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Hitchhiking Through the Galaxy

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The idea, in a broader context known as panspermia, has been around for quite some time: what if life on earth originated in space and organisms were carried to our planet aboard meteorites? A new device is being currently developed in Massachusetts that could help bring more evidence to the forefront for what some scientists back as a plausible theory.

On future Mars missions, an instrument called SETG (which stands for 'Search for Extra-Terrestrial Genomes') would drill the red planet’s surface for soil samples. From those samples, the researchers would hope to isolate living microbes, or microbial remnants. Such biochemical palimpsests can be preserved for about up to a million years and still contain viable DNA. Forensic analyses could discover genetic sequences that are common in existing life forms on Earth.

If successful, this quest would not only advance scientific endeavors considerably, but also alter our self-perception. It would be proven that we have a familial relationship with distant ancestors in the universe.

Mars has recently been in the focus of cosmic archeology. Earlier studies showed that life did exist there, and that the planet named after the Roman god of war once offered abundant water supplies. Further it is believed that way back in times of a fledgling solar system, the climates on Mars and Earth were decisively more similar than they are today. Life forms that sprang on one planet may have prevailed on the other.

The team working on the SETG prototype include researchers from MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, as well as molecular biologists from Harvard. They estimate it could take another two years until completion. In the meantime, we can space out about the thought that our most primordial ancestors were enduring warriors from Mars who hitchhiked through the galaxy until they landed on Earth’s surface and spread out here.

Image: "Mars, once" by Kevin Dooley  on Flickr courtesy of Creative Commons Licensing

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