Take a look at the lawman
Beating up the wrong guy
Oh man, wonder if he’ll ever know
He’s in the best selling show
Is there life on … Earth?
Is there a David Bowie-ish starman writing songs in the sky while staring not at Mars but at Earth? If so, unlike Bowie, he (or she or whatever) doesn’t have to wonder if there’s life on Earth anymore. All they have to do it tap into a space probe designed to find life elsewhere that was turned towards Earth and found some on the blue planet. Was it intelligent?
At last week’s Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas, the culmination of this clever and surprisingly eye-opening experiment was presented by Dante Lauretta from the University of Arizona in Tucson. He’s the principal investigator on OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer), a NASA spacecraft launched on September 8,2016, and destined to orbitally study asteroid 101955 Bennu, then get close enough to extend a robot arm holding s shovel, scoop up a surface sample and return it to Earth on or about September 24, 2023.
If the name “Bennu” sounds familiar, it’s because this asteroid is a Near Earth Object (NEO) that keeps getting closer to Earth on every orbit, with a 1 in 24,000 chance of impact on September 25, 2175; a 1 in 11,000 chance on September 24, 2196; and a cumulative 1 in 2,700 chance of an impact between 2175–2199. That’s one of the reasons it was chosen for the OSIRIS-REx mission, along with the chance to study its pristine carbonaceous material that is from the birth of our solar system.
Yeah, yeah, yeah … what about the signs of life on Earth?
It turns out this experiment was conducted once before by none other than the late great astronomer Carl Sagan. When the Galileo spacecraft swung around Earth in 1990 to get momentum to carry it to Jupiter, he suggested it search for life on our own planet first. Not surprisingly, it found high levels of methane and oxygen indicating that photosynthesis was occurring on this blue orb. It also picked up radio signals unknown in nature – definite signs of life.
On October 2, 2017, OSIRIS-REx was a mere 17,237 km (10,710 miles) above Earth, so Lauretta and his team exercised its instruments – cameras, visible and infrared spectrometers, thermostats – by pointing them at there place or origin. They registered water vapor, carbon dioxide, molecular oxygen and methane in the atmosphere and OSIRIS-REx agreed with fellow spacecraft Galileo that Earth had signs of life.
The bad news came when the two sets of data were compared. OSIRIS-REx measured 12 percent more methane content and 14 percent more carbon dioxide than Galileo. That means air pollution has increased drastically on this blue sphere in the last few decades and shows no sign of going down.
So, there’s your answer. Earth definitely has life … but it’s not too intelligent.
What will the next probe find?
“That Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow.”