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Earth Space Science

Evidence For Comet-Borne Microfossils Supports Panspermia 169

Posted by timothy
from the aliens-always-start-small dept.
New submitter onyxruby writes "On December 29th of last year a comet exploded over Sri Lanka. When examined by Cardiff University one of the comet samples was found to contain micro-fossils akin to plankton. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center tested additional samples with similar results. The research paper was published in the Journal of Cosmology. In practice this means that the argument that life did not start on Earth has gained additional evidence." Update: 03/12 16:59 GMT by S : On the other hand, Phil Plait says the paper is very flawed; the sample rocks the researchers tested may not even be meteorites.
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Evidence For Comet-Borne Microfossils Supports Panspermia

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  • What If? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 12, 2013 @11:47AM (#43149453)

    Its just a piece of the earth's ocean that was blasted into space during the theoretical asteroid extinction event?

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Isn't that something that mainly the Germans are into?
    • by Black Parrot (19622) on Tuesday March 12, 2013 @11:59AM (#43149627)

      Isn't that something that mainly the Germans are into?

      You're confusing Germans with satyrs.

    • Isn't that something that mainly the Germans are into?

      No, it's a meme of the Intelligent Designer retinue: The belief that the seeds of life are spewed throughout the Universe.

      You know, like, in the beginning, the Intelligent Designer created the Heavens and the Earth, and then He wanked off all over them.

      • Re:"Panspermia" (Score:4, Interesting)

        by tompaulco (629533) on Tuesday March 12, 2013 @12:48PM (#43150191) Homepage Journal
        I have never heard of Panspermia being associated with Intelligent Design. I have heard people who believe in Intelligent Design shooting down Panspermia as some kind of new age nonsensical unscientific crap.
        Basically, Panspermia solves the issue of the unlikelihood of life developing sporadically on Earth, by saying "Space did it", which is the scientific equivalent of "God did it".
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Wrong. Panspermia saying "life came from space" is no different than a new isolated lake being formed from meltwater in a frigid environment and over a period of thousands of years being filled with an entire ecosystem as the environment warms. The inhabitants of the lake (if they were intelligent enough) ask how life arose spontaneously in their little world because to them that lake is their world. But to us it's obvious life arrived there from the vast ecosystem that surrounds it -- an ecosystem the i

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            Not exactly.

            Arguing that life didn't start here, but instead started somewhere else... simply avoids the issue of how life started. Panspermia advocates have routinely claimed that "DNA from space" gave key adaptations to earth life forms. Instead of the hypothetical new enzyme to digest an odd sugar, they claim such key adaptations as wings and eyes. This is nonsense.

            There are plenty of ways in which life could spread from other places/stars. Even at incredibly low odds of surviving the transit fr

          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by TapeCutter (624760)
            It's a false dichotomy. The idea that the emergence of life was a unique event is a religious concept not a scientific one. Life arose on Earth from chemistry, most likely near hydrothermal vents since the convection currents supply a cyclic temperature gradient and the vent supplies the chemicals. It may have been supplemented with life from comets (surrounding environment) but whether the first ever microbe on Earth was a native or an immigrant is not only an unanswerable historical question, it's also an
        • Re:"Panspermia" (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Sibko (1036168) on Tuesday March 12, 2013 @03:35PM (#43151967)

          Basically, Panspermia solves the issue of the unlikelihood of life developing sporadically on Earth, by saying "Space did it", which is the scientific equivalent of "God did it".

          But... technically, space did do it. We are, after all, the example of space doing it.

          Question: If we send a probe to Europa, contaminate it with Earth-born bacteria, and 2 billion years from now that moon is crawling with life, does that mean "God did it" too?

          Or perhaps panspermia is not the equivalent of 'god dun it' anymore than evolution is.
          The idea of panspermia still requires evolution to take place somewhere.

      • by Tarlus (1000874)

        You know, like, in the beginning, the Intelligent Designer created the Heavens and the Earth, and then He wanked off all over them.

        I'll have you know I just spilled my drink. Thanks for the laugh. =)

    • The champaign glass is substituted for a pan.

  • Proof of extra-terrestrial life.
    • by Black Parrot (19622) on Tuesday March 12, 2013 @11:56AM (#43149589)

      Wickramasinghe has been "proving" panspermia for decades. This isn't any bigger a story than the last dozen times.

      He once claimed that influenza was from space because it struck everywhere simultaneously - a patently false claim. You can learn more than he knows about it on Wikipedia.

      He should give it up and go into creationism, where there's money to be had.

    • by arth1 (260657) on Tuesday March 12, 2013 @12:02PM (#43149665) Homepage Journal

      Because there is no proof, and not even any evidence for it.
      It's been pretty thoroughly debunked, and at most it seems to be proof of Chandra Wickramasinghe's incompetence as a scientist, lackluster con man abilities, or both.
      Oh, and certain slashdot editors accepting bad articles without spending two minutes on Google first.

      • So is Cardiff University just a diploma mill with an all-hack staff, or are they a credible uni that happens to tolerate eccentrics like Wickramashinge?

        • by arth1 (260657)

          So is Cardiff University just a diploma mill with an all-hack staff, or are they a credible uni that happens to tolerate eccentrics like Wickramashinge?

          The latter, although they fired Wickramashinge [lankaweb.com] a few years ago. He's still working in Cardiff, but not for Cardiff University.

          • In other words, Wickramashinge is a more accredited version of Archimedes Plutonium [iw.net].

            • by arth1 (260657)

              In other words, Wickramashinge is a more accredited version of Archimedes Plutonium.

              Wickwrackrum isn't nearly as funny as Archie was, though.
              He's more like Jack Sarfatti, in that he occasional gets into big press and taken seriously by journalists who really should know better.

            • Wow. Now those are some intriguing notions, and I'd subscribe to his newsletter in a heartbeat. Is the DC comics bad guy pseudonym his way of saying, yes, I have gone completely off the deep end, so what?

          • So is Cardiff University just a diploma mill with an all-hack staff, or are they a credible uni that happens to tolerate eccentrics like Wickramashinge?

            The latter, although they fired Wickramashinge [lankaweb.com] a few years ago. He's still working in Cardiff, but not for Cardiff University.

            LoL. The link quotes him as saying that he is the Astrobiology Editor for the Journal of Cosmology, where this article was published.

            If this was for real it would be appearing in Nature.

      • All I've seen is criticism of the analysis techniques involved. No real "proof" either way, just a bunch of opinions...
        • All I've seen is criticism of the analysis techniques involved. No real "proof" either way, just a bunch of opinions...

          No real proof either way on Russell's Teapot [wikipedia.org] either, just a bunch of opinions. We should keep an open mind until someone goes and has a look.

          • by tompaulco (629533)

            All I've seen is criticism of the analysis techniques involved. No real "proof" either way, just a bunch of opinions...

            No real proof either way on Russell's Teapot [wikipedia.org] either, just a bunch of opinions. We should keep an open mind until someone goes and has a look.

            Ironically, Russel's teapot is falsifiable, albeit a very large pain in the butt to prove false.

            • But this has a lot more proof then Russels Teapot, at the very least there's pictures of something. The disproof comes from the people claiming it is a "rock ejected from earth"

              Ok so prove its not a meteor. Haven't seen very good science done here =/

              Just a bunch of curmudgeony professorial types demanding that Chandra Wickramasinghe is a heretic. Just because Mr Wickramasinghe's theory postulates its evidence for fossilized life in a meteor doesn't mean it must be tossed out. Add it to your body of "things

              • by arth1 (260657)

                Keep in mind that it's the same professor Wickramsinghe that testified on behalf of creationists in Arkansas, and among other things claimed that the Archaeopteryx never existed and the fossils were all forgeries.

                The onus is on those who makes extraordinary claims to provide extraordinary evidence. And doubly so when they have a crackpot history.

                • Those indeed are pretty extraordinary claims, thanks for pointing them out.

                  I wouldn't take anything he said at face value without scrutiny. The discussion section of http://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1303/1303.1845.pdf [arxiv.org] pretty much states the arguments for the samples being meteorites.

                  There's also quite a few other names on the paper as well. Its not proof, but evidence, maybe.

                  Who knows, we are definitely still waiting for that extraordinary evidence. In my opinion it'll come from us going to space, digging

              • Ok so prove its not a meteor. Haven't seen very good science done here =/

                The rock was found on Earth, where there are many Earth rocks and few rocks of recent space origin. Given this context, the rock in question is mostly likely an Earth rock. This is not an exceptional claim. The exceptional claim is that the rock is a meteor, a claim for which the researcher has shown no evidence

                Just a bunch of curmudgeony professorial types demanding that Chandra Wickramasinghe is a heretic. Just because Mr Wickramasinghe's theory postulates its evidence for fossilized life in a meteor doesn't mean it must be tossed out. Add it to your body of "things to investigate more fully".

                His theory isn't being tossed out because it is 'heretical'. It is being tossed out because he has shown absolutely no evidence for it. I'd wager that eventually, some real evidence will be

                • "The exceptional claim is that the rock is a meteor" - I hear you there, that is maybe an exceptional claim, as a lay man I can not really comment there. But it certainly looks like there is good argument for it being a meteorite, and evidence is given in the paper linked to by the article.

                  But thanks for taking the time to further explain that the scientific community does not believe it is a meteorite. I would like to see more solid proof though. That would require the samples going to other labs and havin

    • "Proof of extra-terrestrial life."

      It's not a bigger story because it's not new. This particular meteorite may be new, but this has all been done before.

  • We're all illegal aliens.

    • by donutz (195717)

      What do you mean illegal? I think the immigration laws at that time consisted of "gravity" -- you're not suggesting the cometary debris disobeyed that law, are you?

  • Phil Plait rips the paper to shreds. Wickramasinghe is a crank, and that Journal publishes all kinds of nonsense.

    • "Phil Plait rips the paper to shreds. Wickramasinghe is a crank, and that Journal publishes all kinds of nonsense."

      This deserves more than a short mention. I do not always agree with Phil Plait, but I think he nailed it pretty solidly here.

      First, Plait points out [slate.com] that the diatoms are (A) all known Earthly varieties, and (B) almost certainly not "fossilized".

      Then, he gives us other good reasons to question whether the "fragment" is a meteorite at all.

  • If the best way to populate the galaxy is to seed it with primitive, unicellular life, perhaps the ultimate function of multicellular life is to help scatter and feed bacteria (and the like) all over the world, so when something big finally hits us, enough of the well-distributed, well-fed spores might survive on blasted chunks of rock to colonize the next world.

    • by EvilSS (557649)
      So we're all just cattle to our subtle microbial overlords? Interesting. I kinda like that.
      • by khallow (566160)
        By number of cells, the bacteria we carry, outnumber our own cells [npr.org] by an order of magnitude.
        • Bingo. If you define evolution as the process by which you maximize your species' survivability, then bacteria are WAY more evolved than we will ever be, quite counter-intuitively. It wouldn't take much to rid the universe of humans, but try that with bacteria. Even if the Earth exploded or something, bacteria would ride on the debris to some other planet and colonize, almost guaranteed. And they do it without intelligence, complex biological structures, or technology. We think we're so advanced evolutionar
          • by khallow (566160)

            We think we're so advanced evolutionarily, but really we're one of the least adapted species on the planet, in terms of survivability.

            We'd be better off than any other large animal (say using the arbitrary floor of 45 kg, which apparently is sometimes used to define the minimum size of "megafauna") on Earth. So I wouldn't call us the "least adapted". And we've since learned the trick of adapting the environment to us rather than vice versa, which puts us in a unique place as far as large animals go.

  • by Jaysyn (203771)

    Must have been a very small comet, I didn't hear of a mass die-off near Sri Lanka.

  • Looking at the original article, they are not peer reviewed and they have loads of fun citing only their previous articles that claim the same thing. Are they looking at small dust particles and thinking they see 'plankton' or is it really there? - a greater mystery than their paper can answer.
  • If true, isn't the big story that "Non-earth life has been discovered"?

    The question as to whether non-earth life seeded earth is of secondary importance, it seems to me.

  • by HaeMaker (221642) on Tuesday March 12, 2013 @12:07PM (#43149727) Homepage

    Miller–Urey experiment created amino acids in the lab with lightning. This is the most likely source of life on earth. Not Mars, not comets.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miller%E2%80%93Urey_experiment

    • by Ardeaem (625311)

      Miller–Urey experiment created amino acids in the lab with lightning. This is the most likely source of life on earth.

      The Miller-Urey experiments are the source of life on earth? Those experiments were more successful than I thought!

      • by Immerman (2627577)

        Yeah, it's too bad the flux capacitor in the next lab malfunctioned and apparently disintegrated the evidence.

    • All that Miller–Urey showed was that it's really pretty easy to get the basic ingredients to life, heck, more recently we've found huge clouds of amino acids floating free in space. There are a lot of open questions about how you go from amino acids to self replicating bacteria though, enough so that it doesn't necessarily make sense to dismiss panspermia out of hand, to do so would limit our thinking to only those conditions that could existed on primordial earth.

      • by Extremus (1043274)

        Panspermia doesn't really answear the question of how life started. If panspermia is found to be true, then the question just changes from "how life started on earth" to "how life started".

    • by Immerman (2627577)

      Well, it's a very likely source of life, but not necessarily on Earth. At present we have absolutely no idea what the odds might be proto-life could spontaneously arise in the organic slime. On the other hand we know that some earthbound animals (water bears - they get their own phylum and are not closely related to any other species on earth) are capable of drying up and entering a suspended state in which they can surviving unshielded in space for prolonged periods, even repairing most genetic damage t

  • I'm neutral on whether this is good or bad news, however while it's evidence some life may have an extraterrestrial origin it is not evidence life may not have started right here on earth. I have no problem with both being true, terrestrial and extraterrestrial origins of life. The odds may be astronomically high but without proof ruling out one or the other I won't ignore it.

    Falcon

  • The claim is somewhat outlandish. It might be proof that life can form again and again in non-living environments, but that's the only thing one can conclude right now. If we notice building blocks of life everywhere in the universe, and if we can recreate them under sterile conditions on earth, it just means that building blocks of life are very common in the universe which increases the probability of spontaneous life-forming.

    It does not mean by any length that life was forming only once, and every other

  • Bringing Discover Channel-quality science to geeks everywhere...

    Thanks for making me just a wee bit stupider, editors! You can probably crank up your hits by getting a comment from Kim Kardashian with a nice fake-boobs cleavage shot in the summary.

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