If my Catholic friends and foils think I’m an outlier for asking difficult questions and goring sacred cows like Gregorian propers, you should also know I take the same approach to the discussion of life beyond Earth.
I don’t think it’s out there.
But I am willing to be proved wrong.
I noticed on BBC this bit about University of Aberdeen scientists setting scenarios for life deep inside cold planets. Doctoral student Sean McMahon:
The results suggest life may occur much more commonly deep within planets and moons than on their surfaces. This means it might be worth looking for signs of life outside conventional habitable zones.
I hope people will study the ways in which life below the surface might reveal itself.
The difficulty is finding this deep life. It will be enough of a technological challenge to probe under the ice of Europa and Enceladus. We’ve drilled several miles down on planet Earth, and found life in the unlikeliest of places. I think we’ve scooped a few inches into Martian dirt. So far nothing there.
It’s a technological leap for us to think of drilling tens of feet. This probe will attempt it, when it flies. Life may have started on Mars, then burrowed deep to stay with the water and to escape the deadly solar radiation that pounds the surface and strips organic molecules for parts.
We can theorize about life deep inside planets and moons. But I don’t foresee finding out until our robots get there. And maybe not for sure until people actually construct a base and begin the search on site.
As for planets orbiting other stars–we may not know for tens of thousands of years. When we finally get there.
Even if I’m a skeptic, I like McMahon’s thinking:
Earth might even be unusual in having life on the surface.
In the millennia to come, I think this will hold true for human expansion in space. We might infect Mars and Europa and Enceladus with our germs. And they may well thrive there, in depth of warmth and protection. We might find indigent life, too.
But I don’t see future humans living on planets larger than Mars. Once life gets out into space, it might not want to be ball-and-chained to a planet.