How much longer does the public have to be told that Mars “might” have life or space aliens “could” be found soon?
A writer for New Scientist is concerned about the cost of protecting Mars from contamination. But the argument bears on the probability of life existing on the red planet.
WHEN can we declare the Red Planet a dead planet? Although most efforts so far have gone toward showing that other planets could support life, now is the time to think about the other side of the coin.
Spacecraft going to other worlds must follow costly planetary protection protocols, such as sterilisation, to avoid contaminating their destination with Earth microbes, putting any native life at risk, or bringing potentially dangerous alien ones back.
But if there’s nothing there, why bother? We haven’t found life on Mars yet, and if further missions also turn up nothing, at some point commercial space enterprises such as mining operations or tourism will want to avoid the costs of sterilisation.
“It’s time to decide when to declare a planet lifeless,” the headline reads.
A more obvious tease is in this article on PhysOrg: “We could find aliens any day now—SETI scientists discuss extraterrestrial life hunting.” Despite 50 years of coming up empty, leading SETI researchers get great press, and only softball questions from the interviewer. One says it is a “multi-generational” search. That may be, but so was alchemy. It also gives the three SETI advocates job security with little chance of falsification.
We’ve stated many times that astrobiology is a fantasy of the imagination, not science. The operative word is “could” – Mars “could support life” is the thinking (see perhapsimaybecouldness index in the Darwin Dictionary). Without data, though, it’s no better than saying unicorns “could” exist in the deep dark forest. New Scientist still believes in the possibility, but they are right in pointing out that there has to be an expiration date on the “could”-ness. They are concerned about cost; we are concerned about scientific integrity. Teasing the public with things that “could” be true is leading them on the primrose path. Show us the evidence.