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Space Science

No, Life Has Not Been Found In a Meteorite 68

Posted by Soulskill
from the microbial-hide-and-seek-continues dept.
The Bad Astronomer writes "News is going around the web that a scientist in the UK has found life (in the form of microscopic diatoms) in a meteorite, and has even published a paper about it. However, there are a lot of reasons to strongly doubt the claim. While the diatoms appear to be real, they are certainly from Earth. The meteorite itself, on the other hand, does not appear to be real. Many of the basic scientific steps and claims made in the paper are very shaky. Also, the scientist making the claim, N. C. Wickramasinghe, has made many fringe claims like this in the past with little or no evidence (such as the flu and SARS being viruses from space). To top it off, the website that published the paper, the Journal of Cosmology, has an interesting history of publishing fringe claims unsupported by strong evidence. All in all, this claim of life in a space rock is at best highly doubtful, and in reality almost certainly not true."
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No, Life Has Not Been Found In a Meteorite

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  • Please, it's all I've still got left to believe in at this point!!!

    • by Anonymous Coward

      It's called the God particle, you insensitive clod!

    • by RockDoctor (15477)
      Sorry "crazyjj", belief in anything is a waste of time.

      Stop wasting your mental effort trying to "believe" in things. Learn to find and understand evidence and either challenge it's validity (in which case, present contrasting evidence) or accept it's veracity.

      If you do not enjoy the idea of your inevitable death and permanent cessation of existence, then feel free to contribute to an alternative reality either by getting involved in aging/ longeivity research. Or find a counter-example of a lifeform that

  • You know, at the rate those questioning this discovery are going, they'll next demand peer review.

    If I wanted to be questioned by a bunch of nobility appointed by the Queen, I'd live in England. Or maybe Wales.

  • All in all, this claim of life in a space rock is at best highly doubtful, and in reality almost certainly not true.

    But it's exciting, and isn't that what really matters?

    • by RockDoctor (15477)

      All in all, this claim of life in a space rock is at best highly doubtful, and in reality almost certainly not true.

      But it's exciting, and isn't that what really matters?

      No.

      Next question?

  • by Russ1642 (1087959) on Tuesday January 15, 2013 @05:16PM (#42597191)
    No life has not been found in a meteorite!!! What's that? There's a comma? Shit.
  • I mean, it must be pretty slow if you have to put as one of your news articles that another source mistakenly broadcast something as news when it really wasn't.
    • This IS important (Score:4, Insightful)

      by G3ckoG33k (647276) on Tuesday January 15, 2013 @05:54PM (#42597543)

      There have been too many sloppy science news the last decades.

      Please, recall when president Clinton was fooled into saying they had found a rock from Mars, on Earth!!! A few days ago, there was another rock from Mars, also found on Earth. The arguments why these terrestrial rocks were from Mars is sadly weak.

      Another Clintonian Mars or even a Piltdown Man (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piltdown_Man) is what we all should dread.

      Pushing the barrier between bad towards dishonest science is NOT good at all.

      If we can once again ascertain that NO extraterrestrial life has been found, the better.

      • Re:This IS important (Score:5, Informative)

        by zAPPzAPP (1207370) on Tuesday January 15, 2013 @06:18PM (#42597817)

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martian_meteorite [wikipedia.org]

        Apparently 'they' have found rocks from Mars, many times...

        • by ilguido (1704434)
          To be pedant, those rocks are "thought" to be from Mars. What puzzles me the most is the fact that there is a number of these martian meteorites and there's a Wiki article about them and all, but I can't find anything about meteorites from Earth: I mean the escape velocity of Mars on Earth is more than enough to eject a rock into the exosphere, whence it should fall back to Earth (as a meteorite?). Ubi sunt?
          • by Dr La (1342733)
            The problem is to recognize them: Mars and Moon meteorites stand out in the lab by their composition. Earth meteorites just look like, well, any common stone on the earth surface. So an analysis will say: "nope, it is just a terrestrial rock, not a meteorite".

            A fresh fallen one will have a fusion crust, but it might be dismissed a a weathering crust.
      • by Dr La (1342733)
        The controversy about ALH 84001 was not that it is from Mars (that is pretty much agreed upon): the controversy was about nanofossils purportedly discovered in this meteorite.
        • by G3ckoG33k (647276)

          "The controversy about ALH 84001 was not that it is from Mars (that is pretty much agreed upon): the controversy was about nanofossils purportedly discovered in this meteorite."

          Many, including myself don't agree with that it was from Mars. I am am afraid that such an "agreement" by others may have been reached because a president was made a fool in combination with wishful thinking. Look at the analyses, via the Wikipedia link above. They are not persuasive.

          Kuhn would have loved to analyze that "agreement".

          • by Dr La (1342733)
            That SNC meteorites are from Mars was a main stream notion in meteoritics already well before the ALH 84001 "fossil" announcement. It was NOT with the ALH 84001 announcement that that link was first made. The first suggestions date from 1979. For ALH 84001 it is somewhat different: it initially had been misidentified as a diogenite (because its composition is mostly low-Ca pyroxene) and was found to be a SNC-related meteorite in 1994 (two years before the ALH 84001 "fossil" announcement). Its oxygen isotope
  • by Kozz (7764) on Tuesday January 15, 2013 @05:41PM (#42597401)

    I refute the claims by Wickramasinghe due to the fact that his name is an anagram for Kiwi Ashcan Germ.

    Q.E.D.

  • by PPH (736903) on Tuesday January 15, 2013 @05:49PM (#42597471)

    The top had been unscrewed from the inside and it was empty by the time scientists found it.

    Nothing to see here. Move along.

  • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Tuesday January 15, 2013 @05:51PM (#42597501) Homepage Journal

    This sounds like the guy who was supporting Fred Hoyle's claims back in the day.

  • "Also, the scientist making the claim, N. C. Wickramasinghe, has made many fringe claims like this in the past with little or no evidence (such as the flu and SARS being viruses from space). To top it off, the website that published the paper, the Journal of Cosmology, has an interesting history of publishing fringe claims unsupported by strong evidence."

    Pure Ad Hominem attack. No content here. Invalid content is invalid innately regardless of source, similarly valid content is valid regardless of source. I

    • He does point out down the page that the rock in question is unlikely to be a meteorite.

    • Re:Ad Hominem (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Shimbo (100005) on Tuesday January 15, 2013 @06:23PM (#42597851)

      Pure Ad Hominem attack. No content here. Invalid content is invalid innately regardless of source, similarly valid content is valid regardless of source. It doesn't matter if the guy stands by the subway station carrying a sign that says magical leprechauns whisper in his ear it has no impact on the validity of his statements.

      Not at all, the guy has a history of making dubious claims. It's perfectly reasonable to assign him a low a priori probablity of being correct. Sure, you could look at the evidence but life is too short to follow up every crank. It's not worth wasting the time reading if it can't even get published in a respectable journal.

      • by shaitand (626655)

        "Not at all, the guy has a history of making dubious claims. It's perfectly reasonable to assign him a low a priori probablity of being correct."

        No, not it is not. That's why it's a well known and established logical fallacy.

        "Sure, you could look at the evidence but life is too short to follow up every crank."

        Sure but that is a reason to not personally choose to spend your time that way determining if he is wrong, not a valid basis for asserting that he is wrong.

        "It's not worth wasting the time reading if i

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Pure Ad Hominem attack. No content here. Invalid content is invalid innately regardless of source, similarly valid content is valid regardless of source.

      So, wait. We take the history of this guy's behavior and his disproven fringe claims in the past, and that's an Ad Hominem attack? We have a distinct historical record of this guy's previous claims and their validity, but that's not good enough to take a ballpark guess at the validity of his latest claim, and what's more, that's Ad Hominem to use this guy's own history in relation to him doing the exact same thing now?

      Please tell me you're not in any form of law enforcement employment. "Sure, he's shot e

    • Re:Ad Hominem (Score:4, Insightful)

      by oodaloop (1229816) on Tuesday January 15, 2013 @06:44PM (#42598075)
      Pointing out past history is not ad hominem; it's part of how we judge reliability of sources. An ad hominem attack is when your retort sounds more like, "Yo momma!".
    • by Aguazul2 (2591049)
      > Pure Ad Hominem attack.

      With added Streisand effect. Yes, Wickramasingh has some interesting ideas that we might find to be true one day.
    • by bloodhawk (813939)
      pointing out a history of dodgy behaviour to further back the proposition that this is likely more of the same is not an Ad Hominem attack.
    • by lxs (131946)

      When you are judging a man's character, ad hominem seems the only way to go, and when a person has proven time and again to be an incompetent scientist and a kook, the chances of him producing valid results by accident are negligible.

    • I'm afraid that it's necessary for logic, and science, to judge the _provenance_ of claims. This can be quite subtle, and dangerous when used to entirely reject claims without any review of actual data. When a a skilled colleague claims that the internal DNS is failing, they've generally earned credence by doing competent work. When the manager who resents your IT budget makes such a claim, and that manger's other claims have been ill-founded, you have to handle it differently or waste endless hours trying

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 15, 2013 @06:11PM (#42597749)

    No question those are diatoms. More specifically, most are pennate ones (Order Pennales), although there is a picture of a filamentous Centrales diatom in the appendix. But why the hell they would base the in-situ interpretation on an elemental analysis rather than identifying the species present and seeing if "coincidentally" they happened to be the same species as ones found in the local freshwater lakes and streams is a bit of a mystery.

    The paper isn't exactly rigorous. For one thing they say diatoms date back to the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary. No, they date back to the Jurassic Period -- considerably earlier. Furthermore they attribute them to marine environments. No, they are found in marine and freshwater environments. They are also commonly observed as thin crusts on rocks in moist environments (i.e. it doesn't have to be standing or flowing water, just wet). "Hydrated silicon dioxide polymer"? Well, I suppose. But most people who actually work on them call it opaline silica (which is indeed the same thing, it's just weird terminology to use). I don't know what they mean by "fossilized". Diatoms don't have to "fossilize" in the sense of any mineralization or alteration being necessary. They're already opaline silica. All that has to happen for them to preserve for the long term is not dissolve away, and silica is already pretty low solubility, essentially glass. Diatoms are generally quite durable structures.

    Not much of a peer review, that's for sure. It's pretty obvious this is almost certainly modern contamination. They don't provide a speck of useful information showing that it's not. A bunch of EDX chemical analyses merely confirm the composition. So what? It would have been a lot more useful to make a petrographic thin section and figure out the relationship of the diatoms to the mineral grains in the rock.

    This is an extraordinary claim, but the case is extraordinarily weak.

  • So the Wildfire alert has been cancelled then.

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