Jim Green, NASA’s retiring chief scientist, spoke with The New York Times about one of his most significant recent proposals, a scale for verifying the detection of alien life, called the "Confidence of Life Detection" (CoLD) scale.
The scale ranges from one, meaning no life is found, to seven, meaning "we found life."
The reason we need such a scale, said Green, is that it shows the chances of verifying life on these planets, and, as such, can predict whether the possibility of terraforming, or making them habitable for humans, exists.
Regarding Mars, which is only at a CoLD Level 3, Green told The New York Times that "if a scientist came to me and said, ‘Here’s an instrument that will make it a CoLD Level 4,’ I’d fund that mission in a minute. They’re not jumping to seven, they’re making that next big step, the right step, to make progress to actually finding life in the solar system."
The difference between the start of the search for life on Mars, beginning with the Viking 1 and 2 landers in 1976, and what we’re doing now is that the current research is much more methodical and much more intelligent in how we recognize "what signatures life can produce over time," said Green.
"Our solar system is 4.5 billion years old and, at this time, Earth is covered in life. But if we go back a billion years, we would find that Venus was a blue planet. It had a significant ocean. It might actually have had life, and a lot of it. If we go back another billion years, Mars was a blue planet. We know now Mars lost its magnetic field, the water started evaporating and Mars basically went stagnant about 3.5 billion years ago."
Green explained that we put the Viking landers in bad places because we didn’t know at the time where better places for searching for life on Mars were, or even that they existed at the time. We also can bring back samples this time, he added.
Green also believes that placing a giant magnetic shield between Mars and the sun could help in terraforming the planet, since it would stop the sun from stripping its atmosphere, thereby allowing Mars to trap more heat and warm its climate. Mars will even "start terraforming itself," Green said, adding that "we can change Venus, too, with a physical shield that reflects light."
Green also spoke about the Europa Clipper mission, which NASA approved in 2015, which would search for life on Jupiter’s moon Europa, following the detection of plumes erupting from its subsurface ocean in 2013. The mission is set for launch in 2024.
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