Extraterrestrial bugs to invade Earth?

Then NASA's Spirit and Opportunity probes landed on Mars recently, they were carrying some of the most sophisticated technology ever sent to that planet. But they might also have been carrying some illicit stowaways: microbes.

That is what John Rummel worries about every day. He is NASA's planetary protection officer, a sort of cosmic border guard, and his job is to keep the planets safe from each other's contagions: to prevent Earth from being infected with extraterrestrial bugs and to make sure Earth bugs don't stow away on space probes and infect other planets.

"The best way to find life on Mars," Mr. Rummel said, "is to bring it from Florida."

In the last few years his work has heated up as probes zip with increasing frequency through a solar system that seems more and more likely to harbor extraterrestrial life. NASA's Stardust probe collected dust from a comet and will bring it to earth in 2006. This summer a probe will be launched for Mercury, and others are planned for Jupiter's icy moon Europa, which is potentially ripe with water in liquid form, considered essential for creating life. And in January, President Bush proposed building a lunar base to be used eventually as a launching pad for a manned mission to Mars, report nytimes.com

According to iol.co.za if humans ever go to Mars, they may find electric mini-tornadoes that could make toxic dust stick to their spacesuits, researchers said on Tuesday.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration(Nasa) scientists have already detected whirlwinds and duststorms on Mars, and they figure they may generate electric charges just as small tornadoes on Earth do.

"There's probably an electrical environment to Mars which up to now has gone unmeasured," William Farrell of Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Centre said. "Chances are probably pretty good that the same kind of physics is going on there that's going on here."

Nasa scientists figure whirlwinds and duststorms on Mars may generate electric charges just as small tornadoes on Earth do.

As on Earth, Martian mini-tornadoes can likely produce an electric field of 4000 volts per metre - enough to create dangerous static cling with spacesuits and equipment, according to William Farrell of Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Centre.

While the earthly electrical environment is most commonly seen during thunderstorms, Farrell said, "on Mars that may also be occurring, but driven by dust storms and dust devils," inform nzherald.co.nz

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