In contrast to Earth’s vibrant ecosystems, the moon has long been perceived as a barren and lifeless celestial body, devoid of water and signs of vitality. However, one NASA scientist believes there is more to the moon than meets the eye.
According to Prabal Saxena, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre, microbial life could persist in the severe circumstances found on the moon.
“Relatively protected areas on airless bodies may harbour potentially habitable niches for such life,” Saxena explained, as reported by Space.com.
The source of this life is astonishing. If such moon bacteria exist, they most likely originated on Earth and travelled to the moon on a lunar lander!
While Saxena primarily studies the potential existence of extraterrestrial life outside our solar system, he has recently turned his attention closer to home—the lunar south pole.
In recent years, the lunar south pole has garnered significant attention due to NASA’s plans to land its Artemis III astronauts there by 2025. The agency has identified 13 potential landing sites for the mission.
Despite no human having ever set foot on the lunar south pole, NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper has revealed the presence of ice within craters, which could be mined for rocket fuel by astronauts. Some of these craters remain shrouded in permanent darkness, shielded from the sun’s harmful radiation. Consequently, these lunar pockets could potentially serve as safe havens for extreme microbial life.
Saxena stated in his recent work, as reported by Inside Outer Space’s Leonard David, “Recent research on the survivability of microbes exposed to conditions like those on parts of the lunar surface indicates surprising resilience of numerous microorganisms to such conditions.”
An example of the resilience of certain microbes was demonstrated by the bacterium Deinococcus radiodurans, which survived on the exterior of the International Space Station for an entire year. Tardigrades, known for their ability to withstand extreme conditions, have also survived outside the ISS in space.
“We’re currently investigating which specific organisms are most likely to survive in such regions,” Saxena told Space.com.
Even if microbes are not currently present on the moon, they are highly likely to be introduced once humans begin exploring its surface. If Saxena and his team’s hypothesis proves correct, these microbes could not only survive but potentially thrive in the perpetually shadowed craters, Space.com reports.