What if There was Life on Other Worlds?   19 comments

The UN Outer Space Treaty and Planetary Protection

What is Planetary Protection?

Planetary protection refers to ‘interplanetary contamination’ – protecting solar system bodies (i.e., planets, moons, comets, and asteroids) from ‘biological contamination’ by Earth organisms, (Forward contamination – the transfer ofviable organisms’ from Earth to another interplanetary body), and protecting Earth from the transmission of alien organisms, to Earth’s biosphere e.g. as a result of ‘extra-terrestrial sample-return missions.’ (Back contamination)


The Outer Space Treaty

Why is Planetary Protection Important?

Planetary protection is a directive code in the blueprint of an interplanetary assignment, and is critical for several important reasons:  

  • mirrors the unknown nature of the space environment 
  • to safeguard our ability to study other worlds in detail, in their natural conditions 
  • to prevent contamination that would make it difficult/impossible to find potential life on another world  
  • to ensure that we take judicious safety measures to shield Earth’s biosphere in case it does.  

The UN Outer Space Treaty and Planetary Protection

The legal basis for planetary protection is located in Article IX of the United Nations Outer Space Treaty ratified in 1967 by the US, USSR, and UK.

“Article IX: … States Parties to the Treaty shall pursue studies of outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, and conduct exploration of them so as to avoid their harmful contamination and also adverse changes in the environment of the Earth resulting from the introduction of extra-terrestrial matter and, where necessary, shall adopt appropriate measures for this purpose.”

Requirements for Protecting Life on Other Bodies


Planetary protection prerequisites for each mission and interplanetary body in focus are ascertained based on the scientific advice of the Space Studies Board, NASA or international policy guidelines.

Each mission is categorized according to:

  • Type of mission (e.g. flyby, orbiter, or lander)
  • Nature of its destination (e.g. a planet, moon, comet, or asteroid)
  • And the planetary bodies that may be discovered over the course of the mission (e.g. Mars and Europa).

Proposal to Increase Time-Scale for Planetary Protection

In the case of  Europa, the majority opinion was, that not only should Europa be kept it is not contamination-free during current times of exploration, but that it could well be scientifically important enough to warrant being kept in an un-touched and un-contaminated condition for future generations to benefit from studying too. 

“One consequence of this view is that Europa must be protected from contamination for an open-ended period, until it can be demonstrated that no ocean exists or that no organisms are present. Thus, we need to be concerned that over a time scale on the order of 10 million to 100 million years (an approximate age for the surface of Europa), any contaminating material is likely to be carried into the deep ice crust or into the underlying ocean.” 

(The minority opinion was that these protection measures are unnecessarily strong.)

But What About the Natives??!!

Europa and Alien Life

It is natural that we should want to explore worlds with the potential for life, and even to exploit them, but what if these worlds, such as Europa, do prove to have natives? There are different views on this subject. For example:

  • If the life is only microbial then there is no cause to worry about it. We should not let microbes interfere with potential colonisation.
  • It has its own ecosystem, and this should be left alone. However, if the long-term aim was to terraform Europa it would change the climate of the moon along with the rest of Europa.

Will we as egotistical humans decide, that despite knowing that this is a world that we have had no hand in creating, none-the-less that we should take measures to change it anyway? Or will we recognise our boundaries and appreciate that we have a unique standing in the cosmos, and therefore put aside our arrogance and leave untouched, a world, and possibly an eco-system, that we have had no hand in creating?

Europa’s Icewolf’s Personal Howl!


My personal howl on this subject is that absolutely Europa needs to be protected from Earth contamination! We do not know the consequences of any potential contamination. And precautions should be taken so that accurate observations can be made regarding any life found on Europa. If we find life there, it will have its own ecosystem and we should leave it alone and allow it to be a nature reserve moon. We may even be able to find ways to improve its habitat to help its life to thrive in ways not yet possible for it on icy Europa. It may be possible to ring fence the inhabited areas to reduce human contact, but it seems to me that such action would serve only to damage Europa, and ultimately this moon needs to be left alone! 

As mentioned earlier, backward contamination by micro-organisms (e.g. bacteria, certain algae and fungi) from other worlds are also a risk, when carried back to Earth on probes. which could have catastrophic upshots for Earth dwellers. Our immune systems will not have any resistance to extra-terrestrial micro-organisms. Not only would our bodies be totally unable to fight them it is pretty much guaranteed that we would have no time and no opportunity to research the creation of the necessary vaccine. Therefore, it will be essential to have high-level, cutting-edge systems for filtering and highly advanced procedures in place.

What do YOU think?!!

europ_wolf (2) copy1B

Discovering beyond all doubt that alien life does exist would have big impacts on Earth.

  • Inevitably there would be changes to terrestrial science, technology, religion, politics and ecosystems as a result of contact with extra-terrestrial life, whether it be microbial or a technologically advanced civilisation.

Consequences for Society and Cultural Back-Lashes

Nobody will avoid the impact from the culture shock that would occur if we were to discover extra-terrestrial life, whatever form it might take. We would be forced to face the sudden reality that we were not a unique exception in the universe, which could cause a very serious back-lash in society as we know it. A culture shock of this nature could last for decades, possibly centuries. It would not only be ourselves affected in the deepest and most profound of ways but also our children and our children’s children. As we reach out to new, unexplored worlds with no real knowledge of what we might find there, exactly how the potential revelation of extra-terrestrial life and the impact on future generations is an issue that requires our consideration…





http://www.unoosa.org/pdf/publications/STSPACE11E.pdf   (SpaceTreaty PDF) 


www.space.com  (What Finding Alien Life Could Mean for Earth) 

www.wikipedia.com  (Potential Cultural Impact) 







19 responses to “What if There was Life on Other Worlds?

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  1. Absolutely agree with you, Icewolf! Who are we anyway? So it’s OK for us to go as we’ve signed a treaty. Our arrogance amazes me at times.
    I’m all for research and discovery, and I love these probes that are being sent all over the Solar System to find facts and send photos back. I’m not too keen on them being sent into the planets to be destroyed – surely that will have an effect on the eco system as well? A probe from Earth wasn’t there before… after all.
    I hope that life is discovered. Far greater intelligent life than what is on our planet – mind you, we wouldn’t learn anything from such intelligence and would try to invade or overthrow our new friends anyway. I hold us in such high esteem, don’t I? 😀
    A very interesting post, Icewolf, and it is good to see Europa taking centre stage.

    • You are a man after my own heart Tom! At least on this subject anyway 😀 I hold us in equally high esteem😉 Interesting point re crashing probes into planets. Whilst it is a sure fire way of killing off any contamination the probe was carrying you would, I agree you would think such actions would damage the eco system. Though I suppose that depends if there was an ecosystem on the first place! And yes…thought it was about time Europa took centre stage!

  2. I think there is…I really do

  3. I agree with you that we should avoid contaminating other environments. I am not, however, particularly optimistic about how humans will handle this – they haven’t done very well on our own planet. I begin to doubt the ability of humans to learn from past mistakes and to realise how very little they know.

    • Hmm….this is the problem…you’re so right. I think it will be impossible to avoid contaminating other worlds if we get loose in their ecosystems. Scary thought🤔🙄👽😨

  4. My neighbors are probably from another planet. On either side of me! Wait, maybe, it’s me…

  5. We are far from ALONE.. 🙂 And we are but one Blue Dot in the Galaxy.. One Galaxy among many others,, To think we are the only life forms shows how the human ego thinks.. Life had all forms, and not all are humanoid.. 😀 Take IceWolf for instance… her howwwls on those ice realms are heard far and wide..
    And it was great to have you land upon my own little Sanctuary Wolfie..

    Sending HUGE hugs right back to you. ❤ xx ❤

    • Slowly getting back to blogging- its actually very therapeutic when the brain’s overloaded with the negativity of the world. Helps keep things in balance. I haven’t landed on anyone’s blogs for far too long so it feels a bit cheeky to suddenly start popping up again! But got to start somewhere! Have been keeping the emails for your posts along with one or two others from my “inner circle” but in the end they just go back so far that people start closing comments on them! Pretty much decided to start with the recent ones and hopefully gain momentum from there to carry on the good work! Yes…Icewolf is definitely a unique and fascinating form of life who proves humans are most certainly not alone! But we Icewolves would quite like that humans keep their grubby paws off Europa lol and not come swaggering into meet us thanks!! There are plenty of other moons out there for them to explore,like Encelades! Europa belongs to the Icewolves only!! Hope to be landing in your little sanctuary with the regularity your blogs deserve, from now on😊xx

      • I have taken a longer break from visiting other blogs more than in any other year since blogging.. The break did me good.. I just get overwhelmed, I follow too many, and spend hours just moderating and visiting the people who take the trouble to leave comments.. So I have been toying with the idea of stopping blogging.. But.. I am still here…
        I had a new modem, a more powerful one I think, and I feel it affects my energy, as I get too tired now when I have been on my laptop too long.. And so I leave the modem turned off for big chunks of the day and I turn off every night.. When I went on the net to researh.. WiFi.. I was astonished at how its affecting health.. So, I am keeping my on air time down a lot more..
        Just visit those who reach out to you to start with and let it progress from there Wolfie..
        We are only human after all, or Wolves.. 😉 xxx HUGS dear Wolfie and take care.. ❤

      • Sensible advice Sue ☺ So many are quick to follow and they post 2/3 x daily, but never ever show face even when you regularly visit theirs. And yet still we go a visiting! Time to change I think!
        Have heard about wifi thingies affecting health/energy if you’re sensitive to it. Not nice for you. My problem is the cracking headaches that keep cropping up when I sit down to type. I’ve recently started using the blue light filter and it makes a big difference. I got my friend to try it on his phone too and he has also noticed a big improvement. Now…in theory I am supposed to be putting a blog post together…but I am feeling lazy…again…!! We will see😉Wolfie hugs…and growls at your naughty modem! 😎xx

      • I am happy the filters have helped your headaches.. I turn the modem off when not using it. And today as I have been on WP quite a while on and off today, I am feeling jaded.. But I will not be on here tomorrow.. 🙂
        But I promise not to overlook when I next log in, to see if your were lazy or not.. LOL.. HUGS xx

      • I wasn’t lazy! I just haven’t got finished with preparing a post yet! Been working hard for 2 days to sort it and even got 2nd one on then the boil lol 😉 but pic sorting for it is taking longer than planned. And now I’m have a 3rd one in mind!
        Also, after thinking about your comments I have now stopped all but essential email notifications from w.p blogs and then became so enthusiastic about the subject that I have now unfollowed 3/4 of the blogs I followed-dead in water for 2+ years or ones that never ever visited mine even once no matter how regularly I went to theirs. And it feels great! You should try it too! Now I only get emails from those blogs I really want them from, like yours! And I can see everyone in the rmeader very easily without feeling overwhelmed 👍🙃 Only problem now is not enough time to visit whilst trying to sort our a post myself! 😜 Getting there though -big step forward by Wolfie current standards!! Wolfie hugs 🤗☺xx

      • I know I unfollowed a lot the other week yet still have 367 I follow.. So I may need to do a reshuffle again too.. I was in my reader nearly a whole day while the rain came down, and still finishing off today the ones I missed..
        Your post will arrive when its meant to.. xxx HUGS.. ❤

      • Exactly!! By the time you’ve just clicked the like button 10,000 times despite that they never bother with your posts, all the time has gone along with any energy or enthusiasm for visiting or commenting. I’ve cut mine down to 49 to follow though s few more may yet be axed! You have to be ruthless Sue! If they don’t bother with yours – kick ’em out! You’ll feel so much better if you take back control if your own space and much freer to enjoy the contents of your reader and to interact more pleasurably and at your leisure. 😀xxx

      • Still thinking about your 367 blogs you follow Sue!! I had around 200 when I started and that was a nightmare to keep up with 😉 No wonder you’re finding it time consuming with yours! I’d definitely have another reshuffle- I had to be pretty ruthless and in some cases felt a touch guilty, but it’s sooooo much better now I’ve done it! I’ve got a post up now so 1st step on re-conditioning blogging mode. Now I can get on with getting back into the swing of visiting and commenting on the great blogs, like yours, that I retained. Everyone’s been sorely neglected by me for ages now. It will be good to focus my attentions on the blogs that deserve it again ☺ Takes time to get back in the habit though doesn’t it?😉 Take it easy…and purge those blogs!! You’ll feel soooooo revitalised afterwards withbthe pressure off! xx

  6. Just a little hi for you Wolfie 🙂

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