of water (ice) and gravity is weak enough that you could get back into space to return to earth without burning too much fuel, in contrast to Mars.