When the Hayabusa space probe was originally intended to be launched, it was intended to visit asteroid 4660 Nereus. But when a flight delay kicked the asteroid out of reach, the Hayabusa had to settle for the next target, 1996 SF36. But this could have been serendipity of the highest order as the asteroid is now suspected to have collected particles that suggest microbial life in space. Is this the first unquestionable proof of life beyond the Earth?
Space exploration as a whole has many goals, including the exploration of new planets and the effects of different physical models in low to no gravity. But there are also more exciting goals from which the programs are able to generate most of the excitement that keeps their funding pouring in. And with that it seems the Hayabusa space probe has now collected particles that may turn out to be alien life forms.
The particles would be incredibly primitive and simple. And of course they would be a far cry from the intense saucer shaped craft carrying beings complete with world changing technology, culture, and customs. Still, as the probe touched down on Australia’s Woomera, already a team of Japanese scientists were descending on it in the hopes of examining the “souveniers” it brought back from space. And when they analyzed some of the samples, they discovered something quite different from aluminum or carbon. With the aid of an electron microscope, the scientists were able to study the infinitesimal details of the particles and discovered something that amazed them. Signs that something had been living in the particles. In fact, in the coming months it is possible scientists at Hayabusa will be discovering more signs of life as they sift through the multilayered canister filter within the probe.
What would the discovery of microscopic life in Hayabusa mean for the rest of the world? Well for one, if life can exist on asteroids or even in the void of space, it lends a considerable amount of credibility to the theory of “seeding” planets. And while this would only be a limited explanation of the existence of life, these space seeds would in essence put to rest the notion that Earth is certainly alone in the universe. In fact, with sufficient microbial life spread throughout the galaxy it would suggest life exists on many planets (if not most) that are capable of supporting it. And thus these planets would have gone through processes similar to Earth’s and even could have produced advanced carbon based life forms evolved from the extremophiles of its distant history – just as Earth had.
The findings from the probe are expected to be released to the public in the coming months, but in the mean time there is a strong indication that Earth may already be on the cusp of discovering life in space, and that it is only a matter of time before the final proven evidence is put forth. And if this step is taken by the scientific community – that extremophile forms of life can hitch rides on asteroids, then how far is the next step? How far is it to discover more advanced multicellular organisms? And how long will it take to make that step?