Jill Tarter served as the director of SETI for 30 years between 1984 and 2014 and is as knowledgeable as they come concerning extraterrestrial life. Now she says there's a possibility we ourselves could be from another planet.
A question that has plagued humanity since the beginning of our existence is whether we're truly alone in this vast universe? Efforts to answer the elusive question have been going on since the times of Nikola Tesla in the late 19th century, and over a century later, there is still no concrete answer. Plenty of reputed astronomers and scientists have made it a mission to unravel one of our greatest mysteries, and at the forefront of that charge has been SETI: the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.
Now, one of the organization's most prominent figures, Jill Tarter, revealed in an interview to Wired that extraterrestrial life might be closer to Earth that we initially thought it to be; in fact, we might be extraterrestrials ourselves. Tarter, who was the director of SETI between 1984 and 2014, said that it's a possibility microbes were exchanged between Earth, Mars, and Venus - the three planets in the Goldilocks zone - when our solar system was formed.
She was quoted telling Wired: "There’s always a caveat with Mars that the life we find there might be related to us, but assuming that it’s a second genesis then that number two is all-important. If we’ve had two independent origins of life in this one tiny solar system then it’s going to be ubiquitous."
She continued: "Mars is a special case because early in the history of the formation of the planetary system Mars, Earth, Venus, all swapped rocks and therefore they could have swapped microbes within those rocks and if there’s life on Mars we could be related to them or we could be Martians."
The concept of Mars being home to micro-organisms is not as far-fetched as it sounds. In 2015, NASA's Mars Rover confirmed that there was water flowing below the surface, and as the popular saying goes, water is the elixir of life; at least, for carbon-based lifeforms.
A study conducted at Leeds University earlier this year confirmed the same. It found that a chemical called magnesium perchlorate below the planet's -55-degree-Celsius surface stops the water from freezing. This could mean that it might be home to organisms adapted to the harsh high-pressure environment similar to deep-sea bacteria found in some our waterbodies' least explored areas.
While experts are rightly worried that some of Earth's microbes could contaminate these planets during our heady and hurried explorations, there also remains a very real fear that the opposite could also happen.
Extraterrestrial bacteria and viruses could hitch a ride back and wreak havoc, especially considering how hardened they have to be to survive the desolate and inhospitable reaches of our solar system. They believe such organisms would not be too dissimilar to the tardigrade, an incredibly resilient micro-animal which is the only organism known to survive in the vacuum of space.
Tarter also stressed on how important it was to acknowledge the possibility of life outside our home planet as not a local issue, but a global one. "I'm here on a mission to change your point of view because you have to see the challenges that we’re all facing as a global issue, we’re not going to solve it nationally.
A signal, if it ever arrives from an extraterrestrial, intelligent civilization isn’t coming to the United States, it’s coming to planet Earth," she added.
A recipient of some of the field's most prestigious awards and honors, Tarter's opinion is well-respected in the community. Plenty have claimed to have found proof of alien life in the past, and Tarter knows better than most about the heartbreaks of false positives. During three separate occasions in her long career, she thought she had made contact, but in each case, they proved to be misleading.
One of the loudest voices and staunchest proponents of science, she believes it has been humanity's most successful endeavor since the dark ages. She told Ranker that it was 'appalling' to think of how life was before science and how it helped us live beyond our childbearing years and attack disease.
She said: "That’s the thing that I’m always impressed with, that people who can say, “I don’t believe in science”, and “Science is doing all the wrong things and causing all these problems”, and yet they’re alive and their health is much better than previous generations because of science. I can’t understand how communities which have suffered these large increases in incidents of disease because of loss of herd immunity with the anti-vaccination, why they don’t suddenly say, “Oh, now I get it”.
If and when we ever do hit the proverbial jackpot and discover extraterrestrial life, it would mostly be bacterium or viruses and not super-intelligent life as portrayed in the movies. We would do well to remember Arthur C. Clarke's poignant quote on the matter: "Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying."
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