Conquering the universe, one microbe at a time

Well it’s one way to colonise the galaxy.

According to space.com, terrestrial bacteria are being scattered to the distant stars. That’s because they are clinging to derelict rocket stages of Voyager 1, Voyager 2 and Pioneer 10. As these stages were never sterilised, the microbes — left by the hands and breath of various engineers — are now on a path out of the solar system. If we can’t get there, at least the bugs that live inside us will. An interesting take on immortality.

The bacteria is probably in a state of suspended animation, but it’s impossible to tell for sure. They may have been irradiated out of existence or still be clinging to life in some shape or fashion. However, microbes which have been dormant on Earth for years have been resurrected in the laboratory, so it’s not outside the realms of possibility that someday, somewhere, our little germs will be brought back to life (let’s hope they don’t turn on those who awaken them). There is a precedent for such life to escape our atmosphere and return intact — at least one of NASA’s moon landings brought Earth bacteria to the lunar surface and back again. Imagine their disappointment when they realised that, instead of finding life outside our world, they’d simply forgotten to sterilise the craft.

Such piggybacking is one theory for how life began on Earth; that meteors/asteroids which smacked the bejaysus out of our planet when it was naught but a nipper survived, then promptly went forth and multiplied. It feels strange to consider the possibility that we are, in essence, aliens.

Not that our distant relatives, if we have any, would even recognise us; but then we probably wouldn’t recognise them either. The universe is not going to be populated by the bipedal descendants of primates, whatever Star Trek, Star Wars and the like would have us believe. The reality is likely to be much more fantastic and at the same time much more mundane. We tend to think of life as equivalent to ourselves; this is only natural as we are the first species on Earth (that we know of) to have developed self-awareness. But “life” is an elastic term encompassing everything from monkeys such as ourselves to the intrepid microscopic explorers mentioned above.

Sentient mud, trees with a conscience and fish that could outthink Einstein are all possibilities we must be aware of.

But notice how I can’t help but compare them to what’s already found on Earth?

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2 Responses to Conquering the universe, one microbe at a time

  1. Gavin says:

    Ah! No link! 😦

  2. Space.com link? Aye it seems I forgot to add it in the post… here’s the article: http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/070508_galactic_bacteria.html. I’ve also included the link in the article proper.

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