The world is not prepared for the discovery of life on another planet even though it may only be a couple of years away, Nasa’s Chief Scientist has warned.
Next summer, two rovers from Nasa and the European Space Agency (ESA), will travel to Mars to drill horizontally into rocks and deep into the surface, in the hope of finding evidence of living organisms.
The missions are the best chance humanity has ever had of answering the question: ‘Are we alone in the universe?’
Dr Jim Green, who has been instrumental in both missions, told The Telegraph that there is a real possibility that one or both will be successful. Yet it would have far-reaching implications, and he believes Earth is not ready.
“It will be revolutionary,” he said. “It’s like when Copernicus stated ‘no we go around the Sun’. Completely revolutionary. It will start a whole new line of thinking. I don’t think we’re prepared for the results. We’re not.
“I’ve been worried about that because I think we’re close to finding it, and making some announcements.
“What happens next is a whole new set of scientific questions. Is that life like us? How are we related? Can life can move from planet-to-planet or do we have a spark and just the right environment and that spark generates life – like us or not like us – based on the chemical environment that it is in?”
Europe’s ExoMars rover, is scheduled to land on the Red Planet in March 2021. Dubbed ‘Rosalind’ in honour of the British chemist Rosalind Franklin, the rover will drill six-and-a half feet down into the ground to take samples.
The Martian cores are then fed through an aperture on the rover into a mobile laboratory where they are crushed up and examined for organic matter. Confirmation of life could come within just weeks or months of landing.
Likewise Nasa’s rover Mars2020 will drill into rock formations on the surface and then leave the samples in test-tubes which will later be collected and sent back to Earth for examination, the first time that material from Mars will ever have been brought back.
Crucially, scientists will be looking for the 300 minerals which can only be made by life.
The rovers will be hunting near the site of an ancient Martian ocean, where life may have lived billions of years ago, when the Red Planet was ‘blue’ like Earth.