Mercury from Orbit. Credit: NASA / JHUAPL / Carnegie Institution of Washington
An MIT team led by Christopher Carr and Maria Zuber and Gary Ruvkun, a molecular biologist at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University, are proposing to build an instrument to send to Mars. But this instrument won’t be looking for signs of life, it will be testing the hypothetical Martian DNA and RNA. Should this interplanetary paternity test prove positive, proving a relationship between Earth Brand™ Life and Mars Brand™ Life, then this could be proof of some extraterrestrial cross-pollination.
The paper studies this question in relation to the Vega debris disk and finds three kinds of disequilibrium that might be created by asteroid mining at a large scale. The extraction of specific minerals and elements will create an imbalance in the disk, and the authors note the likelihood of iron and nickel mining, these being of practical use in large-scale space engineering projects, along with rarer elements such as platinum and palladium, useful in technological innovation. A sharp depletion in several of these species would be a potential marker.
So, too, would large-scale mining’s effects on the dynamics of a debris disk system, for we would expect these activities to result in the destruction of the larger asteroids in the system. Unusual temperature distributions are a third possible marker, created by the production of dust in the mining process. An anomalous dust source or an unusual temperature gradient in the disk would provide a potentially detectable signal. For that matter, variability in the disk as different locations are mined could also be detectable, although here we’re talking about future instrumentation, as what we have today probably isn’t sensitive enough to make such observations.