You probably think of the Earth's Moon as a dead husk, void of life.
But NASA says the astronauts who are scheduled to touch down on the surface of the Moon as soon as late 2025 — if everything goes according to plan, an increasingly significant "if" — might not be the first organisms in town, Space.com reports.
"One of the most striking things our team has found is that, given recent research on the ranges in which certain microbial life can survive, there may be potentially habitable niches for such life in relatively protected areas on some airless bodies," Prabal Saxena, a planetary researcher at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, told the site.
Said microbial life could be harbored by the lunar south pole's permanently shadowed craters. In particular, Saxena wonders whether life forms that originated on Earth may have survived the journey there.
And that's more relevant than ever, as NASA still has 13 locations near the south pole to choose from for its upcoming Artemis 3 mission, the first crewed mission to the Moon's surface in over half a century.
Saxena and his team recently presented research at a workshop about these potential landing sites, arguing that we should consider the possibility of microbial life surviving on the Moon.
While experts have pointed out that organic molecules could very well have made their way through space via meteors, there's no guarantee microbes could survive the trip.
There's also another possibility: that humans left microbes on the Moon last time were there (or when a failed lunar lander splattered a bunch of hardy tardigrades on its surface in 2019, for that matter).
"We view humans as the most likely vector [of microbes] given the extensive data that we have about our history of exploration and the impact record as a second, albeit less influential, early terrestrial source," NASA Goddard organic geochemist Heather Graham told Space.com.
In short, if we ever do find life on the Moon, it's probably from Earth — but that shouldn't dissuade us in our continued search. After all, discovering that microbes could survive on the Moon would have some vast implications.