So far, the only evidence for the existence of life anywhere in the universe is right here on Earth. Of course, our search for extraterrestrial organisms has only just begun, but given the inefficacy of our efforts so far, it could soon be time to at least acknowledge the possibility that the emergence of life might be a far less common event than previously assumed.
And if life is indeed a remarkably rare and precious thing, it might also be worth asking ourselves if we have an obligation to share it with other worlds.
That's the motivation behind a new proposal by Claudius Gros, a theoretical physicist at Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany. Gros not only believes that we ought to spread life throughout the galaxy, but he's devised a plan to do it, reports Futurism.
The plan, called the "Genesis Project," borrows technology from another interstellar mission, "Breakthrough Starshot," an ambitious program to send the first probe ever to Alpha Centauri, our nearest neighboring star. Both plans make use of laser propulsion systems that are capable of speeding a spacecraft up to around one-fifth the speed of light.
Unlike Breakthrough Starshot, however, the Genesis Project wants to do more than just blow through a system at top speed. It wants to slow down once it arrives, to stay awhile so that it can drop its cargo: the building blocks of life. The Genesis Project also intends to travel to a system much further away than Alpha Centauri. It wants to go to the TRAPPIST-1 system, which is a promising system for the prospect of life; it contains seven temperate terrestrial planets. The only catch is that it's roughly 10 times further away from us than Alpha Centauri is.
In order to travel so far and stay around long enough to dump its cargo, a 1.5-ton spacecraft (as Gros' plan proposes) would take roughly 12,000 years to reach its destination. (Yep, you read that right: 12,000 years.) It's a testament to just how vast the space is between star systems.
Of course, if Gros' plan gets greenlit, no one alive today will be around to see it through. There's not even any guarantee that human civilization will survive the next 12,000 years. That's why Gros only plans on stocking his spacecraft with the building blocks for life, enough to kickstart evolution. Humanity might not live on, but life might.
But why should we take it upon ourselves to spread life throughout the galaxy? Gros believes it's our moral imperative. Maybe the propagation of life throughout the cosmos has been waiting for the development of a civilization like ours to come along and give the process a jumpstart elsewhere. It might seem like a waste of resources, but perhaps the future of life itself depends on it.
"Personally, I think life is beautiful. We should give it chance to flourish, even if we never see the result. But for those who think we need to do interstellar projects for human benefit, Genesis is the only one that let’s humans play an active part in the cosmos," said Gros, in an interview published in Science. "It is a question of if humans really want to change part of our cosmos actively, or do we want to just observe passively? The Genesis Project gives humans a chance to leave a legacy."