There are a myraid of different programs looking for life out beyond our planets. Missions to Mars looking for water and bacteria, probes to Titan, Europa and Enceladus, the James Webb Space Telescope searching explanets for biosignatures or even SETI to find extraterrestrial radio signals.
All of these are well and good, but they are for sure long-term projects which pose significant logistical challenges.
Tangible progress in these fields could be many years away, and success of new life, while certainly it will happen one day, there is no forecast of when we might hope to achieve this.
BUT THERE IS GOOD NEWS!
We will probably discover a completely new, alien ecosystem right here on our provably habitable and only partially explored home planet. We have only explored about .4% of the Earths total mass, and we might find out some crazy things if only we try looking….
1. Inside the Earth’s Massive Underground Super-Ocean
This one may actually turn out to mean we’ve never even touched upon the earths largest ecosystem. Geologists are increasingly certain that a massive ocean, larger than all of the water on the earths surface combined, lies deep underneath us.
It’s not unrealistic that earths super-ocean may contain life. Life started in the water on planet earth, whats to say it didn’t start (or at least migrate) deep underground as well?
What we’re talking about here is a completely unexplored underground ecosystem that we have NO IDEA is down there, larger than the oceans of Europa and Enceladus combined. For any lover of exploration, this is a dream come true!
The only trouble is that in some ways, it actually seems much easier to travel through 390 million miles of space than it is to go 6 miles of solid rock.
The Japanese Chikyu vessel is being constructed over the next 10 years to allow humans to directly access the earths mantle for the first time, and they will be digging directly through the ocean floor to get to it.
This mission may give us evidence of life under the surface, only time and human willpower will tell.
2. In the Earth’s Upper Atmosphere
In September 2013, British molecular biologist Milton Wainwright flew a high-altitude balloon over England and found something he didn’t expect to see: algae floating 17 miles above Earth’s surface.
Nobody is quite sure how it got there, and until we have a solid theory we have no reason to assume that these algae are the only life forms we’ll find in the skies of Earth.
One might assume though that it has something to do with the recent discovery of Biological Life manifesting out of non-living materials spontaneously, and the fact that most space-dust is teeming with biological life. You can read more about that here.
3. On the Ocean Floor
It is an accurate statistic (and commonly-cited nowadays) that less than 5% of the ocean’s floor has been explored. If we were to look at the ocean floor as if it were land, (which technically it is) and realized that we still haven’t mapped over 95% of it… well how well-explored would we say it was?
Dry land only makes up 29% of Earths terrain, and the rest of the surface is hidden from us by massive amounts of water. We have no idea what is lurking at the deepest depths, though what we’ve already seen suggests that there is some REALLY incredible things we have yet to find.
4. Within the Frozen World
In the past 100 years we have found fresh mammoths, living megaviruses, and even the mummified bodies of WW1 soldiers. As the process of climate change and thawing ice continues, we’ll no doubt find even more forms of life, and very old forms of life, preserved deep in the ices of the world.
Roughly 10% of the earths land-surface is covered in ice. Consider that as a decent chunk of land that has been unexplored… not that we should go melting ice to go find some things. The rate things are going anyways that will happen by itself soon enough.
5. Inside our own Bodies
In a very real sense, each of us is a walking planet full of diverse microbial ecosystems of unimaginable complexity. And there are more than seven billion of us.
It’s been known for a long time that we are full of bacteria. Collectively, the amount of bacteria in your body weighs about the same amount as your head, and the Human Microbiome Project has made strides towards cataloguing them.
And even with that, scientists have now uncovered evidence suggesting that there’s an undiscovered microbial ecosystem that includes bacteria that easts viruses inside our bodies. In truth, there’s no reason to think that this is the last micro-bacterial surprise our bodies have in store for us.
While we’re working to discover evidence of past microbes on Mars, we’re still discovering new things about the microbes that live in our pores and between our teeth.
While we’re looking to explore the oceans of Enceladus and Europa, we’ve only just begun to explore the oceans of Earth’s crust—and we haven’t even touched the ocean of Earth’s mantle.
And while we explore the skies of exoplanets for atmospheric biosignatures, our own atmosphere contains life that remains, on the whole, mysterious to us.
It’s an exciting time to be an astronomer, without question—but it’s also an exciting time to study the largely alien planet that produced us, and to meet the creatures who share it with us.
For all of our advances in mapping this planet and cataloguing what we find on it, there’s still a great deal of exploring left to do.
By Jordan, The Spirit Science;