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Directed panspermia mission to Mercury

  1. Feb 22, 2016 #1
    According to Wikipedia, Mercury is not covered by the planetary protection agreement (category 1). A number of scientific papers have stated that radiation-resistant extremophiles would likely survive on and near the water ice poles of Mercury. With no legal restriction standing in the way, shouldn't we be sending a few vats full of microbes there?
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  3. Feb 22, 2016 #2
    Assuming there is enough water at the poles (unknown), and a hardy extremophile bacteria actually did manage to survive there, what would we learn from this?
    We already know extremophiles exist.
    I don't think it likely that we would see them over time evolving into more complex life, if that is what you mean.
    Much of the surface of Mercury is bare rock with temperature ranging from -200C on the night side up to +500C on the day side, absolutely no water, and no significant atmosphere either.
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2016
  4. Feb 22, 2016 #3
    We should view it as our duty to allow life to proliferate in the universe wherever it is able to. Even if we knew for certain (and we don't) that Mercury can support microbial life at its poles and nothing more, would it not remain a worthwhile endeavor to seed it with life and organic material? Afterall, we should ensure that every planet, moon, and asteroid achieves its maximum potential with regard to sustaining the most complex life possible. Mercury is the only reasonable target at present. All other targets in our solar system are under planetary protection. Any journey to extrasolar planets will take 100k+ years.
  5. Feb 22, 2016 #4


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    That's a pretty irresponsible attitude !
    Allow to proliferate, yes ... but partaking in a forced proliferation is crazy ....

    Maybe you wont mind is I drop a few canisters all sorts of bacteria into your home backyard and
    see how they do with no regard for you and your family's health as a result of any infections

    really, really bad idea

  6. Feb 22, 2016 #5
    I believe it's an interesting idea, we certainly cannot colonize Mercury nor would it be worth it to try.. Why not try our first hand at seeding a planet and study it every few decades? We may learn a lot from such a harsh environment supporting life as we know it, and one day it may evolve into life as we don't know it
  7. Feb 23, 2016 #6
    I would not like having canisters of bacteria dropped in my back yard. However, there are no people living on Mercury who would be affected by this plan. It would simply involve placing life on a likely lifeless rock and seeing what happens in the interest of scientific research. It would not endanger anyone's health.
  8. Feb 23, 2016 #7

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    That means you disagree with the reasoning behind the protection agreement. That's your opinion, but it also makes it a certainty than any proposed mission to do this would not be approved.
  9. Feb 23, 2016 #8
    The planetary protection treaty does not apply to Mercury. Mercury is a Category 1 Solar System body (along with the Sun and Pluto). As a result, there are no legal obstacles standing in the way of making this happen.
  10. Feb 23, 2016 #9


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    and can you absolutely guarantee its an absolutely lifeless lump of rock ??

    If not, then you cannot, under any circumstance, even consider endangering the health of any organisms that are currently surviving there or on any other lump of rock in the universe you decide to choose

  11. Feb 23, 2016 #10
    NASA has declared Mercury a planet of non-interest with regard to possible life and removed all planetary protection requirements. In the interest of furthering scientific research and advancement, sometimes risks and sacrifices must be made. Experiments and tests are performed on animals every day in which the animals are harmed, mutilated, or killed. Are you really that worried about our microbes harming Mercury's microbes (which likely don't exist)?
  12. Feb 23, 2016 #11

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    Josef Mengele said something very similar once. And it doesn't change what I wrote: That means you disagree with the reasoning behind the protection agreement. That's your opinion, but it also makes it a certainty than any proposed mission to do this would not be approved.
  13. Feb 24, 2016 #12
    To a species that's ten million years ahead of us going along the same evolutionary path, with millions of years of genetic manipulation and artificial intelligence that lives immortal lives, you are as primitive (and by your logic: expendable) to it as those bacteria are to you.

    Are you willing to keep your ideals if you come to realize that you are not as high as the intellectual food chain as you think you are?
  14. Feb 24, 2016 #13
    Did you even read what I wrote? Mercury is not covered by the planetary protection agreement. Do you dispute that this is true?

    You are equating me to Josef Mengele for proposing to place microbes on the poles of Mercury.
  15. Feb 24, 2016 #14
    I would not consider the state to be any indication of what's right. You're talking about fundamentally altering the ecosystem of an entire planet for nothing other than idle curiosity. Science takes a strict stand of observation with minimal interference.

    Again, where is the dividing line between whats acceptable to experiment with and what's not? Intelligence? Self awareness? Technology? The odds are very very good that not only are we the not at the top of any of them, but that we are puny.
  16. Feb 24, 2016 #15
    Alright, you've made your point. I don't agree with your logic but I'd rather not argue about it. My point is that Mercury is the only reasonable target for a directed panspermia mission within the solar system at present. It is a feasible mission facing no legal hurdles. Most people (ostensibly also NASA) do not view such a proposal to be unethical.
  17. Feb 24, 2016 #16
    Presumably the reason why Mercury isn't covered by the agreement is because whoever drafted it was convinced that Mercury could not possibly have an existing ecosystem which could be interfered with, (which would be why the Sun is the same category).
    In my opinion it's not unreasonable to suggest that the conditions on Mercury generally are completely hostile as regards an environment capable of producing life.
    I doubt if it could support artificially introduced life either unless the organisms were contained within a controlled habitat system,
    but that then renders the whole exercise pointless, the organisms then are not actually living in a Mercury environment, but in a habitat module on Mercury which somewhat simulates the conditions they live in on Earth.
  18. Feb 24, 2016 #17

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    Yes, I did. Did you read what I wrote? I don't think you did, because I was talking about - and I am writing this slowly - "the reasoning behind the protection agreement". This is the third time.

    I most certainly did not. I am saying you are using the same argument that he used.
  19. Feb 24, 2016 #18
    I also would not support attempting to create an artificial Earth-like environment dependent on human maintenance. However, I have found a number of scientific research papers stating that life could exist on its own on Mercury. Here's an excerpt from "Complete Course in Astrobiology" by Horneck/Rettberg, page 206/207. There is a free downloadable PDF online....

    "The potential for Mercury to host life is very low but not completely negligible. Although the temperature range experienced at its surface is extreme, there are some regions where ice has been predicted, or observed, to occur. Radar images of the Polar Regions have been interpreted as showing the presence of water ice, and where there is ice there is the possibility of water and thus the possibility of life. In addition, the lack of tectonic activity on Mercury might allow organic molecules (delivered by comets and asteroids) to be preserved on the surface within the regolith. It is known from observations of extremophile microorganisms on Earth that there are some microbes that thrive in high-radiation environments (see Chapter 5). Indeed, there are some microorganisms that survive inside nuclear plants, and so the surface radiation of Mercury might hold no fears for such organisms."
  20. Feb 24, 2016 #19
    You can also not rule out very exotic forms of life. Given a looser definition of life to include AI, any environment in space is a potential habitat.
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2016
  21. Feb 24, 2016 #20


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    I would prefer not to waste billions of dollars to send a few kilos of microbes to another world for no purpose other than to just do it.
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