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Protecting the Solar System From Contamination

Soulskill posted about a year and a half ago | from the life-will-find-a-way dept.

Mars 121

tcd004 writes "An article at PBS begins, 'Imagine this crazy scenario: A space vehicle we've sent to a distant planet to search for life touches down in an icy area. The heat from the spacecraft's internal power system warms the ice, and water forms below the landing gear of the craft. And on the landing gear is something found on every surface on planet Earth... bacteria. Lots of them. If those spore-forming bacteria found themselves in a moist environment with a temperature range they could tolerate, they might just make themselves at home and thrive and then, well... the extraterrestrial life that we'd been searching for might just turn out to be Earth life we introduced.' The article goes on to talk about NASA's efforts to prevent situations like this. It's a job for the Office of Planetary Protection. They give some examples, including the procedure for sterilizing the Curiosity Rover: 'Pieces of equipment that could tolerate high heat were subjected to temperatures of 230 to 295 degrees Fahrenheit for up to 144 hours. And surfaces were wiped down with alcohol and tested regularly.'"

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And in the future... (3, Funny)

Press2ToContinue (2424598) | about a year and a half ago | (#43098685)

will the Office Of Planetary Protection will provide condoms in which to encase the astronauts?

Re:And in the future... (4, Funny)

dgatwood (11270) | about a year and a half ago | (#43098989)

Depends on whether they're down with OPP.

Re:And in the future... (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | about a year and a half ago | (#43099469)

Actually, when two isolated human cultures meet, one of the first things trade are sexually transmitted diseases. The same thing will happen with aliens:

"Captain, I know it was against orders . . . but I just couldn't resist her green scaly skin, her soft yellow underbelly, and her series of fin-like ridges running down here spine!"

Re:And in the future... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43099815)

You and I have similar tastes.

Would this be bad? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43100155)

Why are we worried that more planets might have life on them? Is there really a huge need to preserve them as pristine, dead rocks?

If you just want a giant rock garden to stare at, there are plenty of asteroid belts out there....

Oh it's bad alright. (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about a year and a half ago | (#43102089)

It's the places that might already have life that we are trying to preserve. So that if they do have alien life, we can detect that life and do science on it.

Demonstrably dead things we don't care about getting life all over them. You can splash as much bacteria as you like on the Moon, no one cares. Asteroids? Go nuts. Life away.

But Mars, Europa, Titan, and comets; we wait until we figure out how to definitively rule out native, alien life.

Too late... (2)

Kenja (541830) | about a year and a half ago | (#43098713)

we're already here.

Re:Too late... (1)

SourceFrog (627014) | about a year and a half ago | (#43100427)

I don't see how it's a bad thing to seed life on a lifeless planet. We could take a lifeless planet and in a few hundred million years complex life forms might evolve. This is bad how? I thought life is a good thing.

Actually, thought experiment: If it's "better" to keep a planet lifeless and dead instead of seeding it with life, then wouldn't it also have been "better" if Earth had remained lifeless and dead?

Re:Too late... (2)

SourceFrog (627014) | about a year and a half ago | (#43100471)

We could take a lifeless planet and in a few hundred million years complex life forms might evolve

'Correction', I mean also, moons, e.g. Europa is one candidate.

As far as we can tell, life is precious and valuable in this universe ... to inherently call life "contamination" smacks of some very broken way of thinking. If we see ourselves as "contaminating" other planets by colonizing them, then it is only logical that we must exterminate ourselves on Earth too, as we are a "contaminant". That would be silly.

Of course, if there are existing complex life forms beneath the ice of Europa, then there can indeed be "contamination", in the sense of unleashing bacteria on them. But if it's just a matter of worrying that we're finding the same life we introduced, that's silly ... seeding life would be awesome.

Re:Too late... (1)

History's Coming To (1059484) | about a year and a half ago | (#43100563)

Yes, IF that planet really is lifeless. A single tiny non-terrestrial colony of bacteria would answer some of the biggest questions in biology and xenobiology, you have to know you've not infected the planet to use that data.

Genesis is a wonderful power, but you've got to make sure you don't overwrite an existing matrix for the science to be any good, even if it's only a Ceti-Alphan earslug.

Re:Too late... (1)

SourceFrog (627014) | about a year and a half ago | (#43100631)

Yeah, but we already don't really "know", due to meteor-based seeding that has been going on for a long time. I agree it is of course prudent to at least check for existing life before attempting to seed life (the summary implies a lifeless body as a contextual premise here).

Re:Too late... (1)

SourceFrog (627014) | about a year and a half ago | (#43100643)

Of course, if we do seed life (and ultimately intelligent life) on other planets, we should leave them with some really confusing "guide-books" explaining their origins, as a prank.

Re:Too late... (1)

borrrden (2014802) | about a year and a half ago | (#43101503)

This sounds very similar to the plot for "Contact"

Re:Too late... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43102261)

The problem is that we don't have decided when enough is enough.
It is never possible to prove that something that doesn't exist isn't there, if it was we wouldn't have this problem with religion.
So when do we say that there is no life on a planet and decide that it is OK to introduce it?

Re:Too late... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43100759)

If life does not exist anywhere else in the universe, it will be an unthinkable crime against the universe if we have the technology to spread life yet choose not to do so.

Re:Too late... (2)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about a year and a half ago | (#43102149)

If life does not exist anywhere else in the universe, the universe doesn't care.

It may be a waste of a good opportunity, but even "life" doesn't care. Except us, and maybe the dolphins.

So, as the only species capable of having an opinion, it might be a "crime" against humanity to... well, not do whatever we decide is the humane thing to do. If we decide not to pollute the universe with ourselves, then that decision is life's "natural will". If we decide to spread life far and wide in a hostile cosmos, then that too is the natural will of life.

Cool thing about being the only creatures in existence in existence with morality. We get to decide what is moral.

Already done (3, Interesting)

able1234au (995975) | about a year and a half ago | (#43098763)

Meteors from earth have probably peppered the other planets anyway. Some bacteria spores can survive inside them. So they are probably already contaminated. And in any case we could compare the DNA to see if it is from earth.

Re:Already done (1)

the biologist (1659443) | about a year and a half ago | (#43098947)

If we could examine its DNA with any of our advanced tools, we will know it came from earth before we get around to doing any sequencing.

Though there are good reasons that DNA might be used in other biogenesis events, there is no particular reason that the bases our DNA uses would also be used.

Re:Already done (5, Interesting)

garyebickford (222422) | about a year and a half ago | (#43099209)

IANA physical biologist, but I did look into this question a bit from a systems point of view a few years ago. The key thing would be the minimizing of the energy required to sustain the structure while at the same time allowing maximal adaptability. Or, more abstractly, the 'fitness' of each amino acid pairing for the general task.

There is certainly a large element of chance, but it's probable that the four amino acids that ended up being used are pretty close to the optimal set. This derives from a general evolutionary model, where various things happened by chance, and the ones that worked best for the situation (I could have said 'survived' but that carries too much baggage) would tend to be the ones that were incorporated.

Otherwise, one is arguing that a single chance pairing of amino acids just happened to work, and no others were (in an analogous sense) 'tried' in the right conditions. To my mind, it's more likely that many combinations came together, and one was more successful. It might even be that there was a sequence of such cases - maybe (hypothetical example) when the G and C bases bond together, they float better in a solution with a pH of 7.2 or some such thing.

I prefer to think that certain bases were more available, or just happened to work better under the conditions, and so they got used while others that were 'almost as good' didn't, or didn't for very long. In this case (again with little biological background), things like requiring just enough energy to be split apart, or fitting just right together with the splitting mechanism, or any of several other criteria including environmental ones such as 'in this temperature and pH range') would all be factors. I suspect some very interesting analysis and experiments could be done on this.

Re:Already done (4, Informative)

the biologist (1659443) | about a year and a half ago | (#43099677)

As my handle suggests, I am a research biologist. Mostly, that just means I like to think about this sort of topic. Don't take it as me attempting to shut you or others down.

Your logic is more or less on the ball... DNA isn't made of amino acids. There are plenty of other nitrogenous bases which could have been used in DNA without any other complications. The paired bases do have to match up in a consistent way. Various forms of synthetic DNA has been made with alternate bases and it seems to behave like DNA in a physical sense.

I too prefer to think that the bases our DNA use has do do with which ones were most readily available, or which were most available in the little puddle where the biosystem started. Those basic organisms which started later or used things 'almost as good' got eaten in the endgame.

Similar logic comes in to play with the amino acids which we use to make proteins. There are many alternatives, several of which have been experimentally introduced into living biosystems. (There are E.coli which now use amino acids not found in any natural biological system; labs at University of Texas-Austin study this topic.) With amino acids, there is even more room for random chance in the initial choise of basic modules. Once that first living system started, it probably ate every other nascent living system. There is good reason to believe that amino acids will be used to form proteins and that a certain diversity of amino acids is needed, covering several basic chemistries, but that the specific amino acids isn't so important. (The E.coli types with chemically novel amino acids grow just fine.)

Re:Already done (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43099843)

The E.coli types with chemically novel amino acids grow just fine.

The hard question would be whether they grow as well or better, in the whole gamut of conditions - including / especially the original conditions. In the long run if their viability was even 0.0000001 less, over many, many generations they would likely die out - especially as other competitors benefited from prevalence - a 'network effect' of sorts.
(AC because logging in on my phone would be a PITA.)

Re:Already done (3, Interesting)

the biologist (1659443) | about a year and a half ago | (#43100211)

That is one of the things they're testing. They see an initial growth defect upon adding the new amino acid. Basically, every place the altered codon is found the resulting protein acts somewhat weird. Biology is flexible and the cells keep going anyway. After a short while, the cells get over the issue one way or another and there is no remaining growth defect apparent.

[A different experimental group...] If you have an ongoing culture and take isolates at incremental time points, the isolates show interesting behavior when compared. Each isolate will outcompete the isolate just prior when in a common culture, as expected. If you compare each isolate to the second back, most (but not all) will win. If you compare each culture to earlier isolates, it is essentially random which one will win. The expectation was that each isolate would outcompete all prior isolates...

The modified cells will lose to normal ones after the initial change... but once they have had time to get over the shock, it then becomes anyone's guess which way any particular competition experiment will go.

I think the group modifying amino acids is looking to convert them all to types not found in nature... resulting in E. coli with no natural amino acids. At that point, things start to get real interesting. Lots of aspects of our biology are tuned in some way to deal with the existing distribution of amino acids, so these highly modified cells will have lots of changes to lots of systems. Evolution is a really powerful thing. Once you start feeding the culture with less and less of the new amino acids, the cells will figure out how to synthesize them and do so efficiently. Some metabolic circuits will be tweaked, others will be scrapped and scrambled whole-sale.

what if life doesn't use DNA? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43101529)

This is the really, really interesting question. What if that non-earth life we discover isn't DNA based.

Re:Already done (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43098997)

Meteors from Earth? Sorry, you meteorism can't affect other planets.

Re:Already done (5, Informative)

Fluffeh (1273756) | about a year and a half ago | (#43099191)

Actually, you should read up on the topic before you go spouting nonsense.

Transfer of Life-Bearing Meteorites from Earth to Other Planets [arxiv.org] for example.

Re:Already done (1)

able1234au (995975) | about a year and a half ago | (#43100333)

You may be the one spouting nonsense given that the topic of this discussion is "Protecting the Solar System From Contamination" and the paper you quote says

"For every object, the number NA and NB are much greater than one. Although
it is uncertain how rocks enter the presumed sea under the surface, for example,
of Enceladus and Europa, the probability may be high that micro-organisms trans-
ferred from Earth would be adapted and growing there."

I'll accept your apology, thanks. Next time make sure you read what you quote.

Re:Already done (1)

Fluffeh (1273756) | about a year and a half ago | (#43100453)

Ummm? The guy was stating that meteors couldn't go from earth to the other planets... I pointed out that they indeed can...? There is a whooosh in here somewhere, I am just uncertain where it is at the moment. I think we are reading the OP in different ways...

Re:Already done (1)

able1234au (995975) | about a year and a half ago | (#43100647)

woooooops... my bad. Mr AC's comment was hidden to me, so i thought you were replying to me. OK, my apologies to you instead :)

Re:Already done (1)

Shavano (2541114) | about a year and a half ago | (#43100053)

This is a real longshot. First off, rocks on Earth typically don't have a lot of bacteria in them. Second, the kind of shocks that could splash Earth stuff into space are... extremely rare. Third, most bacteria could not survive decades to centuries in space. Fourth, very little such material could end up on orbits that intersect other planets. Fifth, it would then have to survive the final crash and find itself in a hospitable environment.

Re:Already done (1)

espiesp (1251084) | about a year and a half ago | (#43101711)

reality check:

Life is a long shot. First off, blah blah blah, and then it would have to evolve into humans.

And it did and so it can.

Re:Already done (1)

theedgeofoblivious (2474916) | about a year and a half ago | (#43102215)

4.5 billion years.

Re:Already done (1)

wvmarle (1070040) | about a year and a half ago | (#43101745)

And that is exactly one of the theories on how life started on earth: seeded by meteors carrying alien lifeforms.

So now we can add another theory to the origins of life: bio-contamination left behind by alien visitors.

No one on this planet (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43098801)

There are people stating we may have put Streptococcus on the moon. There is no one qualified to begin to tell us how a organism from a unknown planet might work. The reality is the best we have is guesses. 295 degrees Fahrenheit is no wear near the flash point for many living organisms and their progeny. The only safe way is to quarantine permanently everything off planet, until the time needed to research all these possibilities has been done. This may mean life appointments to quarantined research areas for off planet exploration employees.

Re:No one on this planet (1)

hawguy (1600213) | about a year and a half ago | (#43099129)

There are people stating we may have put Streptococcus on the moon.

This is in dispute - many say that the camera was contaminated after its return on earth.

There is no one qualified to begin to tell us how a organism from a unknown planet might work. The reality is the best we have is guesses. 295 degrees Fahrenheit is no wear near the flash point for many living organisms and their progeny. The only safe way is to quarantine permanently everything off planet, until the time needed to research all these possibilities has been done. This may mean life appointments to quarantined research areas for off planet exploration employees.

I've never heard "flash point" applied to microorganisms - how does one determine the flash point of a microorganism and how does that relate to its survivability on another planet? Does the progeny of an organism have a significantly different flash point from the original organism?

but rats still got every where (1)

zaax (637433) | about a year and a half ago | (#43098807)

Two centuries ago exploring ships did the same thing (so they thought) anti-rat boards on ships; fumigants etc. but rats still found their way on board, and go off when we got off. Anyway the bacteria we might find could be common across the galaxy.

Re:but rats still got every where (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43098945)

Pieces of equipment that could tolerate high heat were subjected to temperatures of 230 to 295 degrees Fahrenheit for up to 144 hours. And surfaces were wiped down with alcohol and tested regularly.

You're comparing apples to bananas. They knew very well how effective their anti-rat measures were, just as we know very well how our antibacterial measures are. Just because something analogous to what we are doing today failed two hundred years ago (and people even knew it didn't work) doesn't mean what we are doing today will also fail.

Re:but rats still got every where (5, Insightful)

garyebickford (222422) | about a year and a half ago | (#43099357)

I think the analogy stands. Consider the tardigrade, an animal composed of 40,000 or so cells (every adult has the exact same number of cells). They have been shown to survive freezing to near 0K, heating to over 130C, and the radiation and vacuum of space outside the ISS (or was it the Shuttle?).

The point is that for a given potential infestation, the bugs only have to succeed once. Sterilization measures have to be 100% successful every time. And they aren't, can't be and won't be. Even if we never actually put humans into space again, every vehicle will contribute it's little pile of DNA. Each halving of the number of impurities left on a surface increases the cost, difficulty and effort by an order of magnitude. (hmm - this is much like the 90% rule of software!)

Why bother? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43098841)

So what if we send our bacteria to other planets and they affect the local life (if it exists at all)? Basically we're talking about microscopic living things in a well isolated planet/celestial body, why waste the money?

Re:Why bother? (3, Interesting)

psithurism (1642461) | about a year and a half ago | (#43099481)

Ok, I'm not a complete nutjob here, and I understand two parts of why they bother, first the agency is there to protect our own planet from samples coming back: if the moon or Mars supported life for a few billion years it might become horribly invasive when brought back into the paradise that is our planet, so there is that. Second, they don't want a bacteria covered microscope looking for Martian bacteria because that would kinda nullify the results.

But anyway, I care. I personally feel that we have a responsibility to do whatever we can to take life off this planet ASAP. What if earth is rendered uninhabitable by some unforeseeable cosmic event? As far as we know life is unique to this planet and it would be kinda a bummer to see it all get wiped out when there was a chance to let it restart somewhere else. I'm morally opposed to protecting other planets from ourselves.

The whole article they talk about taking care of the solar system for future research, but fuck future research; if we successfully dropped life onto another planet, that would be way more interesting than our typical: "this rock has more iron than that rock," and I really see no need to save those rocks for our great grandchildren at the expense of creating alien life.

Re:Why bother? (2)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about a year and a half ago | (#43100171)

Given that the determination of life outside our little planet is one the fundamental questions asked of the space program, seeding bits of ourselves, or even the reasonable possibility of contamination muddies the waters. You don't want to be accused of bringing the first novel bit of off planet life with you from the get go.

Office Of Planetary Protection? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43098859)

I'm so glad we put so much effort into protecting other planets.

Now how about we stop tossing radioactive shit all over our own? kthx.

Re:Office Of Planetary Protection? (4, Informative)

hawguy (1600213) | about a year and a half ago | (#43098909)

I'm so glad we put so much effort into protecting other planets.

Now how about we stop tossing radioactive shit all over our own? kthx.

I don't think that's NASA's department. You'd have to talk to the Department of Energy to ask them to stop letting coal plants emit so much radioactive waste products if your goal is to limit radiation release.

Re:Office Of Planetary Protection? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43100199)

You ARE aware that the planet is where all those radioactive things came from in the first place, aren't you?

Might as well say "How bout we stop putting so much water all over our planet" or "How bout we stop putting so much soil all over our planet"

I mean if you intended to say you hate the Earth and want to see large portions of it destroyed, I suppose that's all fine and well, but please stop dressing up your hate as if you cared. ktnx!

Why not let the bacteria live? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43098871)

Sure, for the first few missions go ahead and sterilize the bacteria. But once it's been pretty well established you're looking at a ball of rock and/or ice, just let the bacteria grow. See if life from Earth can grow in other climates. It might actually help to understand the variability of conditions for sustaining life a whole lot better than aiming a telescope into space and measuring the X-rays and infrared light for Earth-like conditions.

Re:Why not let the bacteria live? (1)

hawguy (1600213) | about a year and a half ago | (#43099219)

Sure, for the first few missions go ahead and sterilize the bacteria. But once it's been pretty well established you're looking at a ball of rock and/or ice, just let the bacteria grow. See if life from Earth can grow in other climates. It might actually help to understand the variability of conditions for sustaining life a whole lot better than aiming a telescope into space and measuring the X-rays and infrared light for Earth-like conditions.

How do you determine that with any certainty? We're just now drilling deep underground into a sealed antarctic lake that may contain bacteria that's been living there for thousands of years.

better to err on side of caution (1)

Bearhouse (1034238) | about a year and a half ago | (#43098889)

It's tempting to conclude there's nothing living on Mars, so why not colonise it it with some custom-engineered stuff.
I would love to believe the SciFi stuff - imagine that by the time we have just about finished destroying Earth, Mars will be waiting for us with an atmosphere full of oxygen, and unlimited meat and veg for all. Ah yes, and the benevolent bugs that turned rock into water are totally not going to mutate into anything that kills you.

Since we've managed to screw up all of the unique ecosystems we have encountered so far, by ignorence, negligence or "good intentions", probably better to keep things sterile.

Or try to - life will always find a way. Wanna bet there is nothing living on the Moon or Mars that we sent?

Re:better to err on side of caution (3, Insightful)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about a year and a half ago | (#43099125)

First you need to give Mars a magnetic field to shield it from the radiation given off by the Sun, which also strips off any atmosphere that accumulates too. It's also pretty good at killing things too.

Re:better to err on side of caution (1)

runeghost (2509522) | about a year and a half ago | (#43099175)

We're rapidly approaching the point (assuming we're not already there) where a well-funded small group will be able to send a tailored package of bacteria to Mars and start trying to terraform it, with or without the permission or knowledge of the rest of the human race.

Re:better to err on side of caution (1)

garyebickford (222422) | about a year and a half ago | (#43099401)

IMHO, from the perspective of the solar system, we are 'life'. There's no evidence of life anywhere else in the solar system. If so, then where we go, we bring 'life' with us. We are the carriers of that seed. So in that sense, we are the fruiting body of the biological entity called 'Terran Life'. It has taken a billion years to develop its fruit, with the capability to carry itself to other soils.

Re:better to err on side of caution (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about a year and a half ago | (#43100485)

Any life that is or may have existed on mars at any point in the past is almost certainly already related to life of earth. Either mars seeded earth or the other way around. We'll never know... and if we find life on mars we'll never be totally sure it wasn't some mutated form of bacteria that came off a probe in the early stages of the space program. Because, like I said, it's almost certainly going to be very earth like. How long can you keep mars sterile for? It's the only planet in the solar system that has even a remote chance of humans living on it in the near future. We can spend the next 100 years looking for bacteria that may or may not exist, or we can just say fuck it and put bacteria there on purpose and use the planet for something. The knowledge that bacteria existed on Mars at some point is kind of a moot point. We KNOW life is not unique to this planet. We're just waiting around for proof. But that's just an academic endeavor. We've no real need for the proof.

Unfortunately, the second we start messing with Mars, earth hippies will have a fit and then God help us all.

Re:better to err on side of caution (1)

SourceFrog (627014) | about a year and a half ago | (#43100601)

You're worried that we can "screw up" a sterile (i.e. lifeless) environment? What does that even mean? If it's sterile, then by definition there is nothing and nobody there to harm - just lifeless dirt, rocks etc. And so who does it benefit to keep it sterile? Do the rocks or dirt benefit?

If introducing life on to a planet is "bad", then shouldn't you be arguing that we wipe out all life on Earth too? Or is that actually what you're arguing?

Native Americans... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43098933)

just ask them what happens...

230 to 295 degrees Fahrenheit? (1)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about a year and a half ago | (#43098935)

Yeah, that'll work [earthsky.org]

Re:230 to 295 degrees Fahrenheit? (1)

MightyYar (622222) | about a year and a half ago | (#43099113)

It's unlikely that those bugs would be present in a 70 degree clean room with low relative humidity :)

Re:230 to 295 degrees Fahrenheit? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43099169)

I wasn't aware the rover was smeared in undersea-vent sediment.

Re:230 to 295 degrees Fahrenheit? (2)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about a year and a half ago | (#43099173)

So those organisms survive when the water turns to steam? I doubt it.

Re:230 to 295 degrees Fahrenheit? (1)

c0lo (1497653) | about a year and a half ago | (#43099841)

So those organisms survive when the water turns to steam? I doubt it.

Stop doubting [wikipedia.org] - thermal energy was one of the first to used by bacteria.

EOP. OPE. OPP. (1)

Ol Biscuitbarrel (1859702) | about a year and a half ago | (#43098949)

It's a variation on Peace on Earth or Purity of Essence or Office of Planetary Protection. Mad as a bloody March hare!

It's incredibly obvious, isn't it?

Re:EOP. OPE. OPP. (1)

Kittenman (971447) | about a year and a half ago | (#43099437)

I'm here for you, General Jack D. Ripper....

Re:EOP. OPE. OPP. (1)

cffrost (885375) | about a year and a half ago | (#43102183)

Ice cream, Mandrake... Children's ice cream!

alcohol? doesn't kill them all (1)

rubycodez (864176) | about a year and a half ago | (#43098961)

many types of Clostridium and tetanus bacteria can take 90 percent alcohol solution for *hours*

Re:alcohol? doesn't kill them all (5, Informative)

the biologist (1659443) | about a year and a half ago | (#43099235)

90% ethanol leads to bacterial spores precipitating out of solution, which is why clinical labs use 70% ethanol to sterilize surfaces. The lower dosage leads to faster overall kill rates because the spores stay in solution where the ethanol can disrupt their processes.

Trek (1)

WizADSL (839896) | about a year and a half ago | (#43098967)

I love Star Trek, but this isn't Star Trek. Although we should prevent accidental contamination of another ecosystem, I don't think we should freak out if it happens. Natural cross-contamination (meteors, etc) stand a good chance of being the reason there is life here on Earth.

Re:Trek (1)

R3d M3rcury (871886) | about a year and a half ago | (#43100689)

It's not so much Star Trek non-interference as it is good science. To use the example given in the summary, we land a probe on some icy world which melts the ice. We infect the place with bacteria on the landing gear. We then take samples and find--surprise surprise--bacteria!

Well, gosh, what did we learn? We can't really say if the bacteria--which looks remarkably like bacteria found on Earth--was native to the planet or that we just brought it along with us. So this $500 million probe doesn't answer a thing. We might as well have used the money to feed the hungry, house the homeless, or blow up a country full of brown people.

So what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43098993)

There are 400 billion stars in our Galaxy. Each one of us could take a crap on a different planet, and that would still leave a 1% margin of error when we detect life on another planet.

Environmentalism belongs in an environment where actual living breathing human lives are at stake.

ps - those visiting to Mars will have to hold in their farts.

Re:So what? (1)

hawguy (1600213) | about a year and a half ago | (#43099259)

There are 400 billion stars in our Galaxy. Each one of us could take a crap on a different planet, and that would still leave a 1% margin of error when we detect life on another planet.

Environmentalism belongs in an environment where actual living breathing human lives are at stake.

ps - those visiting to Mars will have to hold in their farts.

But for the foreseeable future, we're not going to be visiting anything outside our solar system.

Protecting the Solar System From Contamination (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43098995)

As astronomer Dr. Hugh Ross noted, sending a probe to Mars to search for life is pointless if that probe is not programmed to both recognize and ignore earth-based life because our planet "contaminates" the other planets down-solar-wind from us all the time. Indeed, spores and whatnot are able to waft high enough into our atmosphere to be caught by the solar wind and taken into space, to land who knows where.

Re:Protecting the Solar System From Contamination (1)

hawguy (1600213) | about a year and a half ago | (#43099295)

As astronomer Dr. Hugh Ross noted, sending a probe to Mars to search for life is pointless if that probe is not programmed to both recognize and ignore earth-based life because our planet "contaminates" the other planets down-solar-wind from us all the time. Indeed, spores and whatnot are able to waft high enough into our atmosphere to be caught by the solar wind and taken into space, to land who knows where.

But how would you know if the spore originated on earth, or it originated somewhere else and colonized the earth?

They got it Backwords (1)

detain (687995) | about a year and a half ago | (#43099021)

They should be loading their rovers and satellites up with as many forms of bacteria and simple life forms as they can. We should be encouraging spreading life as much as possible. It might not effect us now but millions of years from now we could have planets in our solar system with lots of carbon based life and atmospheres more hospitable to humans so when we eventually destroy the Earth we have a few fallback plans.

Re:They got it Backwords (1)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about a year and a half ago | (#43099217)

You've been watching too much sci-fi.

It took ever a billion years for early life to produce enough oxygen to saturate the oceans and make its was in to the atmosphere. You also need liquid water on the surface for that to happen too, which requires enough atmospheric pressure and the correct temperatures.
If Mars could sustain an atmosphere, its a possibility. Venus and Mercury are too close to the Sun and all the other planets are too far.

Re:They got it Backwords (1)

detain (687995) | about a year and a half ago | (#43100093)

It doesn't have to wind up being an atmosphere thats really compatible with human life but life in general would be good, and I acknowledge millions of years might not be enough time, but I don't see humans lasting on earth more than a few million more years at most .

Re:They got it Backwords (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43100247)

His point is still valid, even if it's off by a billion years or so. If the only life in the universe is found right here on earth, wouldn't it be a shame to lose it all should something happen to our planet? And while the environments of reachable bodies aren't going to be particularily hospitable for us, it definitely could be possible for some microbial life.

Re:They got it Backwords (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about a year and a half ago | (#43102181)

If the only life in the universe is found right here on earth,

"If" is an interesting question. And I'd like to see science be able to take steps towards an answer. Which is why it's stupid to spread Earthly bacteria until we can at least check if the obvious places in the solar system already have their own alien life. Mars, Europa, etc. If they are truly dead, go nuts.

as Ian sez: (1)

turkeydance (1266624) | about a year and a half ago | (#43099047)

life finds a way.

So is alcohol sufficient? (1)

multiben (1916126) | about a year and a half ago | (#43099073)

So if they wipe some parts of the craft with alcohol why do they bother heat blasting the rest of it? I assume because heat blasting is better. Which means that some of the craft is bacteria free and the rest isn't. So... what was the goal again here?

Re:So is alcohol sufficient? (1)

slashmydots (2189826) | about a year and a half ago | (#43100483)

It's not sufficient to stop: "OMG there's alcohol breakdown residue on the surface of this rock! That's organic! It must have been from the same life that made that chunk of plastic!"

Re:So is alcohol sufficient? (1)

wvmarle (1070040) | about a year and a half ago | (#43101767)

Not all the parts can withstand the heat so well. And even heat blasting is not guaranteed to make it all completely sterile, as there is always the outside of the craft that remains in touch with the atmosphere. There are always ways for bacteria to sneak in after all. All they can do is try to make it as hard as possible for germs to get in, and after that make it as hard as possible for those that do, to survive.

What about radiation? (1)

EmagGeek (574360) | about a year and a half ago | (#43099111)

What effect, if any, does constantly being bombarded by ionizing radiation while in space transit have on sterilization?

Re:What about radiation? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43099261)

Tardigrades are able to survive in extreme environments that would kill almost any other animal. Some can survive temperatures of close to absolute zero, or 0 Kelvin (273 C (459 F)),[14] temperatures as high as 151 C (304 F), 1,000 times more radiation than other animals,[15] and almost a decade without water.[16] Since 2007, tardigrades have also returned alive from studies in which they have been exposed to the vacuum of space for a few days in low Earth orbit.[17][18] Tardigrades are the first known animal to survive in space.

I for one will welcome (1)

future assassin (639396) | about a year and a half ago | (#43099251)

our hitchhiking overlords when they return to Mother Earth.

Why the fucking care about that (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43099353)

Call me retrograd, but this seems to me like treehugging, but elevated to n.

Sure, there might be some native microorganisms there and we might be disturbing their natural development. Please tell me what is the big deal.

We "disturb the development of more microorganisms" every time we eat a yogurt.

Why should we care?

Re:Why the fucking care about that (1)

the biologist (1659443) | about a year and a half ago | (#43099393)

Though there are some that think we should never disturb the pristine natural environment of other planets... I think the primary concern is that if we're looking for living things on other planets, then it would be better not to contaminate the sites we're studying with random biocrap we brought with us.

Re:Why the fucking care about that (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43099895)

Because if you find strains of [wildly-mutated, perhaps] bacteria thriving on Cygnus Omega Tau Upsilon XXVII, it would be very interesting to know if they arose there naturally or if your microscope is just dirty. Earth currently has the distinction of being the only "life"-bearing place we know about, and if/when that is overturned it had better have a good reason.

Does it matter where it comes from? (1)

Nidi62 (1525137) | about a year and a half ago | (#43099579)

Does it really matter whether the life comes from Earth or is native to the planet/moon? Wouldn't the more important discovery be the proof that life could actually survive there?

Re:Does it matter where it comes from? (1)

R3d M3rcury (871886) | about a year and a half ago | (#43100743)

Depends on what you're looking for.

The immortal question is, "Are we alone in the universe?" Well, to begin answering that question, we have to determine whether or not there is life out there--any kind of life. If we send a probe out to Mars or Europa or a comet or some such place and we look for life and we find it, how do we tell whether or not it was there before us or if we brought it with us? So it makes it hard to tell whether or not the solar system is teeming with life because we brought it there or because it really is out there.

You're right in that the idea that Mars could support life is interesting. But that's not really the question we're asking. The question we're asking is whether Mars has/had life. So bringing it along kind of fucks up the test.

no brainer (1)

dezent (952982) | about a year and a half ago | (#43099923)

nuke the landing site before and after arrival.

Re:no brainer (1)

rubycodez (864176) | about a year and a half ago | (#43100259)

may not be effective, some bacteria can take massive dose. if 800 rem can kill a human, 90,000 a cockroach, consider that some bacteria can take 3 million. of course, there are fragile ones that are killed at 100 rem too.

Ha ha!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43100147)

Contamination is imminent! Scotty beam me up! Give me decontamination or give me death!!

All I know is... (1)

skelly33 (891182) | about a year and a half ago | (#43100225)

We can't even prevent cross-contamination from occurring here on Earth. The commercial overseas shipping industry has introduced countless, destructive, invasive species into other ports that wreak havoc on the local ecosystems - and have the potential to impact local economies. Off-planet is not going to be any better; spreading Earth dust is unavoidable. As Jeff Goldblum said in Jurassic Park, "Life.... finds a way." I say give it an honest effort, but don't dwell too long on attempting to thwart the inevitable. When some commercial space-entity decides to conquer the heavens and does not adhere to your strict standards, who are you going to call, the Space Police?

computer viruses? (1)

slashmydots (2189826) | about a year and a half ago | (#43100473)

So if someone loads a computer virus onto Curiosity, it might spawn robots on Mars?

How would you get them mixed up? (1)

wakeboarder (2695839) | about a year and a half ago | (#43100661)

If there was life on another world I would suspect that it would operate on different mechanisims, you wouldn't have the same DNA structure, it would have different protein's, ect. I would be more concerned that our life would wipe out the alien life or vice versa.

Not so fast! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43101007)

Prepare for Trouble!
And make it Double!
To protect the system from contamination!
To unite all probes within our nation!
To denounce the evils of truth and love!
And extend our reach to the skies above!
Curiosity!
Opportunity!
Team Rocket, blast off at the speed of light!
Surrender now or prepare to fight!

Spiiiiiiiiiiiirit, that's right!

Why not? (1)

Eravnrekaree (467752) | about a year and a half ago | (#43101033)

If there is no life there already, why no contaminate it with life, get something started there. As long as there is no life there already, it does not violate the prime directive (according to my copy of Starfleet manuals). I cant seem to see the harm in it.

Because. (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about a year and a half ago | (#43102197)

If there is no life there already,

"If". That's the question. We don't know. And we can't find the answer if we slime up the test subject before we even run the test. It's about trying to avoid contaminating our samples with the very thing we're looking for. (Imagine if you were an oil surveyor looking for signs of oil, but you were randomly leaking oil everywhere you went.)

Once we know for sure that a body is lifeless, then yes, go nuts.

Life finds a way (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43101221)

Let us spread our wings and disseminate our virtue upon the heavens!

Andromeda Strain (1)

egcagrac0 (1410377) | about a year and a half ago | (#43101265)

So nice to know that we're now catching up to science fiction from 40 years ago.

Planetary Protection Officer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43101321)

I've known two of the Planetary Protection Officers - one of the best titles ever. It's amazing where Earth life can live. Even in the cleanest of clean rooms they could find bacteria and archaea. Of course, those microbes growing in the clean rooms couldn't possibly compete with those viciously competing in the dirty world.

Tested alcohol regularely? (2)

Vitus Wagner (5911) | about a year and a half ago | (#43101335)

Oh, these engineers only need a slightest exuse to get some alcohol by taxpayers money. They would indeed test it regularily. Because they know that contamination might happen only in the imagination of bad pulp fiction writer, and alcohol has a much better uses than to spill it onto the rover.

Tardigrades (1)

ceview (2857765) | about a year and a half ago | (#43101867)

Pretty sure there were a bunch of little Tardigrades [wikipedia.org] stuck on rocks that have been blasted off the surface of Earth at some point and end up roaming around the solar system waiting to crash somewhere. They are likely to have been around for many hundreds of millions of years.

I'd be more afraid of... (1)

Codifex Maximus (639) | about a year and a half ago | (#43102097)

I'd be more afraid of intelligent extraterrestrial life extrapolating our location using the trajectory of our spacecraft.

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