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Curiosity Powdered Rock
This image from NASA's Curiosity rover shows the first sample of powdered rock extracted by the rover's drill. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

Would anyone care about the discovery of Martian life?

On March 12, 2013, NASA announced findings from the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity that suggest Mars was once habitable. NASA officials determined this by reviewing data from Curiosity’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument that analyzed samples of a Martian rock drilled by Curiosity. Explaining the results, SAM principal investigator Paul Mahaffy stated, “The range of chemical ingredients we have identified in the sample is impressive, and it suggests pairings such as sulfates and sulfides that indicate a possible chemical energy source for micro-organisms.”

Curiosity's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM). (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Curiosity’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM). (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

But as LiveScience.com recently asked, would anyone care if microorganisms were found on Mars?

Although discovering microorganisms on Mars, or anywhere else in the galaxy, would be a major discovery for scientists, its significance to the general public would likely be negligible. NASA astrobiologist Chris McKay told LiveScience, “People don’t get excited about microorganisms.”

It is possible that any life discovered on Mars and life on Earth originated from the same source. Discovering microorganisms on Mars would certainly be interesting. But according to McKay, it would not be “as profound as finding that there’s life on Mars and finding that it represents a second genesis.” LiveScience explains, “Life evolving twice in the same solar system would suggest that life is common throughout the universe,” and it would give biologists “an entirely new type of biology to study.”

Discovering a “second genesis” would profoundly affect religions around the world. Or would it?

Dr. Ted Peters (Credit: Graduate Theological Union)

Dr. Ted Peters (Credit: Graduate Theological Union)

A panel discussion on this topic took place on June 24, 2012 at the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute’s SETIcon II conference in Santa Clara, California. This panel, titled “Would Discovering ET Destroy Earth’s Religions?,” concluded that the resulting impact on religion from such an alien discovery is “probably not going to be as severe as we might initially think.”

In addition to this panel discussion on the topic of the extraterrestrial impact on religion, an “ETI Crisis Survey” was conducted in 2008 by Dr. Ted Peters, professor of systematic theology at both Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley California, to test the belief that, “upon confirmation of contact between Earth and an extraterrestrial civilization of intelligent beings, the long established religious traditions of Earth would confront a crisis of belief and perhaps even collapse.” As LiveScience explains, this survey polled more than 1,300 religious individuals and found that “believers were extremely confident that the discovery of intelligent aliens wouldn’t shake their faith.”

About Jason McClellan

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Jason McClellan is an editor and staff writer for Open Minds magazine. Jason is also the producer and co-host of the web series Spacing Out!, web content manager and staff writer for OpenMinds.tv, and co-organizer and technical producer of the International UFO Congress. ------ Follow Jason on Twitter @acecentric and subscribe to Jason's updates on Facebook at Facebook.com/jason.openminds

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