We’ve found quite a few planets in our galactic neighborhood that look like they might be habitable. But if these worlds don’t have any life, should we seed them with life from our own planet?
That’s an idea put forward by researcher Claudius Gros from Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany, in the Journal of Physics Communications. He suggests that using a modified solar sail, such an idea might be possible.
“These kind of projects are useless for humanity, but life is something valuable and should have the possibility to develop on other planets,” he told New Scientist.
“Our galaxy may contain billions of sterile but habitable worlds.”
The idea is to use technology touted by the Breakthrough Starshot project, namely using extremely large sails measuring tens of kilometers across to reach another star system.
Starshot proposes using particles from the Sun to accelerate a sail to reach 20 percent the speed of light. Carrying a tiny payload measuring just a gram (0.035 ounces), this vehicle would whizz past our nearest star, Proxima Centauri, snapping pictures and returning data on its planet, Proxima b.
Gros’s plan is a bit different. He suggests using a magnetic sail with a superconducting wire. This would enable the vehicle, called Genesis, to be slowed down by hitting interstellar particles, placing a payload on another world.
That payload would be some sort of gene laboratory, which would kickstart the development of life on another planet. It might take a while, though; a 1.5-tonne (1.65 US tons) craft would take 12,000 years to reach the TRAPPIST-1 system, 40 light-years away, for example.
That’s a bit of a problem, as getting funding for a multi-millennia mission that’s “not expected to yield near-term results”, as Gros wrote in his paper, might be tricky. Still, it’s an interesting idea, and if we find that habitable worlds don’t actually have life, should we play God ourselves?
This idea is known as directed panspermia, and in one form or another (such as a life-carrying comet hitting Earth) it has been proposed as an explanation for how life started on our planet. Other places might not have been so lucky, so maybe they’ll need a bit of help. Good luck getting that past Congress, though.
[H/T: New Scientist]