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It won’t be a friendly encounter nor a conquest: it will be a gold rush when we meet aliens. Can we make sure it’s ethical?

is a science writer. She is the Latin America correspondent for Science, and her work has additionally starred in Wired and Slate. She lives in Mexico City.

Aeon for Friends

It wasn’t the Martians’ fault their planet died. If they existed – once – Martians were microbes that are likely surviving in a world just like our own, warmed by an atmosphere and crisscrossed by waterways. But Mars begun to lose that atmosphere, perhaps because its gravity wasn’t strong adequate to hold onto it after an asteroid impact, or simply it had been gradually blown away by solar winds. The cause continues to be mysterious, but the ending is obvious: Mars’s liquid water dry out or froze into ice caps, leaving life without its most precious resource. Any Martians might have been victims of a planet-wide natural disaster they could neither foresee nor prevent.

For Chris McKay, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California, the moral implications are unmistakeable: we ought to help our neighbours. Earthlings may possibly not have been able to intervene when Martians were dying en masse (we had been just microbes ourselves), the good news is, huge amounts of years later, we’re able to make it as much as them. We’ve already figured out a highly effective solution to warm a planet up: pump greenhouse gases into its atmosphere. McKay imagines a not-too-distant future in which we park machinery on Mars that converts carbon and fluorine within the Martian soil into insulating chlorofluorocarbons, and spews them to the planet’s puny atmosphere like a protein shake built to bulk it up. Read more

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