Colonization of the moon has been a long-time dream of science-fiction writers but, if it ever actually happens, we may turn out to not be the first life-forms to live there. At least, that is the theory laid out by researchers from Washington State University and the United Kingdom’s University of London. In a recently published paper, they make the case that, at some point in history, the moon’s atmospheric conditions were such that it could have been possible for life to, well, live.
“Based on [findings concerning] water being present in lunar rocks and magma, including the likely presence of a magnetic field, we [arrived] at the picture of an early moon — 3.5 billion years ago — which was a temporarily habitable planetary body with a significant atmosphere and liquid pools of water on its surface,” Dirk Schulze-Makuch, an astrobiologist at Washington State, told Digital Trends.
There are two periods during the moon’s formation in which these lunar conditions would have been such that life could have existed, the researchers argue. While these were many, many, many millennia apart, though, we’re still talking about a long time ago in both instances. As noted, one was 3.5 billion years ago, during the moon’s peak volcanic activity, while the other occurred even longer ago — at 4 billion years. Considering that the first sexually reproducing organisms only appeared on Earth 1.1 billion years ago, that means that — even if this is correct — there was almost certainly no crossover between Earth and moon life.
The potential lunar life-forms, provided they existed, wouldn’t have been much to write home about either. (If home at the time had been anything more than a barren hellhole in which the oceans perpetually boiled away into scorching steam atmospheres.) “Life would only be on the microbial level similar to sulfur bacteria on Earth,” Schulze-Makuch continued.
Still, as Jeff Goldblum once said in Jurassic Park, “life, uh, finds a way.” Even if that life turns out to be extinct moon sulfur rather than the promised Little Gray Men!
The research paper, titled “Was There an Early Habitability Window for Earth’s Moon?”, was recently published in the journal Astrobiology.