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Space Science

'Alien Life' Story of Dubious Provenance Goes Viral 62

Posted by Soulskill
from the truth-is-out-there-but-not-in-the-journal-of-cosmology dept.
Sockatume writes "By now you have likely read about the 'alien life forms' discovered in the upper atmosphere over Yorkshire, via the mass media reprinting a press release from the University of Sheffield. Unfortunately, the paper comes from researchers with an infamous tendency to identify inanimate objects as aliens, and is published in a journal that seems to principally exist to print unlikely astrobiological claims. Phil Plait points out flaws in a number of their claims. Quoting: 'They found what appears to be a fragment of a frustrule, the hard outer casing around a diatom. It certainly does look like one. But is it? Weirdly, they apparently didn’t even check. Seriously, in the paper they describe the photo of the object and say [emphasis mine], "On one stub was discovered part of a diatom which, we assume, is clear enough for experts on diatom taxonomy to precisely identify." That implies very strongly they didn’t ask an expert in diatoms to look at their sample. That’s bizarre. If I were claiming this were an ET plant, that’s the very first thing I’d do!'"
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'Alien Life' Story of Dubious Provenance Goes Viral

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  • by Sockatume (732728) on Friday September 20, 2013 @09:37AM (#44902133)

    My submission was only a crumb of that summary.

  • Who? What? Huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by X0563511 (793323) on Friday September 20, 2013 @09:39AM (#44902151) Homepage Journal

    "By now you have likely read about the 'alien life forms' discovered in the upper atmosphere over Yorkshire, via the mass media reprinting a press release from the University of Sheffield.

    The what from the who now? Shitty writing. "Oh, by now I'm sure you've heard about the $TRIVIAL_EVENT that occurred 4,000 miles from where I reside 99.999% of my life.

    • Re:Who? What? Huh? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Sockatume (732728) on Friday September 20, 2013 @09:47AM (#44902215)

      I guess I badly overestimated how much newsreading Slashdot does but it's currently the top Science story on Google News (tragically) and is getting reprinted all over the fuck.

      https://news.google.com/news/rtc?ncl=dnKMHzxjFcOnzwM_UbabG5Mw_uKHM&topic=snc&siidp=c91213d6efdc327274530d68fc4346a67566 [google.com]

      • by OzPeter (195038) on Friday September 20, 2013 @10:05AM (#44902429)

        I guess I badly overestimated how much newsreading Slashdot does but it's currently the top Science story on Google News (tragically) and is getting reprinted all over the fuck.

        As of 1 or 2 hours ago. I haven't even had my morning fix of $FavStimulent. let alone done the rounds of any news websites other than here.

        • by Sockatume (732728)

          Aah, shit, time zones. In my haste to get this out before the mainstream coverage got any wider, I didn't consider that half of Slashdot wouldn't even be awake.

          • by Sarten-X (1102295)
            This is Slashdot. We keep hackers' hours. If you're lucky, 30% are awake, and 5% are functional.
            • This is Slashdot. We keep hackers' hours. If you're lucky, 30% are awake, and 5% are functional.

              This seems to be true at any given time of day... (grin)

              Unless the topic has something to do with UNIX, Apple, or basements.... (evil grin)

      • by Alsee (515537)

        It may be "getting reprinted all over the fuck", but I had blissfully managed to avoid seeing it.... until getting stabbed in the eye with it on Slashdot. Thanx.

        I've been awake 5 minutes and already I've had a 100% Recommended Daily Allowance of pain, misery, cynicism, stupidity, scientific illiteracy, and media whoring.
        Now I can't check cable news for today's update on the budget/Obamacare battle.

        -

    • by H0p313ss (811249)

      "By now you have likely read about the 'alien life forms' discovered in the upper atmosphere over Yorkshire, via the mass media reprinting a press release from the University of Sheffield.

      The what from the who now? Shitty writing. "Oh, by now I'm sure you've heard about the $TRIVIAL_EVENT that occurred 4,000 miles from where I reside 99.999% of my life.

      Kind of sad given the key role that Sheffield played in the industrial revolution. For the century prior to WWII Sheffield was producing the finest steel in the world.

      Have they stopped teaching history?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by IRGlover (1096317)
        Exactly! I live in Sheffield and 99.999% of the posts on Slashdot are about "$TRIVIAL_EVENTS" happening 4000 miles away from where I live. So what! If a story is interesting, what does it matter where it happened (not that this is an interesting one, mind you)
      • Re:Who? What? Huh? (Score:4, Informative)

        by gl4ss (559668) on Friday September 20, 2013 @10:18AM (#44902533) Homepage Journal

        huh? anywhere outside of 100km radius around sheffield it's just taught that england made lots of products industrially and among them steel.

        For fine steel products just prior to WWII.. no, sheffield is not the place that comes to mind, not for the century prior to it either. Krupp comes to mind. Of course I suppose that inside UK they wouldn't want to mention that industrial revolution didn't happen just inside UK.

        But.. more importantly, why would I read a newspaper that would publish stupid stuff like this? they're trying to say that since they supposedly found pieces of algae in 25km they must have come from space...

        • by Joce640k (829181)

          For fine steel products just prior to WWII.. no, sheffield is not the place that comes to mind, not for the century prior to it either.

          Mass production of steel started in Sheffield: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bessemer_process [wikipedia.org]

          The whole city is a mess of steel mills (well, derelict/museums now...)

          (went to university there)

        • by H0p313ss (811249)

          huh? anywhere outside of 100km radius around sheffield it's just taught that england made lots of products industrially and among them steel.

          For fine steel products just prior to WWII.. no, sheffield is not the place that comes to mind, not for the century prior to it either. Krupp comes to mind. Of course I suppose that inside UK they wouldn't want to mention that industrial revolution didn't happen just inside UK.

          But.. more importantly, why would I read a newspaper that would publish stupid stuff like this? they're trying to say that since they supposedly found pieces of algae in 25km they must have come from space...

          Go find your grandparents kitchen knives. Even in north america there's a better than 50% chance that any good quality knife that's over 50 years gold was made in Sheffield.

          • Didn't you blokes make Fine China there?
            • by H0p313ss (811249)

              For shits and giggle google "Sheffield made in China"

              The Sheffield brand-name is/was so strong that there's rumors of a small town in China called Sheffield with a steel mill.

        • by nedlohs (1335013)

          Are you serious?

          One place produced about half of Europe's steel, but that's not what comes to mindl. Instead a rather large company (the joys of bailouts and too big to fail was all the rage back then too) that is really famous for making weapons for the Nazis using slave labor sourced from concentration camps is your go to name?

          • by H0p313ss (811249)

            Are you serious?

            One place produced about half of Europe's steel, but that's not what comes to mindl. Instead a rather large company (the joys of bailouts and too big to fail was all the rage back then too) that is really famous for making weapons for the Nazis using slave labor sourced from concentration camps is your go to name?

            Kids these days eh?

      • by Xest (935314)

        I find Sheffield quite an interesting city now, given how hard it was hit during the Thatcher era and such it's certainly done a good job of picking itself up.

        The city has really modernised and is far nicer than many others in the region (Leeds). There are still bits that need work but for the most part it's clean, modern, with nice gardens and parks to eat in dispersed around the centre and there always seems to be something going on.

        I believe it's still the UK's 4th largest city and apparently something l

      • by geekoid (135745)

        They teach history, just not history on one cares about.

    • by Xest (935314) on Friday September 20, 2013 @10:15AM (#44902517)

      If it's any consolation that's only about 20 miles from where I reside and I still have no idea what the fuck it is on about.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by VortexCortex (1117377)

      The what from the who now? Shitty writing. "Oh, by now I'm sure you've heard about the $TRIVIAL_EVENT that occurred 4,000 miles from where I reside 99.999% of my life.

      That's what we aliens said to news of you... However, instead of just using the nuclear material to power bastions of life off-world, you created weapons.... and used them... against your own species. Ugh.

      So, here we are. And now I'm required to do P.R. to repair the damage my love for botany has done. Hint: I'm as bad as PR as Overseeing... not that there weren't other candidates, just that I drew the short lot; Probably didn't help that it was my mass miscalculation which prevented the first astero

    • $TRIVIAL_EVENT that occurred 4,000 miles from where I reside 99.999% of my life

      Welcome to the internet. Knowing about some doofus claiming he's found alien life in the upper atmosphere isn't any more unlikely than knowing that a cat named in Japan (6500 miles from where I am) loves to sit in cardboard boxes. [youtube.com]

      • by bmo (77928)

        Someone sent me a picture of a "headless kitty in a box" the other day.

        I knew instantly it was Maru.

        WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME!?

        --
        BMO

  • by cyberpocalypse (2845685) on Friday September 20, 2013 @09:40AM (#44902157)
    I don't know, paper was generated by MIT, so it just may be legit http://pdos.csail.mit.edu/scigen/ [mit.edu]
  • by Dogtanian (588974) on Friday September 20, 2013 @09:57AM (#44902311) Homepage
    Ey up... here are some images of t' alleged Yorkshire aliens' purported spacecraft [google.com].
  • I actually read part of TFA and wow, those idiots shouldn't even be allowed near a computer. There's so much marketing/lawyerish weasely BS in there to be misleading, I can't believe it. It has zero basis in science and is basically a showy theory to grab headlines. This is definitely tabloid level crap here.
  • by Optimal Cynic (2886377) on Friday September 20, 2013 @09:59AM (#44902343)

    They should have looked over Lancashire instead, specifically Wigan:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xDvJapTZDtg [youtube.com]

  • Yeah, I got one of those things mounted on the wall above the mantle.

  • by beltsbear (2489652) on Friday September 20, 2013 @10:01AM (#44902377)

    We brought back samples from the moon, if this stuff is floating around all of the time out in space just waiting to land, why did we not find anything in the moon samples? The stuff was obviously thrown up from the ground if it is organic, one cannot assume just from the height that it had to be from space.

  • Because, this quote from the claimant, on the University of Sheffield's web site, sure sounds Onion-esque:

    We will take some of the samples which we have isolated from the stratosphere and introduce them into a complex machine - a button will be pressed. If the ratio of certain isotopes gives one number then our organisms are from Earth, if it gives another, then they are from space. The tension will obviously be almost impossible to live with!

  • by Nidi62 (1525137) on Friday September 20, 2013 @10:11AM (#44902475)
    "I'm not saying it was aliens, but..wait, you know, what, no, not even I think these are aliens."
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I know supercomputers can be hairy at times, but I've never heard of someone with one on his head.

  • by Chrisq (894406)
    Aliens over Yorkshire? they just be laikin ye lad!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 20, 2013 @10:28AM (#44902619)

    Yes, it is a diatom. A broken piece of a frustule of one. Judging from the morphology it looks like a pennate species [wikipedia.org], although which one it is would take some work to figure out.

    But why people would think finding a bit of a diatom either high in the atmosphere or as a subsequent contaminant sitting on top of your SEM stub during analysis, I have no idea. The things are fricking *everywhere* in ordinary dust from natural sources. They are also commonly used for filtration and other industrial purposes ("diatomaceous earth"). I've even seen them in drinking water samples, either somehow managing to get through the regular filters or perhaps from the filters themselves. Earthly contamination is very, very likely, and it makes no sense to consider this example as anything but. Saying a species of diatom is from space is a sloppy and nonsensical conclusion.

  • by TheCarp (96830) <sjc&carpanet,net> on Friday September 20, 2013 @10:47AM (#44902779) Homepage

    So, they found this in the stratosphere, on their one flight. Ok fine. They think these are showeing earth.....

    Has anyone on the ISS, in low earth orbit, taken a sample of space? Actually, come to think of it, hasn't nasa sent up a mission with specially designed cells of aerogel just for this purpose?

    I don't recall them finding anything like this, and they are not too far outside the atmosphere.

    Call me crazy but, this is a pretty extraordinary claim for such paltry evidence.

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      Two missions, Stardust and Genesis. Genesis is the one that famously exploited lithobraking.

      • by Alsee (515537)

        Lithobraking had previously been considered unachievable, until the brilliant introduction of post-hoc crumplezones.

        -

  • Where is it gone viral? When they published it, it was a phytoplankton and it still is.

"There is nothing new under the sun, but there are lots of old things we don't know yet." -Ambrose Bierce

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