Cosmonauts believe they have just found alien life on the International Space Station
Over the last half century or so, us human beings have ventured where no man (or woman) has gone before. We've been to the moon, we've observed galaxies lightyears away, and we've built a pretty nifty little thing called the International Space Station (ISS).
Launched in 1998, the ISS is an enormous man-made satellite that was designed to move around the planet in low Earth orbit, and acts as a base for explorers and researchers while they're up in space. It's been home to a lot of men and women over the years - but it turns out that other life forms may have been tagging along for the ride as well.
Anton Shkaplerov, a Russian cosmonaut who has spent a total of 365 days in Space during his missions, spoke to news agencies about finding something that he believes to be potential extraterrestrial life.
Before you get too excited, though, Shkaplerov's discovery wasn't exactly a tiny green man clinging to one of the satellite panels, but rather something a little more... little. Microscopic, in fact.
During his most recent visit to the ISS, Shkaplerov took some swabs from the outside of the station in order to analyze the bacteria present on the satellite. Theoretically, anything that was present on the station should have been materials that were existent on the surface before it was launched nearly 20 years ago - but that wasn't the case.
"Bacteria that had not been there during the launch of the ISS module were found on the swabs," Shkaplerov said in an interview with a Russian news agency. “So they have flown from somewhere in space and settled on the outside hull.”
In more straightforward terms: there's a good chance this could be alien bacteria.
However, there is a chance that this bacteria was somehow picked up on the way out of the atmosphere, as terrestrial organisms have been found to survive in the harsh conditions of outer space before. Plankton and other earth-borne bacteria sometimes get pulled up by a phenomenon that lifts micro-organisms right up into the atmosphere, and can become attached to a space shuttle or satellite after it has taken off.
The Russian space agency, Roscosmos, confirmed this earlier on in the year - so we already knew it was a possibility for bacteria to work its way onto a ship even if it had never come into contact with it while it was still grounded on Earth.
And yet, the micro-organisms present on the ISS were still considered worthy of mention by somebody who has spent plenty of time in outer space, and who knows what the situation is with potentially foreign bacteria. So maybe this is more than just some clingy plankton.
And if this does turn out to be extra-terrestrial, it'll be the first scientific confirmation of alien life that this planet has ever known (unless you're into all the Roswell/Area 51 stuff). And yes, once again, it's not exactly like we found ET floating about in a petri dish. But we found something. And who knows what it could lead to.