Recycling research: meteorite alien life discovery dubious?

Some bacteria critter

Post by Ryan Maue

You may have seen the breathless coverage on Fox News of the alien life discovery from NASA’s Dr. Hoover — in some fancy meteorite.  The “exclusive” nature of the discovery was hailed as evidence that we are not alone.  Last week, we discovered that tangentially with the self-professed origination of Charlie Sheen from Mars.  Anyhow, Adrian Chen at Gawker has found that this research is hardly new, and simply an update or recycling of claims made since 2004 by Dr. Hoover:

So, we’re calling bull$h%t on Richard Hoover’s discovery, and Fox News’ ‘exclusive’. Maybe Hoover really has found life (probably not). But it’s not news, and it’s far, far from certain.

However, in his zeal to dismiss Fox News as a propaganda outlet for NASA, or engaging in tabloid journalism, I guess Chen missed Andrew Revkin’s piece over at the NY Times:

The buzz is building over a paper by  Richard Hoover, an award-winning astrobiologist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, concluding that filaments and other features found in the interior of three specimens of a rare class of meteorite appear to be fossils of a life form strongly resembling cyanobacteria.

While this so-called discovery may be entirely correct, perhaps Hoover should have called up the Union of Concerned Scientists instead of Fox News in order to peddle his wares.  Revkin publishes first then promises to follow up later:

Rudy Schild, the journal’s editor in chief, said in a note accompanying the paper that reactions to the research, “both pro and con,” will be published on the journal’s Web site between March 7 and 10. I’ll check back in then of course, and I’m reaching out to Hoover and others working in this field now.

Is this a legitimate press release by a scientist with a profound new discovery or another example of “science by press release”?  We report, you decide — or you follow up on your own, as in the case of the Ole Gray Lady.  Alternatively, just use Google and find a very similar press release from 2004:

Evidence for Indigenous Microfossils in a Carbonaceous Meteorite

Also, don’t forget the discovery and undiscovery of new planets in our galaxy (October 12, 2010).  Supposed new planet 20-light years away has been undiscovered

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144 thoughts on “Recycling research: meteorite alien life discovery dubious?

  1. I used to wonder why scientists were so determined to look in such unlikely places for life. Once life is present many things are possible, but that transition from non-life to life is so enormous.

    That is the answer to why they look so hard. They are trying to prove that there is nothing special about life. Regardless of ones beliefs it should be easy to recognize the incredible potential that life has. It is sad that some of these scientists are working so hard to make it meaningless.

  2. John Kehr-

    I think you are actually arguing the opposite, the beauty of life travelling in meteorites to seed new planets would be the most beautiful form of life, just as a cocnut evolved to float so it could move between disparate islands, why coiuldn’t cyanobacteria evolve to move from planet to planet in meteorites – that would be pretty cool evolution, and perfectly reasonable and selected for under the theory.

  3. It seems this “story” pops up every couple of years, but with a different journalist going ape over it. Makes for a great click magnet. Heck, I even posted it at my site! 8-]

    Cheers!

  4. Hardly recycleing research, in fact he cites to most of his papers and discussed the implication of each in the current paper. READ IT

  5. Yeah sure, NASA needs an other load of money from congress after their miserable failures.
    Alien life yeah beep beeep beep …uh it’s a code.. oh no just a pulsar, but who cares about our DNA that’s just evolved out of mud no sign of intelligence there. Idiots.

  6. The pictures do look convincingly organic. Dr. Hoover’s theories look promising and deserve serious consideration. I think the biggest reason for caution is that we all really, really want this to be true. Realistically though, we’ll probably need more meteors, or asteroids, like these samples before we’ll know for sure.

  7. John Kehr:

    I am as skeptical as anybody — I regularly see scientists and popular treatments vastly underestimating what is required to get life off the ground. Further, you are no doubt correct that there is a strong desire to find extraterrestrial life for philosophical reasons.

    That said, I fear some may also be opposed to the idea of extraterrestrial life for philosophical reasons (I’m not suggesting you are).

    I think both views are misguided, and I don’t think finding extraterrestrial life will provide much in the way of philosophical support for either viewpoint, as surprising as that will ultimately prove to be to some people. I am exceedingly interested in the quest from a purely scientific and exploratory perspective. It would truly be one of the most important discoveries in a very long time. I’d be pretty surprised, however, if the current story holds up . . .

  8. Is Fox News latching onto this new paper by Dr. Hoover the reason for scoffing here?

    As with the Martian rocks a few years ago, the big questions are whether the pictures are of micro-geological formations mimicking biological fossils, or if of biological origin, might they represent invasive terrestrial organisms?

    At first glance the actual paper (as opposed to the press release) looks pretty convincing. What do the biologists and chemists here think?

    /Mr Lynn

    [ryanmaue: more like amusement that Fox and the NY Times are reporting the same things...we are all waiting for rest of the story, as they say, when the "critical reviews" are rolled out by the Journal of Cosmology editor, next week. It would be preferable that everything is published online all at once, but I guess I'm asking for too much.]

  9. Brad wrote:

    “. . . just as a cocnut evolved to float so it could move between disparate islands . . .”

    Well, I don’t suppose it evolved to float *for that purpose* unless we are suggesting some kind of foresight or planning. I guess what you mean is that at some point the coconut predecessor, by pure happenstance and luck of the mutational draw, accidentially ended up being able to float, while its less fortunate siblings failed to do so. Then I presume the lucky floater, again by chance, was carried abroad and populated the isles to give us the current coconut population we enjoy today. It’s a nice story.

    Even if true, however, it seems that with life traveling the cosmos in meteorites we would be dealing with a massively different situation, at least quantitatively, and potentially (I’ll have to think about it a bit more) qualitatively as well.

    BTW, where’s Amino Acids in Meteorites — he should be weighing in on this!

  10. @Brad says: March 5, 2011 at 5:38 pm; Here is the paper, and here are the pics. This is certainly legit science – in the end it could be right or wrong but it certainly not by CoasttoCoastAM quality folks, instead real scientists..

    http://journalofcosmology.com/Life100.html

    ————————
    The Journal of Climatology does not look like a legit peer reviewed science journal.

    “Authors should submit the names, affiliations, and email addresses of 5 scientists qualified to review their paper. Do not submit the names of friends or colleagues. The Editor may use these to guide the selection of referees. All papers are reviewed anonymously by at least two referees who are experts in the field in question. Editors may serve as referees.”

    I have never heard of a journal asking the author for list of potential referees nor use editors as referees.

  11. There is a guy named Moller who has been regularly “announcing” the advent of the personal flying car since I was in college (about 40 years ago…).

    He was headquartered in the same town as the school I attended and gave regular “demonstrations” that were mostly his gismo on a rope so it couldn’t get away from him and actually fly.

    Over the years, I’ve seen repeated “Real Soon Now” claims from him (that mostly seemed to coinside with his desire for more funding…).

    He now has a glossy web site that says it’s all in the FAA’s hands now, pending various licensing and certification things… and that will be done Real Soon Now:

    http://www.moller.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=53&Itemid=61

    So maybe this bug guy is like Mr. Moller. He needs to clang the bell every so often so more feed is delivered down the chute so he can get back to playing with his perpetual toys…

    Then again, Mr. Moller has to be about at retirement now, so maybe he will actually fly one of these things (just in time to prove it completely economically a horrid idea) just so he can dodge being called various names….

    After the first 20 years or so, you stop paying attention to the hype and look for the truth…

  12. Brad says:
    March 5, 2011 at 6:14 pm

    True truenorthist, but at some point all the different types of evidence showing this become compelling evidence for extraterrestrial life:

    My mind is open to the possibility of anything being plausible. However, I tend to be more than a little suspicious when there is such a furious effort to hype an incomplete story. I’ll also await “the rest of the story”, when the paper has been subjected to thorough review, before considering Dr Hoover’s veracity. Until then I will remain skeptical. Still, it can be fascinating to speculate! I’m game for that.

    Cheers!

  13. I feel a storm brewing in the distance. While evolutionary mechanisms are 100% on topic for this discussion, evolution is normally a prohibited topic, so as long as we stay on topic in reference to the Post, it will be allowed.

    So anyone who wants to bring in Intelligent Design or Creationism, DON’T.

    If you feel like a persecuted minority, sorry, we usually deal with this by avoiding the topic, but this Post is all about material mechanisms for life and its spread, and that’s where it’s going to stay.

    All mods, delete ID and Creationism comments at will.

    ctm has spoken.

    P.S. Brad and Eric, I suggest you look up the concept of preadaption. No it doesn’t mean anticipating future conditions, but it applies to your coconut discussion above (Eric is on track).

    ["All mods, delete ID and Creationism comments at will."
    ctm da man. Will do. ~dbs, mod.]

  14. Looks like it was already suggested in 1997:
    “July 29, 1997: Fossilized Life Forms in the Murchison Meteorite ”
    On July 29, 1997, in San Diego, Richard B. Hoover of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center announced an important finding. He had seen and photographed in the Murchison meteorite microfossils that resemble microorganisms.”

    So for me the odds are for extraterrestrial life as the number of potential solar systems and life bearing planets is simply huge across our galaxy and others. Now the detection or proof is another matter. Now regarding this particular claim, it might very well be fossils of extra terrestrial bacteria; if so then why is this regularly peddled as a new discovered in 1997, then 2004 then 2011?

  15. The odds of life existing on other worlds are surely good.
    The odds of a meteorite carrying a sample of it to our little speck, and someone finding it, are not so good.

  16. John Kehr says:
    March 5, 2011 at 5:23 pm

    John, I don’t understand why the notion of life not being “unique” would make life any less “special” or “amazing”. Does 9 billion people make human life any less special? I personally think not.

    I for one believe that life is dense throughout our universe, and I don’t find anything less special about that, in fact, I find that evermore “special”. I don’t think of life as being any less valuable either. That little “spark” that is life is quite remarkable no matter the uniqueness, or non-uniqueness of it.

    I believe that some day we will find that life is everywhere, and for me, that will take no magic from it.

  17. When I saw this article linked at another website and read through the press release information my first thought was to head to WUWT for the real story and analysis. I can’t think of a better topic to show why the best science blog award is deserved than this.

    It would seem the general mood so far is one of cynicism that this was fabricated to build support or hype or secure more grants, but the optimist in me sees a little ray of light that at least the information and methods are being released for independent verification and reproduction of the results. After years of science by committee (IPCC) and a whitewashing of historical records comingled with statistical abuses it is refreshing that a controversial paper would provide this information up front.

    It will be very interesting to follow this in the coming days as the dissenting and confirming views are presented.

    Just for fun try searching for the following Top 10 terms when you read the paper: “robust” “model” “averaged” “statistically significant” “PCA” “Steig” “Mann” “Hansen” “greenhouse gases” and the number one term … “CO2″

    JM

  18. Countless tons of the Earth’s crustal matter has been ejected into interplanetary space during the past billions of years by major impacts. The unvaporized and unmelted portions of the ejecta should have carried along with it the lifeforms resident in it when the impacts occurred. NASA has long speculated on the possibilities of cross-contamination of lifeforms between the Earth and Mars as a consequence of the impacts. The question then must be why anyone should be surprised to eventually find some of the Earth’s lifeforms with the ejecta among the Solar System’s meteorites and asteroids?

  19. Since some small meteorites reaching Earth have been shown to have been blasted off the surface of Mars by large meteors or asteroids, would it not be reasonable to assume that similar fragments have been blasted off the Earth’s surface — and that they would be very likely to assume orbits that eventually return them to the Earth’s surface? This would explain the resemblance of these meteorites’ micro-fossils to known types of Earthly bacteria without assuming that the meteorites have been contaminated after landing.

  20. D. Patterson,
    Exactly. How fast do chunks of meteors travel through inter stellar space? 30,000 mph? The universe likely isn’t old enough for us to see chunks material coming from distant solar systems. If the organics in these meteorites is legit, then we should start thinking about how they were produced within our own solar system.

  21. Fred Souder says:
    March 5, 2011 at 9:24 pm
    D. Patterson,
    Exactly. How fast do chunks of meteors travel through inter stellar space? 30,000 mph? The universe likely isn’t old enough for us to see chunks material coming from distant solar systems. If the organics in these meteorites is legit, then we should start thinking about how they were produced within our own solar system.

    Matter from other distant solar systems can transit through interstellar space to our own Solar System in very little geological time. Even traveling at velocities little more than Earth’s escape velocity, a rock can travel to the nearest other solar system about 4.5 light years (LY) away, Alpha Centauri, in only about 100,000 years. It could travel about 45LY or half way across a major star cluster of tens of thousands of solar systems in only one million years. It could travel about half the diameter of our Milky Way spiral galaxy, about 50,000LY in about one billion years, or less than one fourth the age of the Earth. Ejecta from the formation of the Sun about ten billion years ago could now be one fourth of the way to the nearby Andromeda Galaxy some two million light years from here. Getting outside the local cluster/s of galaxies in the hundred million light year range would, however, require some extraordinary velocities.

  22. Any living thing that wants to hitch a ride through space needs extraordinary abilities — resistance to dessication, radiation, extreme heat, extreme cold — and the ability to revive and propagate after those. While it doesn’t seem impossible for something like an alga (is there such a thing as one alga?) to achieve this, riding for example on a comet and reviving briefly as the comet nears the sun and thaws, it would surely be impossible for anything more… Oh, hang on…

    “In September 2007, tardigrades were taken into low Earth orbit on the FOTON-M3 mission and for 10 days were exposed to the vacuum of space. After they were returned to Earth, it was discovered that many of them survived and laid eggs that hatched normally.” Wikipedia

    Temps near absolute zero, greater than boiling point, dessication for decades, radiation a thousand times higher than humans can take, what’s not to like?

    Next time you see a comet chaser bringing back samples, the correct question is always ‘any news of the tardigrades?’

    JF

  23. Life?

    It was not supposed to exist in the deepest reaches of the oceans next to volcanic vents without sunlight to sustain it, that was the consensus and the consensus was dead wrong.
    Life was not suppose to exist miles beneath the surface feeding on rocks and living where no life was supposed to exist, that was the consensus and the consensus was wrong.
    Life was not supposed to exist in nuclear reactors or survive in the vacuum of space or in the boiling hot pools of Yellowstone. Life it was claimed could not survive without sunlight and yet life thrives without it.

    What we do know for a cold certain fact is that science has been dead wrong about life a great many times, it has blundered and made false assumptions by the bucket load and the treasured consensus has been shattered and blown apart time after time.

    Life finds a way, life is hard to kill and it will be found to live and thrive in places we thought impossible.

  24. I am not going to base this on any argument for or against CAGW, what I base this on is experience. I used to be pro for the argument of AGW, now I am not. I ask that that you Scientists please also listen to us lay people.

    Please listen to the words.

    Us Glasgow boys said it way back when music meant something. We watched the destruction of our communities and saw complete Police control. We were the most poor people in the whole of the UK and a band stood up, and said no to all this crap, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=85gdY5grqCg please listen to the words.

    We all knew back then what was coming, more of our income robbed and more of our liberties.

    Instead of arguing about the Science involved, cannot we look at the cost to every person that this climate change fiasco has incurred?

    The cost alone would turn most people off Anthony. I am fraikin sick of all the new so called green laws that come from a Euro Government, who we did not elect, and yet they dictate to us what we must do in our country, what taxes we must pay for renewable energy and then we have to apply to “them” to please, please allow us to drop the tax rate for those that live in our highlands and islands!!!!

  25. Autologous design.
    Any life form that happened to have a segment of DNA or similar genetic material that trimmed, say, 99% of the unhelpful possible mutations would have a huge evolutionary adavantage. The accumulation of such “meta-mutations” would constitute a de facto policy book and user manual for responding to external survival pressures. Far more efficient than the classical uniformitarian random point mutation scheme.

    I suspect that much of the 95% “silent” DNA we carry around consists of just such a policy manual. As a side note, bacteria act as each others’ “library”, swapping winning bits of code as they go.

  26. Dave Worley: “The odds of life existing on other worlds are surely good.”
    Those odds surely depend on how you think such life came about. Ever try calculating the odds of life originating from abiotic material?

    D. Patterson, ZZZ, good points.

    Fred Souder, interesting to consider the speed — I hadn’t thought of that aspect before. Off the back of the envelope, I’d have to say there has been plenty of time for material to cross interstellar space, but I’ll have to sit down run actual numbers. Other aspects to consider are likelihood of escape from the solar gravity well and trajectory across interstellar space. In other words, an object from another system that is close enough to reach us in the relevant timeframe would not only have to escape that system, but also have the right trajectory across almost unimaginable distances to eventually get captured by our gravity well. Again, doesn’t mean it isn’t possible, but once you start considering all the necessary parameters, it does start looking like awfully long odds, unless of course the object belongs to our solar system in the first place . . .

  27. About ten years from now, we know aproximately million planets in nearby space. Are those all lifeless. Most stars have planet system, but without life? I’m convinced there is life, we just dont know yet. To day we know 531 planets, while reseach methods are new. http://exoplanet.eu/

  28. “Science through press release” via Fox News?

    Woot!

    Reciprocity in the MSM at last!

    Ha Ha! Greater odds against than metorites carrying cyanobacteria, if you ask me…

  29. Brad says:
    March 5, 2011 at 5:38 pm

    “…Here is the paper, and here are the pics. This is certainly legit science – in the end it could be right or wrong but it certainly not by CoasttoCoastAM quality folks, instead real scientists..”

    There is no real science. The University of East Anglia proved that.

  30. If you look carefully the meteorite “fossils” look nothing like the real fossils. The real fossils are segmented individual cells.

    This is another cynical press release to distract from the latest NASA f*@kup.

  31. E.M.Smith says:
    March 5, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    After the first 20 years or so, you stop paying attention to the hype and look for the truth…

    Reminds me of something….

    Oh, yes, Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming!

  32. While I like the idea that life is a universe wide phenomenon I’m afraid that this paper, like the previous similar ones, gets us no closer to the truth.

    Too much conjecture with too few facts to be able to say what has really been found in these carboniferous meteorites. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof and, as this is sadly lacking in this paper, it is time to move on…

  33. The Journal of Cosmology is extremely dubious. You pay $35, nominate 5 referees and wait. If your paper is accepted you pay another $150. The acceptance rate is 20-50% so they aren’t too choosy about what is published. It seems little more than a money making operation masquerading as a serious journal.

    I noticed a paper by Andrew Glikson a notorious warmist amongst their offerings.

  34. Though a part of me would like to believe this Fox story I remain sceptical. Climate science has made me that way. ;O)

    I just popped over to the NASA sponsored astrobio.net to see if I could see anything on this story and I could not find it on their front news page 2nd March 2001. But guess what I found as the second story down? A global warming story about mass extinctions. What the heck does global warming have to do with astrobiology? NASA needs to get its priorities right.

  35. From the Fox News story:

    “In what he calls “a very simple process,” Dr. Hoover fractured the meteorite stones under a sterile environment before examining the freshly broken surface with the standard tools of the scientist…”
    “He found the fossilized remains of micro-organisms not so different from ordinary ones found underfoot — here on earth, that is.”

    Just wondering, if one cracks open a non-sedimentary rock which was created here on earth, would it contain fossilized (sp?) microbes as well? Gee, even sedimentary rock…would the rock forming process (intense pressure) allow the cell structure of such fragile structures to be maintained? Does the fossilizing process work down to the cellular level?

    Jeff

  36. D. Patterson says:
    March 5, 2011 at 8:59 pm

    Countless tons of the Earth’s crustal matter has been ejected into interplanetary space during the past billions of years by major impacts. The unvaporized and unmelted portions of the ejecta should have carried along with it the lifeforms resident in it when the impacts occurred. NASA has long speculated on the possibilities of cross-contamination of lifeforms between the Earth and Mars as a consequence of the impacts. The question then must be why anyone should be surprised to eventually find some of the Earth’s lifeforms with the ejecta among the Solar System’s meteorites and asteroids?

    Don’t pour cold water over this. :O) Indeed, the same point was made about the Mars fossils a few years back.

  37. Brad says, “I think you are actually arguing the opposite,”

    Don’t be so obviously presumptous, telling others what they think. You clearly don’t have that right here or anywhere.

    Your lame links “Is Darwin the New Jesus” is an example of science?

    [snip, and because of your poor writing, either a typo or a sloppy thought, I can't even figure out if the third line above should be snipped as well. Either way, be polite. I have spoken. ~ ctm]

  38. I like the idea of panspermia…..i`m just not convinced this is evidence for it.
    Snowflakes look as if they were created by spirograph.
    Fractals look natural.

  39. Thor Heyerdahl (of Kon Tiki fame) disputed the ability of the coconut to have spread across the Pacific by floating. He believed that people took them with them on their voyages.

    Coconuts on Cocos Island

    http://www.bradshawfoundation.com/thor/cocos-island.php

    I have no idea whether or not Heyerdahl was right about coconuts but even if he was that does not prove that life forms could have arrived on Earth from Space. One of the strongest proponents of that idea was the Fred Hoyle, one of the greatest astrophysicists of the 20th century. He died 10 years ago but his former colleague Chandra Wickramasinghe has continued work in this field at the Cardiff Center for Astrobiology.

    http://www.astrobiology.cf.ac.uk/

    Fred Hoyle had a very original mind, rather like Richard Feynman, and was quite prepared to go against consensus views in astrophysics, biology, and also climatology. In fact I am surprised that his views on the greenhouse effect have not, as far as I know, been quoted on this blog.

    F. Hoyle, ‘The great greenhouse controversy’, Energy and Environment 7:4 (1996), 349-356.

    “Given the choice, I imagine nobody would opt for a world without any greenhouse, that is a world with a mean temperature of about 259K. And probably few would opt for an ice-age world with a mean temperature of 275K to 280K. To this point, the greenhouse is seen as good. Further still, a clear majority continues to see the greenhouse as good up to the present-day mean of about 290K. But, at the next 1.5K a drastic change of opinion sets in: the greenhouse suddenly becomes the sworn enemy of environmental groups, world-wide, to the extent that they rush off to Rio and elsewhere and make a great deal of noise about it. I find it difficult to understand why. If I am told that computer calculations show immensely deleterious consequences would ensue, then I have a good laugh about it. In private, of course, since I am always careful to be polite in public.”

    The above passage by Hoyle was quoted in the paper below which is available on the Internet.

    First Things First: Development and Global Warming by Michael Warby, Peter Hartley and Kenneth Medlcock

    http://www.bakerinstitute.org/publications/first-things-first-development-and-global-warming

  40. D. Patterson,
    Actually, it is far less likely that other planets, like Mars, have been colonized by life from Earth, simply because of the different escape velocities required. Escape velocity from Earth is much higher, and given gravitational losses, the amount of energy required to reach that velocity is also much higher, than escaping from Mars’ gravity well.

    Therefore, to reach escape velocity from Earth, will require an impact from a much faster object on a much more elliptical or even open hyperbolic trajectory around the Sun, i.e. objects will have to come from the Oort Cloud or outside the solar system, or else be perturbed by Jupiter or Saturn into a retrograde orbit around the sun, to impact Earth at a sufficiently high velocity, while it is far easier for an object to be blasted into space from Mars, and there are far more objects going fast enough to accomplish it.

  41. Dave Worley says:
    March 5, 2011 at 8:36 pm

    The odds of life existing on other worlds are surely good.
    The odds of a meteorite carrying a sample of it to our little speck, and someone finding it, are not so good.

    Francis Crick and Leslie Orgel addressed that in the 1970’s and came up with an hypothesis called “Directed Panspermia”.

    http://www.astrobio.net/index.php?option=com_retrospection&task=detail&id=1107

    Rob Sheldon, a friend of mine who is an astrophysicist colleague of Roy Spencer and John Christy at UAH, in collaboration with Dr. Hoover (the author who just published this new meteorite microbe article) the came up with something I found quite a bit more intriguing a few years ago:

    Cosmological Evolution: Spatial Relativity and the Speed of Life
    Robert B. Sheldon (a) and Richard B. Hoover (b)

    (a)USRA/NSSTC, 320 Sparkman Dr., Huntsville, AL, USA;
    (b)NASA/MSFC/NSSTC, 320 Sparkman Dr., Huntsville, AL, USA

    http://www.rbsp.info/rbs/RbS/PDF/spie08.pdf

    Keep in mind Christy, Spencer, Sheldon, and Hoover are colleagues and NASA insiders who know more than we do (I have it on good authority that NASA doesn’t share all its exo-biology data). They’re all CAGW skeptics too.

    Spencer and Hoover’s hypothesis is basically that DNA-based life originated in a cometary cloud around some far more ancient star (long dead now) elsewhere in the galaxy. The chemical environment works out especially for comets that periodically get near enough the parent star to heat up and stir the chemical cauldron. This provides a LOT more time for chemical evolution to take place which is one of the greatest difficulties for abiogenesis in our solar system as it appears prokaryotes appeared on the earth very quickly after it cooled down early in the solar system’s history. Sheldon/Hoover go on to say that first the chemical precursors then life itself spreads from star to star when two stars get within 1-2 light years of each other. At that approach the cometary clouds at the far gravitational fringes of the stars will mingle, mix, and perturb each other causing comets from both stars to rain down upon the inner planets periodically seeding them with life.

    It’s a beautiful hypothesis and unlike just about any other origin theory there’s a fair amount of evidence in support of it. Amino acids have been found in both comets and certain classes of meteorites (carbonaceous chondrites) which are believed to be de-iced, de-gassed remnants of what were once comets. Of course there’s a huge gigantic leap going from amino acids to prokaryotes but in this hypothesis that process had many billion years and potentially millions of solar systems in which to get going in a stepping-stone process. This is at least several orders of magnitude more time and opportunity for chemical evolution than was available for abiogenesis on the earth alone in the silly lightning bolts in pre-biotic soup hypothesis popularized by Miller/Urey in the 1950’s.

  42. If there truly would be some alien bacteria from outer space, do we have the antibiotics to get ridd of them if they turn out to be of the nasty kind ?

  43. Eric Anderson-

    Evolution is all about leaving more offspring in future generations, and if a palm developed a floating coconut it did leave more offspring in future generations and thus become the dominant island palm over time. It has everything to do with selection and selective preuure.

  44. Mike-

    Journals use editors to review all the time, editors are generally the best scientists in the field.

    As for picking reviewers, that is very strange and makes me doubt the paper.

  45. I really enjoy the Wikipedia definition of Astrobiology:

    Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe, besides Earth.

    Wikipedia then proceeds to contradict itself…

    This interdisciplinary field encompasses the search for habitable environments in our Solar System and habitable planets outside our Solar System, the search for evidence of prebiotic chemistry, laboratory and field research into the origins and early evolution of life on Earth, and studies of the potential for life to adapt to challenges on Earth and in outer space.

    So it appears that Astrobiology actually studies Biology on Earth… which implies that Astrobiology doesn’t really exist… so perhaps we need a new definition:

    Astrobiology is the search for a magic ingredient that generates an avalanche of funding for their interdisciplinary witches brew.

    Sounds kinda familiar :-)

  46. For your reading pleasure, a few more papers in actual peer reviewed journals that show relevant facts here are below. I actually looked into working with one of our physicists back in my college prof days and was amazed at how much work has been done on sproes surviving the rgors of open space – they seem to do it pretty darn well all things considered.

    Number 1: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6V3S-47STFGW-6&_user=10&_coverDate=10%2F31%2F1994&_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_orig=gateway&_origin=gateway&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_searchStrId=1666929787&_rerunOrigin=scholar.google&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=594d421657c2116f6318c71ce11920f3&searchtype=a

    Number 2: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6V3S-4725V02-KJ&_user=10&_coverDate=12%2F31%2F1981&_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_orig=gateway&_origin=gateway&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_searchStrId=1666930657&_rerunOrigin=scholar.google&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=d99d6c4b3c0d4c5c2dd906b8216da5ff&searchtype=a

    Number 3: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6V3S-472CDPF-1F7&_user=10&_coverDate=12%2F31%2F1992&_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_orig=gateway&_origin=gateway&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_searchStrId=1666931737&_rerunOrigin=scholar.google&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=05932d7b983741435a7465da9c8e36d9&searchtype=a

    Do your own search, click here: http://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&q=meteorites+spores&as_sdt=0%2C16&as_ylo=&as_vis=0

  47. Distances in time and space are probably just too vast. (And becoming more vast all the time!) For all practical purposes we are alone. Very unsettling. I think that’s one reason UFO sightings were so popular in the 50’s. When people are truly isolated they tend to hallucinate.

  48. The ironic thing to me is back in the 80’s in an upperclassman petrology class I was taking, our professor was an ex-Apollo program geochemist. He left Nasa because of the politics, and we often discussed his predictions.. He had 2 based on his belief that Nasa had become all about the funding, and therefor had become public relations led: 1. He was sure NASA would focus on man’s impact on climate (at the time it was all about the “ozone hole”) and would continue there, good science or otherwise. 2. the other was the search for ET life. This particular professor did a lot of work on tektites, and understood that organic material from earth surely would find its way into space, sometimes with an escape velocity, sometimes maybe even landing on a planet like Mars. He was convinced eventually NASA would “announce” they had found evidence of life in space, the media would run with it, and would twist the science (knowing full well that such “life” was actually earth based and the results of an impact throwing material space-bound). Of course if such life could exist I suppose it could “seed” another planet, but people seem to forget the multitude of independent parameters to support simple life, not to mention supporting higher species.

    30 years later, although I am out of the field of Geochemistry, I certainly remember those lectures..

  49. Another subject I know too little about.. damn! However a quick review suggests that lots of serious people have contributed little bits to a growing body of knowledge about biological elements in rocks thought to be of Extraterrestrial origin.

    So if Hoover’s findings are real.. the obvious imaginative jump is to assume that this confirms the missing planet hypothesis and so point us at the problem that bode’s law poses about pluto being in Neptune’s orbit. I have no clue how real this is or how to explain it if it is, but here’s a bet: some warmist will RSN announce proof it blew up after over-heating…

  50. “Brad says:
    I think you are actually arguing the opposite, the beauty of life travelling in meteorites to seed new planets would be the most beautiful form of life, just as a cocnut evolved to float so it could move between disparate islands, why coiuldn’t cyanobacteria evolve to move from planet to planet in meteorites – that would be pretty cool evolution, and perfectly reasonable and selected for under the theory”

    I have no problem with xenobiotica seeding planets, traveling through space,, as you state, like coconuts.
    I do however have a problem with cyanobacteria as intergalactic travelers. Now cyanobacter appeared 2.8 billion years ago and are the guys who changed the atmosphere from a reducing to an oxidizing one. In evolutionary terms, cyanobacteria are the most important species that evolution has produced, they have changed the biosphere more than any other species. The evolution of Photosystem II (water-plastoquinone oxidoreductase) changed everything.
    However, we know from a study of all cyanobacteria’s other genes that these organisms evolved on Earth, they have the same nuclear genomic proteins, same nitrogenase and all the other stuff that older <3.5 billion years, have.
    So, if the first replicants came from space, no problem, but cyanobacteria were not in any way shape of form the first living organisms on Earth. Nor did they arrive later. They evolved here.
    Occam's razor needs to be applied. Life from space would need to look like the original Earthly replicants, very small, very primitive, and very hardy.
    The codons in mRNA suggest an initial two letter code and space; with the three letter codon coming later. The shift from RNA to DNA as a storage media is also very likely. A xenobiotic seedling would be very small, very hardy, have uracil instead of 5-methyluracil (Thymine). These cells would not look like cyanobacteria; to use an analogy, cyanobacteria is to the first replicant what a F-22 Raptor is to a Otto Lilienthal glider.

  51. TomRude points out that this came up at least as early as 1997. I recall it a few years earlier, but I do NOT trust my recall. I can find no prior reference. (I’d appreciate the help if anyone finds.) My recall is based on thinking I saw Carl Sagan address the topic (on TV) and use his oft quoted quip, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” I suspect my mind has contrived the visual. Oh well. (Human recall is a fickle thing.)

    Anyway, in the 90s, I researched the claims as well as was possible then. The claims are sound, but certainly inconclusive. The original report was a meteor almost certainly from Mars. (I don’t question that part.) The electron micrographs were taken with utmost care, and contamination is unlikely, though possible. (I don’t figure they were contaminated.) The hard part comes with considering the things imaged as fossil life forms. Interesting, but unconvincing.

    Sagan liked to say we should be open minded, but not so much as to let our brains fall out. (Of course, these sayings of his predate him. The “extraordinary” one was used by a contemporary, and predates to Laplace and Hume.)

    For what it’s worth, I expect we will find living microbes everywhere we find liquid water. Other than that, there is no other life in our galaxy. None. Forget about it. We are not being visited. I base my assertion on time and energy considerations. There has been more than enough time by any standard. Either we are them, and they are hiding the fact from us for unknowable reasons, or they ain’t there. The energy requirement is too extreme. Such trips could be oneway ONLY.

  52. “Dave Worley says:
    The odds of life existing on other worlds are surely good.
    The odds of a meteorite carrying a sample of it to our little speck, and someone finding it, are not so good.”

    Larry Niven postulated a complex non-planetary in his novel The Smoke Ring in 1987.
    He has a neutron star with a gas giant orbiting just outside its Roche limit. The gas giants is insufficient to hold its atmosphere, which has been pulled loose into an independent orbit around the neuton star, forming a Gas Torus—one million kilometers thick—. This allows life, but the escape velocity would be very low indeed.
    Now imagine life evolving in such a system, or indeed in any gas cloud, it could seed planets that pass through or nearby.

  53. Having authors suggest reviewers isn’t that uncommon with “second tier” journals.

    Just google the words: suggesting reviewers. Looks like Science Mag even had an article on it (unfortunately, behind a paywall).

    Heck, even PNAS used to grease the skids for members and their buddies.

    http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/56194/

    How peer review ever became associated with the phrase “gold standard” is beyond me. Maybe the coiner of the phrase actually meant “god standard”.

  54. Is it just me, or am I the only one that missed how in the world this is supposed to ‘seed’ life. How does any material from a crashing meteorite have any value? You’re talking about embedded material floating out there for millions of years and then crashing with nuclear bomb force… and then Alakazam, you’re ‘seeded’? I call BS if you said that material here on Earth after millions of years, embedded in rock, could be of any value to the early stages of evolution. It seems like people are willing to believe just about anything.

  55. On yesterday’s radio news every hour there were stories on NASA , how there new robot was delivered to the space station, gee first robot in space don’t you know, blurbs from astronauts, “look I can see the amazon basin from here, ain’t it pretty and various other warm fuzzy stories, and then at the end, by the way our new satellite didn’t quite make it into orbit. I can see the damage control room now, hair all ablaze. Here’s what we need to know: 400 million dollars wasted, borrowed and put on our children’s tab. NASA, like every nook and cranny of gov should be trimmed way back, then let them do something, if only one thing very well with the money they have. Second project failure in two years.

  56. “All mods, delete ID and Creationism comments at will.”

    What was the purpose of this post? To deride the gawker hatred for Fox News or to talk about the science behind the Fox story? If the post was for the ‘science’ then why was gawker even mentioned. Have you read the comments at gawker? Very hateful towards Christians, much as can be expected from the lefties that also make up the AGW crowd. I am not here to discuss Creationism, but others may wish to post, and it seems legit in light of the bash gawker post they are replying too.

    Thumbsdown to the WUWT mods on this one.

  57. Lonnie E. Schubert says: March 6, 2011 at 6:55 am: “For what it’s worth, I expect we will find living microbes everywhere we find liquid water. Other than that, there is no other life in our galaxy. None. Forget about it. We are not being visited. I base my assertion on time and energy considerations. There has been more than enough time by any standard”

    Mr Schubert, I respectfully disagree. Years ago I calculated that we could only detect an intelligence equivalent to our own at a maximum distance of about 100 light years – a volume of space perhaps including a few hundred planets that have sustained liquid water on their surfaces for several hundred million years (I am sure many would disagree). However (and relating to a point earlier in this thread) material from our own planet could have reached all of these other planets within about 70,000 years, and vice versa. Given the many orders of magnitude further in both time and space that we need to take into consideration in order to make philosophical assumptions on this matter, my own view is that it is incredible to believe we are the only intelligent life form in the universe.

    I have a long standing bet with someone that intelligent life will be discovered within my lifetime. Unfortunately for me I am now 58, and it has not happened. Unfortunately for him – how is he going to get his pint of beer when I am dead?

  58. As a fossil hunter I scream B#$%^&.

    Here is the reason. First, the earth is teeming with life with Gazillions of bacteria. However, the massive majority of rocks on earth contain ZERO fossil evidence. 99.9999%. I can go out and search for days in many locations and find NOTHING – passing by hundreds of thousands if not millions of rocks. Many types of rocks have no chance of containing fossils.

    So what NASA is trying to tell us is: in the matter of one decades and a few hundred rocks they have managed to find bacteria TWICE! Laughing so hard my eyes water.

    In fact finding a fossil on our abundant earth is so tough that it really pays to have someone like me tell you were to specifically look — Drive 20 miles east, go up this little dirt road, search this tiny outcrop. Yeah and for the first 19 miles there is nothing and even when you know where to look sometimes it is tough to find one. I’ve never found an non-sea animal fossil in all my years of looking. Now understanding this: Did NASA have anyone directing them where to look? If they can find two random rocks from outer space full of fossils in less than 10 years, then we should be finding life everywhere we look — more diverse and abundant than what we see on earth. In fact, the first NASA “fossil” rock contained bacteria 1000x smaller than anything on earth. Laughing some more.

    This is so stupid I could write for a year on the subject – but why waste the time.

    These folks do damage to their own efforts with this type of nonsense. The evidence should be irrefutable and thoughtful. It would pay these astro-biologists :-) to spend a little time doing earth based fossil hunting so they don’t make fools out of themselves.

    Would I like to have life on other planets — yes, MOST DEFINITELY. But, making up pseudo-science may get one funded, but it does not advance science.

  59. I would also agree the Gawker piece is a hate piece aimed at Fox and has little to do with the science.

    Doc Martyn-

    Some of what you say is worng, some is right. First, the biggest difference between RNA and DNA is the 2′ hydroxyl on the phosphate backbone (thus the names, ribo- and deoxyribonucleic acid).

    Here is an article from the great Carl Woese on taxonomy and evolution:

    http://www.pnas.org/content/87/12/4576.short

    Now to specific facts, early life before 3.5 billions years ago is cotroverisla (look to the Greenland samples). BUT 3.5 billions years ago it is well accepted:

    http://www.sciencemag.org/content/237/4810/70.abstract

    IN FACT, they are being studied to determine where they fit in the modern cyanobacteria:

    http://paleobiol.geoscienceworld.org/cgi/content/abstract/36/4/555

    And it is well accepted: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1472-4669.2006.00076.x/full

  60. DocMartyn says:
    March 6, 2011 at 6:50 am

    I do however have a problem with cyanobacteria as intergalactic travelers.

    Yes, agreed. Their comments that the samples represented cyanobacteria instantly suggesed an origin on Earth, because cyanobacteria would necessarily include a genetic history linking it to earlier and simpler precursor lifeforms on Earth, regardless of any possible ultimate earlier origin/s of the precursor organics on or off of the Earth. There are certain characteristics recorded in the genetic code which have been replicated throughout the descendant lifeforms. A xeno-lifeform although exhibiting similar charactristics must be expected to vary in genetic details not shared with equivalent lifeforms from Earth. Something as simple as the direction of the rotation of the molecular chain can signal unrelated biochemical origins for an organism.

    It would seem that cyanobacteria should be so far along Earth’s biochemical evolutionary chain as to leave practically no doubt about their origin on Earth, if they are cyanobacteria. If they lack the biochemical or genetic characteristics common to the lifeforms on Earth, then the problem will be to provide adquate experimental evidence that no such life exists or ever did exist on Earth with similar biochemical characteristics.

  61. The crashing together of orbiting debris in our Universe has provided many such hurling rocks. Who’s to say this particular hurling rock originally came from this planet, was blown out to space, and found its way back?

    We may indeed find life forms in these rocks. The question is, where did the rock come from? Just because it is there in that rock does not mean we have found life elsewhere. We might have stumbled upon a cousin come home from a trip abroad.

  62. D. Patterson-

    Why? If you dismiss panspermia then you are correct, they must be ties to earlier forms (of which can find little or no evidence in the fossil record). Instead, we have cyanobacteria appearing and dominatin (see link in prior emails). Why isn’t that consistent with them beingf seeded by metoerites?

    You need to find organisms older than 3.5 billion years old to support your supposition, so far the only stuff older is highly controversial:

    http://geology.gsapubs.org/content/33/1/77.abstract

  63. JasonS says:
    March 6, 2011 at 7:18 am (Edit)

    “Is it just me, or am I the only one that missed how in the world this is supposed to ‘seed’ life. How does any material from a crashing meteorite have any value? You’re talking about embedded material floating out there for millions of years and then crashing with nuclear bomb force… and then Alakazam, you’re ‘seeded’?”

    JasonS,
    Meteorites dont actually crash with nuclear bomb force. For a layman’s class on meteorites, I highly recommend the popular science channel program “Meteorite Men”, which is about two fellows who travel the world hunting for meteorites. It includes quite a bit of science about meteorites that is clearly understandable for the layperson.

    Anyways, meteorites typically strike earth at a few hundred miles per hour, unless they are very large. Most meteorites are not large when they reach Earth’s surface. They are typically rubble piles that break up on reentry, and only their outer surfaces are heated significantly. Most all meteorites you can pick up with your bare hands as soon as they land. Basically the subsonic trip from 50,000 ft or so cools them significantly.

    Hypersonic meteorites have to be rather massive and solid enough to not break up on entry into Earth’s atmosphere. The smaller the meteorite, the more surface area per kg of mass, ergo the mass load per square cm is much lower for smaller meteorites and thus they generate high drag with low momentum and slow down to a typical terminal velocity of a few hundred kph.

  64. John McDonald says:
    March 6, 2011 at 7:59 am (Edit)

    “As a fossil hunter I scream B#$%^&.

    So what NASA is trying to tell us is: in the matter of one decades and a few hundred rocks they have managed to find bacteria TWICE! Laughing so hard my eyes water.”

    John, the few hundred rocks they examined have been filtered out of a large population of meteorites collected globally over many years. The few hundred rocks they selected are those whose chemical profiles match those of Mars, and thus are credibly *from* Mars.

    The question remaining is whether you are a *fossilized bacteria* hunter or not…

  65. “Doc Martyn-

    Some of what you say is worng, some is right. First, the biggest difference between RNA and DNA is the 2′ hydroxyl on the phosphate backbone (thus the names, ribo- and deoxyribonucleic acid).”

    Gosh, thank you for that insight, as someone who has been a biochemist for almost 30 years, and had two papers on the quantification of different types of DNA damage last year, that one just flew past me.

    Brad, DNA is a long term information storage medium and as such fidelity of replication is somewhat important. Uracil undergoes amide/imidic acid tautomerizeation. in the amide form it binds adenine very well, but in the imidic acid form it can bind the other bases; we use this unique ability of uracil in the TUNEL/ddTUNEL assays.
    The methylation of uracil is a marker stating “This is the letter U(T)”, especially during duplication.
    In the same way the 2’deoxyribose indicates, “This is long term storage media”.
    The move from a double stranded RNA, UA/GC based system of information storage into a double stranded deoxy-RNA Me-UA/GC long term and single stranded RNA, UA/GC short term storage system of information is pretty much universally accepted.
    Using both dNTP’s and NTP’s allows cells to have two pools of information media and also allows it to get information from the size of the pools; the levels of dNPT are used for measuring quite distinct things than from the APT/ADP or GTP/GDP ratios.
    The only really good one we have now is the role of dATP in the activation of Caspase-3; but dGTP levels also fluctuate during the cell cycle.

  66. MikeLorrey-

    Glad you find it funny, but please read the paper. The number of meteroites is much smaller than you posit, for excellent reasons.

  67. Gotta post again —

    Another thing that bothers me about all of this with respect to evolution: DNA and RNA do not survive heat well or radiation. In fact, two wonderful sterilization methods are heat and radiation. If bacteria got blasted off the surface of another planet (think super heating) traveled through outer space getting blasted with radiation and then fell through our thick atmosphere (super heating again) and then survived — WOW! Let’s evaluate that possibility: we take billions of cans of food and put a little heat on them and that is enough to kill any bacteria and virus’ so that billions of people can safely eat each day even when those cans are full of broken down DNA, amino acids, etc. What are the odds that bacteria on a rock survived space travel, land in a location where DNA can survive – oh about the same as a NASA find two space rocks with fossils in 10 years! One of the big proponents of this was Fred Hoyle, yes, the same guy who thought that matter was self-creating.

    This is the same problem I have with people who believe that life originated from boiling mud pots, etc. DNA, RNA without massive special protection dies in heat super fast. This is why we are more healthy in the summer time as opposed to the winter time as virus’ etc. disintegrate on our hands, door knobs, and surfaces faster in the summer heat.

    Charles the moderator: a lot of us have posted here for years and enjoy this site. I don’t like snitty political comments about “persecuted minorities, etc.” Perfectly, fine to limit debate to certain topics. Unnecessary insults are a good way to kill off traffic to a website. Welcoming all ID, Creationists, and Evolutionists to comment on climate science while avoiding those topics is a very reasonable position. However, if this is going to become yet another website where only Darwinian Evolutionists are welcome on certain posts with their non-scientific, mathematically impossible theories and anti-God agenda, then I have less of a desire to come here or have my children read Watts up with that.

  68. Brad says:
    March 6, 2011 at 8:25 am
    Brad says:
    March 6, 2011 at 8:30 am

    It’s can be like finding pieces of a Ford Model T embedded inside of a carbonaceous chondrite. A person could argue the magnetic iron from a piece of the Model T has an ultimate extraterrestrial origin due to its magnetic properties and extraordinary details in crystalline structure. You would, on the other hand, have an impossible task of explaining an extraterrestrial origin for the Made in U.S.A. lettering stamped into the metal plate. Of course, it would be a very very interesting experience to explain just how it happened that a Ford Model T eneded up inside of a carbonaceous chondrite (smile).

    While cyanobacteria may require an origin on Earth due to the origins of its inherent biochemical structures, that does nothing to necessarily exclude or include extraterrestrial origins for some earlier ancestor of the organism. The only thing we can be confident about is the origin of the species of chemical elements in the supernova of an earlier shortlived supermassive star or stars in our arm of the galaxy. The Phosphorus and Calcium in our bones were forged in the core of a supermassive star where the pressures were great enough for the thermonuclear reactions to form the more complex chemical elements now found in our own bodies, Sun, and Solar System. So, these elements can be said to have extraterrestrial origins. Extraterrestrial origins for organic organisms requires their own circumstances to exist and maintain their existence. Unless a unique extraterrestrial origin for the biochemical structures of the organisms under discussion can be demonstrated, their unique characteristics must have an origin on Earth if even one of their biochemical characteristics are unique to the cyanobacteria known to have developed from earlier biochemical ancestors on the Earth.

  69. “Brad; Why isn’t fully developed life taking over the planet quickly perfectly consistent with panspermia from meteorites instead of slow evolution?”

    it isn’t. Again Brad, you must know what cyanobacter are.
    These are the guys who changed the whole nature of the Earths ecosystem during the great oxygen extinction. They caused the atmosphere to switch from an anaerobic reducing atmosphere covering acidic oceans containing huge levels of dissolved transitions metals into what we have today. We know for sure when they appeared and we know what the survivors of this catastrophic event look like; the obligate anaerobes.
    We can construct molecular clock’s, using sequence divergence of proteins, tRNA’s and other tricks to look at the evolutionary linkages between these organisms.
    The biosphere does not consist of a cyanobaterial common ancestor. No way at all. The common ancestor was much more primitive and far, far older.

  70. Mike —

    Stand back and think for a minute.

    First, I seriously doubt that they have a few hundred rocks with Martian profiles.

    Next, even if they do have a few hundred that I’m not aware of. These rocks would have presumably been selected at random from the Martian surface. If you select at random rocks on Earth’s surface — rest assured they will contain no fossils to a 99.9999999% chance. I know I’ve done it.

    Yes, I’ve looked for bacteria fossils and piles of rocks under microscopes. The rocks I’ve looked at DO NOT contain more bacteria fossils. It is difficult enough for the rock to make an imprint of a massive thing like a leaf, many times the imprint of the leaf with major structures is hard to see. If the average fossil rock cannot even imprint a 1 or 2 mm feature, how is that rock going to contain something of the resolution of a bacteria!

    Think about it — this means that ONLY rocks which have the mineralization content of a resolution of the bacteria can contain the fossil. Sandstone, Mudstone, and even your average limestone is simply to porous and with too large of grain sizes to get a bacterial imprint. So even the vast majority of fossil bearing rocks will not show bacteria. This is all laughable silliness.

    And yes, I’ve looked at very old rocks too. Big Mountain in W. Washington is made from the ancient deep sea floor — a very interesting place to look. And I fully agree that some rocks on Earth do contain either fossil bacteria, or bacteria that had full mineralization go on. According to papers on this — these are not widespread and very rare. I have not been able to find them in my years of looking.

    So if less than 99.9999999999999% of the earth’s surface has bacterial fossils given all the bacteria here. Why do we think in just a few hundred rocks (if that) we can magically find bacteria fossils. It is rubbish. Even if Mars were a lush green planet teeming with bacteria – I’d scream B#$%^

  71. The idea of seeding is an interesting one. Whether it be from “out there” or from “here” would lead us to speculate that said evidence of “seeding” would be quite abundant. It is not. Planets relatively close to Earth have to be searched high and low to find such evidence. And then the search is way more futile than it is fertile. For me, the theory that continues to hold quite well against other arguments is that of slow extra-species macro-evolution (from dinos to birds), combined with fast intra-species evolution (such as is found in common house flies).

  72. “John, This is the same problem I have with people who believe that life originated from boiling mud pots, etc. DNA, RNA without massive special protection dies in heat super fast. This is why we are more healthy in the summer time as opposed to the winter time as virus’ etc. disintegrate on our hands, door knobs, and surfaces faster in the summer heat.”

    We know that neolithic man moved using his legs and nowadays people move by automobile. HOWEVER, cars cannot travel without roads. It is impossible for people to transition from universal bipeds into road users, as roads didn’t exist and roads are useless without cars. THEREFORE a supernatural entity created modern man, cars and asphalt roads at the same time.

    Do not imagine, that you can imagine, the nature of the first replicants and their ecosystem, until you have studied a little more of the biodiversity of the microbial biosphere. Just because you can’t imagine something, does not mean that it didn’t exist.

  73. Patterson and DocMartyn-

    Thanks doc, and I post-doc’ed at the MIT genome center under Lander and ran my own lab at U of I.

    The isomerization is less important to long term stability, it is important to replication efficiency as you note. You seem to completely ignore the biology, as most chemists do, and talk about DNA stability in a the lab. Please read up on spore development, the genetics of which is incredibly neat in B. sibtilis (mom commits suicide via the spoK gene).

    I have cited paper after paper to support my positions, please find some facts that are supported and RELEVANT to the discussion before you spew more spittle.

    This arguemnt has developed two strands that are becoming intertwined. The first is does the metorite show living organisms well away from our solar system. I see no evidence that makes that rgument strongly, but lots of evidence that create smoke. The second argument is panspermia which would allow seeding from inter-solar system sources which is perfectly consistent with all we know and the evidence we have. Proven? No, but plausible for sure.

    Carbonasceous meteorites showing life:

    1) The metoerites are not from earth based on their inorganic makeup.
    2) The metoerites contain things that look like living things on EM to some folk with lots of expertise.
    3) The makeup of the organics and nitrogen are consistent with living things, fossilized.

    On panspermia (or life on earth originatins elsewhere):
    1) Spores (NOT DNA OR RNA) can survive long periods in space if protected from UV (as they would be inside a meteor), certainly more than enough to survive interplanetary journeys if not outside the solar system (and Doc Martyn may be correct that no information carrier could do that…but it is irrlevant to the real issue about ex-earth origins).
    2) Cyanobacteria are consistent with the earliest known, proven life on earth, and cyanobacteria today can survive in space
    3) We have zero strong evidence of any ancestor to these early organisms.

    All these points are supported by actual papers cited in this string.

  74. Andy Revkin distinguishes himself again. When I want an arbiter of good science, he’s the guy I’ll go to (not!).

    Anyone credulous enough to publish this stuff shouldn’t be allowed to hold a crayon, much less have his own column on science.

  75. Pamela-

    Agree completely on your points on modern evolution and how it functions. As for “fast” versus “slow” that really has more to do with generation time, offspring numbers, and selective pressure – but I get your point. The genetics and biochemistry of mammals, furit flies, and even yeast are much more similar than they are different.

    Your point on seeding goes to what are the real requirements for life, and the places we have looked are close and easy to get to, but were never good candidates. Read Hoover’s paper, he covers some very good places to look in the solar system, and if we were not spending so much making us feel good by spending hudreds of billions to orbit the planet, we probably would already have probes going there.

  76. I am not sure why ‘seeding’ is being discussed with the topic of fossils found in these ‘mars’ rocks. I think the thing that is supposed to be fascinating associated with this ‘discovery’ is not whether life started elsewhere and immigrated to our planet, but if life could start here, could it have started elsewhere in this universe. This is just ‘evidence’ that yes it is possible for life to start elsewhere.

    ‘assuming this pans out’

    Hobo

    M

  77. Brad, here is a rather nice site showing the branching order of Bacterial Phyla, this is an overview; but the position of cyanobacteria is pretty much where other reconstructions indicate.

    http://www.bacterialphylogeny.info/bacteria.html

    Cyanobacteria are far, far too advanced to be the original replicants and fit into the main sequence of core functional protein rather nicely.

    No one, can state with any authority if life originated on Earth or else where and was then transported to Earth. I have no problem with a RNA based originating in some other planetary/exo-planetary biosphere and inoculating the Earth <3.8 billion years ago. However, the original relpilicant wouldn't look like a cyanobacteria.

  78. Hobo says:
    March 6, 2011 at 9:58 am
    I am not sure why ‘seeding’ is being discussed with the topic of fossils found in these ‘mars’ rocks. I think the thing that is supposed to be fascinating associated with this ‘discovery’ is not whether life started elsewhere and immigrated to our planet, but if life could start here, could it have started elsewhere in this universe. This is just ‘evidence’ that yes it is possible for life to start elsewhere.

    ‘assuming this pans out’

    Hobo

    M

    Based upon numbers and probabilities, it can be reasonably argued that lt is virtually a 100 percent certainty that life has developed from inorganic matter innumerable times throughout this and other galaxies in the Universe. Based upon numbers and probabilities, it can also be argued that it is highly probable that the suspected fossils originated on Earth before returning to Earth. Earth is the closest presently known source of organic organisms, so it would logically appear to be the most prolific source of such meteorites within its local area of interplanetary space.

    While it can be a plausible assumption that rocks bearing lifeforms which originated in extraterrestrial and interstellar regions of space are capable of arriving on the Earth in meteorites, it is even moe plausible and likely that nearly all of the life bearing meteorites arriving on the Earth would have originated from the surface of the Earth in the impact ejecta. How many additional life bearing meterorites arriving on the Earth originated from intrplanetary origins in this Solar System or interstellar origins beyond this Solar System is an interesting reseearch question which remains to be answered.

  79. Doc-

    I guess I will take the rest of the astrobiolgists who have studied this over your characterizations. I never said it was a modern cyanobacteria, and it is very likely the ancestor only vaguely resembles anything here now, do to the oxygenation and the organic matter everywhre now (very different than when they arrived or developed). It is likely, since the ancestor almost assuredly used nucleic acid as an information carrier and some type of protein, that many of the same limitations were in place, that any spore former used something similar to today. THAT is the point.

    Have a great weekend, you might spend some of it on google scholar reading some interesting papers on astrobiology. I was a skeptical as you at one point, then I started to study the facts.

  80. Brad says:
    March 6, 2011 at 10:42 am
    I never said it was a modern cyanobacteria

    You gave the impression of talking about cyanobacteria, modern or otherwise, with your following earlier comments.

    Brad says:
    March 5, 2011 at 5:41 pm
    John Kehr-

    why coiuldn’t cyanobacteria evolve to move from planet to planet in meteorites

    Your remark gave the impression of suggesting it was possible or likely for extraterrestrial lifeforms to develop with biochemical characteristics similar enough to be recognized or mistaken for the cyanobacteria with origins on the Earth.

  81. From Fox: “In it, Hoover describes the latest findings in his study of an extremely rare class of meteorites, called CI1 carbonaceous chondrites — only nine such meteorites are known to exist on Earth………….Though it may be hard to swallow, Hoover is convinced that his findings reveal fossil evidence of bacterial life within such meteorites.”
    Question ……….
    How do we know these critters didn’t get into the meteorite after it hit the earth? If it’s been laying around here for a few million – billion – zillion years – who knows what extraneous matter may have invaded or been absorbed by the carbonaceous material?
    Maybe it’s hard as a rock now – but was it always?

  82. John McDonald says:
    March 6, 2011 at 8:50 am

    . . . Charles the moderator: a lot of us have posted here for years and enjoy this site. I don’t like snitty political comments about “persecuted minorities, etc.” Perfectly, fine to limit debate to certain topics. Unnecessary insults are a good way to kill off traffic to a website. Welcoming all ID, Creationists, and Evolutionists to comment on climate science while avoiding those topics is a very reasonable position. However, if this is going to become yet another website where only Darwinian Evolutionists are welcome on certain posts with their non-scientific, mathematically impossible theories and anti-God agenda, then I have less of a desire to come here or have my children read Watts up with that.

    Without speaking for Charles, I think the point is that, while everyone is welcome, discussions on the subject of Darwinian evolution versus ID/Creationism are off-limits. The reason, I assume, is that such discussions quickly become interminable, and often generate nasty arguments.

    The question for this thread is whether or not some meteorites plausibly contain fossil evidence of microscopic living things, and not whether such life originated as an act of Nature or one of God.

    /Mr Lynn

  83. In response to Roger Longstaff, I’ll expand my comment. I’ll start with Anthony’s own post regarding Michael Crichton and his flippantly titled “Aliens Cause Global Warming” http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/07/09/aliens-cause-global-warming-a-caltech-lecture-by-michael-crichton/
    Mr. Longstaff, you indicate your calculations indicate a rock randomly ejected from earth at little more than escape velocity would reach 100 light-years distance in 70ky. (I’ve interpolated and added my own assumptions. Please correct me if I misunderstand or mistake you.)
    If we can agree upon an assumption of longevity, that our human descendants will continue for hundreds of thousands of years, then I assert our descendants will inevitably populate all habitable planets within the galaxy within the next several ten-thousands of years. Note, I make no assumption of faster-than-light travel capabilities. I assume ONLY that that technology will advance as it has historically, and people will do what they have historically, and that is to expand their sphere of influence. It will likely be ugly at times, but with Tolkien’s dwarves, I assert what can be done will be done, and I assert that it can.
    If I am confident that human descendants will populate the galaxy within a few hundred millennia (and I am), how can I assume other self-actualizing beings will do otherwise?
    If, in the few billions of years before life took hold on our planet, any similar scenario of life played out on some supposed planet in any corner of our galaxy why would they not be here yet? In fact, why would they not have been here millennia ago before homo-earliest even had a chance? The earth was a right nice place to live starting eons ago (even when it was ~14°C warmer than today). If they are out there, why are they not here? It is ridiculous to suppose they are out there BECAUSE they are not here. Even given a Roddenberry moral sense on their part to maintain a Prime-directive type stance, wouldn’t they have let us in on the secret by the time of the Sumerians?
    Honestly, to me, these arguments are still trivial compared to the power requirements. The energy required to travel such distances, and the logistical support requirements involved make interstellar commerce laughable. I believe the trips are possible, but the crews must necessarily be generational, and the trips MUST be one-way. If we go to “Pandora,” we are there to stay. We either coexist with them, or we wipe them out. (Or, of course, they wipe out us.)
    Steven Hawking is probably enough smarter than me to know better whether faster-than-light travel might be possible at some possibly attainable (and economically bearable) energy cost, but I think he is no better than the scifi writer when he asserts that we should avoid “them” as long as possible. “They” are not out there.
    If “they” ever existed, they started approximately 3byo ± 12by. Does it make sense why I say they are not out there? It will not take us a billion years to get the “them.” Given that “they” could have had up to a 12 billion year head start makes it laughable to think “they” may show up any day now.
    So, we are left with the possibilities that we are they, or they are not there. Perhaps they were there but never survived long enough to get off their planet. Perhaps we won’t either. That rock is out there. (Global warming is not.)

  84. Regarding “life” surviving interplanetary journeys, I’m not sure there is any question that it is possible if one looks at what is involved.
    Impacts are extremely chaotic and hard to model. Most anything that can happen is likely to happen, at least on the nano-scale. Self interstitials in the lattice of a metal are so unlikely as to be safely discounted, unless one is in an environment of 14MeV neutrons (D-T fusion), then you better account for them. The atoms are doing unimaginable things with all that energy on the per-atom scale. (Unimaginable until one has thoroughly studied the subject and worked through a significant portion of the mathematics.) Of course, metals of interest in reactors to get all those neutrons and then investigate are essential to the modeling and proofing of the mathematics. EBR-II comes to mind. :-(

  85. Brad: “Evolution is all about leaving more offspring in future generations, and if a palm developed a floating coconut it did leave more offspring in future generations and thus become the dominant island palm over time. It has everything to do with selection and selective preuure.”

    My point was more nuanced. Namely, the “evolving” part of the scenario is a happenstance occurrence (unless anyone wants to posit a directed evolution mechanism). Thereafter I agree that there could be a selection pressure that results in more offspring of a particular phenotype over another. It is not clear that this is what happened with the coconut, but I realize you weren’t making that argument necessarily, just offering an analogy, so I don’t want to belabor the coconut point.

    In the case of life being seeded from another planet, however, I would argue that the selection pressure, if it even exists, does not operate in the same fashion. Specifically, instead of having an environment in which particular phenotypes are favored, thus resulting in a somewhat pervasive and relatively constant selection pressure, we are talking about a once in a lifetime event in which a collision causes some piece of matter to escape its natural environment and travel across interstellar space. The requirements for traveling across interstellar space cannot have been a selective pressure in any normal sense of moving the population in a particular direction. Rather, it would be, again, pure happenstance that an organism that had for some totally unnecessary reason developed and retained the ability to travel across interstellar space, also happened to be the organism that was caught up in the collision, got blasted into space and traveled in just the right trajectory to get to Earth. It is an interesting idea, but exceedingly speculative, almost to the point of not being scientific . . .

    I can see two potential rebuttals to my points above:

    – Perhaps life originated in the depths of space, in which case there could be a selective pressure that would favor an ability to survive the extremes of space. (Others in the comments above have alluded to such theories.)

    – Perhaps life is much more robust to interstellar travel in general. Again, some have alluded to this above, but so far the findings have been limited to very short duration exposures.

  86. @John McDonald says:
    March 6, 2011 at 9:09 am

    John, you seem to be laboring under the misconception that all fossils are imprints, and that therefore, fossil bacteria are scarce because they are smaller than the grain size of most rocks.

    Some fossils are indeed imprints, some are molds or casts, some are the result of chemical replacement, and some are composed of original biological material with some degree of chemical alteration.

    Microfossils are very abundant indeed, but you have to know what to look for. In my work as a wellsite geologist, I see larger-scale microfossils in nearly every well that I work on. Fish scales, fish teeth, and fragments of fish bones are easy to recognize under a 20X microscope. I get to see the odd Foram and Ostracod, and countless fragments of clam shells. Big, showy fossils that catch your eye, and look good on the mantelpiece are indeed harder to find, and I will never find them in drill cuttings that are ground to the size of kitty litter, but I have found the odd one when taking a walk away from the rig.

    Fossils of terrestrial animals are very rare indeed, because rocks of terrestrial (as opposed to marine) origin are themselves rare, and because scavengers usually make short work of any animals that simply topple over and die. It takes pretty special circumstances for terrestrial animals to be preserved as fossils.

    You say you live in Western Washington? There are some pretty spectacular fossil palm logs along the shore of Chuckanut Bay directly south of the city of Bellingham. And then there’s the Rhinoceros Cave in the Columbia Plateau volcanics; that’s on my own “want to visit” list.

  87. DocMartyn says:
    March 6, 2011 at 10:18 am

    “Cyanobacteria are far, far too advanced to be the original replicants and fit into the main sequence of core functional protein rather nicely.”

    You’re conflating genotype with phenotype. The two aren’t joined at the hip, so to speak. The thing found in the meteorite was a fossil with a shape similar to a modern bacteria. Nothing about its genotype can be determined from just the shape of it.

  88. Lonnie E. Schubert says:

    “If they are out there, why are they not here?”

    Because there are 100,000 million stars in our galaxy? One would have thought that the chances of one civilization encountering our star pretty remote – unless they knew we were here.

    Of course, they may not be in our galaxy but in some other. In which case, forget about them ever coming here. Oh, and your assumption that they could have had 12 billion year start is incorrect. It would take 2nd or 3rd generation stars to evolve before life becomes possible, due to a number of factors, including a) the need for heavy elements to form via super novae and b) the fact that the early galaxy was not a hospitable place for life due to a propensity of super massive short lived stars and the frequent bombardments from these super novae.

  89. D. Patterson: “Based upon numbers and probabilities, it can be reasonably argued that lt is virtually a 100 percent certainty that life has developed from inorganic matter innumerable times throughout this and other galaxies in the Universe.”

    With all due respect, I’m not sure what numbers you would be referring to. The probabilities in fact suggest that the likelihood of life developing from inorganic matter in the time and availiable space of the known universe is virtually nil. We do of course know of at least one instance of life having taken hold, so it is a very interesting question what we should make of that fact. But to suggest that life would almost certainly arise an innumerable number of times from inorganic matter, even given billions of galaxies and hundreds of billions of planets in each, appears to be a faith-based statement, without support. We can add billions more galaxies and hundreds of billions more planets and it would just be a rounding error in comparison to the probabilistic hurdles that have to be overcome to get life off the ground.

    ————–

    John McDonald and others:

    The question of origins and the ID/evolution discussion is exceedingly interesting and important. However, I appreciate the mods’ decision to not let WUWT threads get into the discussion, notwithstanding the relative merits of the concepts. There are lots of other sites where those issues can be debated in detail. I find it refreshing that we can participate in WUWT topics with relatively little deviation into ID/evolution discussions. Even if folks’ personal views sometimes shine through, and even if there is an occasional jab here or there, I haven’t seen any overtly ID-bashing or Creationism-bashing at WUWT — do let the mods know offline if you have seen any egregious behavior and I am sure they will take care of it fairly. Based on the tone of many other posters I’ve seen here, you can probably take comfort that there are lots of folks who share your viewpoint, and I would hope no-one feels like their ideas are being unfairly singled out, but I do support the mods’ decision to stay out of that particular debate at WUWT.

  90. Lonnie E. Schubert (March 6, 2011 at 12:20 pm) poses an intriguing connundrum: If humans have the potential to colonize much of the Milky Way Galaxy over the next few tens of millenia (and we clearly do, even at modest velocities), then why haven’t similarly-capable denizens of other systems reached us first? After all, they have had billions of years to do so. Is this an argument that they don’t exist?

    I would guess probably not. It is simple enough exercise to postulate that since old Sol occupies a remote arm of our galaxy, it’s just a backwater that our competitors in the galactic mainstream have not yet bothered with (unless, of course, they did, and we are them!).

    But then, should we assume that other life forms share our biochemistry and would necessarily find Earth appealing?

    Well, this is why we invented science fiction. At this point we can only speculate, but speculation is great fun, and will inspire the next generation of astronauts and earthbound scientists, especially the X-T (extra-terrestrial) biologists.

    /Mr Lynn

  91. Eric Anderson says:
    March 6, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    “In the case of life being seeded from another planet”

    From another planet (accidently) outside the solar system is close enough to impossible to safely discount it. Crick and Orgel calculated the odds in the 1970’s which is why they came up with Directed Panspermia where the “seeds” are targeted by an intelligent agency for planets with suitable characteristics. Panspermia is generally restricted to organic building blocks (amino acids) spontaneously forming on comets in our own solar system.

    Sheldon and Hoover’s hypothesis is that prokaryotes and bacteriophages underwent chemical evolution on comets around stars older than ours and that these are transmitted from solar system to solar system when stars approach each other close enough (1-2 light years) for their Oort clouds to mingle and exchange material which then rains down onto inner planets from the gravitational perturbation caused by the close approach of the two stars.

  92. There are only nine of this type of meteorite. He cracked one open and examined the newly-created surface. He saw something that looked like a tube, and some other things that looked like several parallel tubes. Chemical testing shows, indeed, amino acids and other bio-chemicals in this meteorite. The chemical testing shows some bio-compounds we do not know how to synthesize. To me this is more interesting than the little tubes. Fossilized bacteria are not like fossilized dinosaurs, no bones, no feathers, nothing recognizable as formerly alive. Suspiciously, the photo of the little tube is compared to a cyanobacter which is five times larger, but a similar shape.
    The contention is that this type of meteorite is leftover raw material of our Sun from the outer asteroid belt, or a comet. The meteorite is soft carbonaceous black goop with a “fusion coat” from the re-entry heat , apparently quite similar to the composition of the Sun minus the hydrogen and helium.
    Interesting work, he has asked for comments about the validity from 5,000 scientists. I wonder how many will respond.

  93. “The question for this thread is whether or not some meteorites plausibly contain fossil evidence of microscopic living things, and not whether such life originated as an act of Nature or one of God.”

    Why are the two assumed to be mutually exclusive?

    [ryanm: tsk, tsk, rules are rules]

  94. If NASA has so much time on it’s hands, I propose that we establish a base on the moon. While they are there they can build a nice telescope at the pole.

    If they want to look for extraterrestrial dna there in their spare time, that would be fine. it might be a less contaminated location.
    If they want to use the telescope during their off hours to watch for returning aliens, that would be fine too.

  95. Lonnie E. Schubert says: March 6, 2011 at 12:20 pm:

    Mr Schubert, thank you very much, sir, for your detailed and considered comments. I actually agree with every word that you say (especially adhering to Einstein’s limits), apart from your conclusion, which is, perhaps, more a matter of philosophy. (BTW, I think that my figure of 70kyr was wrong – should have been 700kyr -however this adds nothing to the discussion and it is late, and I can’t find my calculator).

    My calculation of communications limits was based upon our most powerful signals into space – since 1960 ballistic missile early warning systems (BMEWS) radars. I assumed our most sensitive receiver to be Arecebo (perfectly aligned with a perfectly matched narrow band filter). However, any more moderately advanced civilisation would surely use high frequency lasers for communication, which we have never looked for.

    But perhaps I can explain my thoughts better thus: If I walk through a forest and I see an anthill, what do I do – attempt to communicate? destroy it? No, I marvel at the industry of the inhabitants, who do me no harm, and pass on.

  96. “Dave Springer says:
    You’re conflating genotype with phenotype. The two aren’t joined at the hip, so to speak. The thing found in the meteorite was a fossil with a shape similar to a modern bacteria. Nothing about its genotype can be determined from just the shape of it”

    Why do you think rod shaped bacteria are rod shaped? What biochemical mechanisms have they that allow a sophisticated elongation and invagination/decoupling at rod center, without suffering from osmotic shock?
    Rods are much more sophisticated than spheres.

  97. Communication infers two way conversation.
    We don’t live long enough for that to occur over such a vast abyss.

    We’re only 12,000 years or so thawing out of the last ice age.
    6000 years of relatively stable climate coinciding with the rapid ascent of civilization.
    Most likely we will have to be satisfied with communicating with one another. Hopefully we can learn that art before the next ice age sends us back from whence we came.

  98. Dave Springer says:
    March 6, 2011 at 2:58 pm
    . . .The same people willing to reject the obscene “scientific” extrapolation from evolutionary adaptation driven by random recombination (rearrangements of extant complexity) to mud that turns into mind through a random dance of atoms are the same people who aren’t going to accept the obscene “scientific” extrapolation from a bit of anthropogenic CO2 to climate catastrophe of biblical proportion. . .

    This is a good example of slipping in a rhetorical landmine that will explode into a verbal war. CAGW may be an ideology with overtones of religion, but Creationism is religion pure and simple. My response: It is hard to believe that Dave Springer would resort to that old shibboleth, “random recombination [of] mud that turns into mind”; the obvious answer is that natural selection ain’t random. But I will refrain from elaborating, as it will surely get snipped.

    /Mr Lynn

  99. Lonnie Schubert said:
    “Mr. Longstaff, you indicate your calculations indicate a rock randomly ejected from earth at little more than escape velocity would reach 100 light-years distance in 70ky. (I’ve interpolated and added my own assumptions. Please correct me if I misunderstand or mistake you.)”

    This demonstrates Mr. Longstaff fails to understand the nature of interplanetary ballistics.

    Firstly, the Voyager 1 probe was actively propelled on escape trajectory from Earth at velocities significantly in excess of Earth escape velocity, with a velocity of about40,000 km/hr even AFTER the gravity losses of escaping Earth’s gravity well (25,000 mph) were deducted from it. It then travelled to Jupiter, which gave it a rather large boost to its velocity, with a smaller boost when it flew past Saturn, etc.

    Its maximum velocity it ever attained was 125,000 km/hr, which is five times more than Earth escape velocity. It is currently going 38,400 mph, or 61,600 kmph and has achieved a velocity that allows it to not only escape the Sun’s gravity well (which is MUCH deeper and larger than Earth’s, solar system escape velocity is 42.1kmph while Earth escape velocity is a mere 12.1 kmph, to escape both you need to have enough deltaV to reach a velocity of 54.2 kmph, either via rocket fuel or gravity assists or both.

    Voyager 1 is estimated that it will reach a distance of 4.2 light years (distance to Proxima Centauri) in 73,000 years or more, although it isnt going in the direction of that star.

    So no, there is absolutely no way that a rock ejected from Earth at “slightly over escape velocity” will travel 100 light years in a mere 70,000 years. If a rock is ejected at slightly over escape velocity, then the escape velocity is subtracted from its velocity by the time it escapes Earth’s gravity well, so if it is going 26,000 mph when it is ejected, when it reaches interplanetary space, it will only be going 1,000 mph.

  100. The missing aliens question has a formal name, The Fermi Paradox. Fermi just asked, “Where are they?” Even loafing, and taking time to build up an industrial and social base on each colony, any space-faring race can colonize the galaxy in a million years or few. Side to side, end to end, top to bottom.

    Either they’re very discreet, or …
    The Pellegrino-Asimov Rules for Alien Contact, posited in Flying to Valhalla, make it clear. It’s probable/possible that some/most dominant species are predators in origin. They, or at least one of them, will want to dominate or eliminate competition. Other species, even if not so aggressive, must assume someone is out there intending to get them.
    So… the only rational policy is to wipe out all current and possible competition. The preferred method is a solar-orbiting automatic factory facility turning out kinetic missiles, powered by anti-matter and boosted on their way with super-long rail guns.

    They travel at ~.92C, and on arrival punch a 100-mile wide vacuum column in the atmosphere before smashing through the crust. The rebound ejection of molten material swathes the planet in a soot shield, and rains hot rock everywhere. Tectonic disruption finishes the job of wiping out all life larger than a beetle.

    It must be done ASAP, as during transit time, there is a good chance your target will also spot you and launch, resulting in mutual extinction.

    The only safe option is sort of a paranoid Hawkings dispersal, and then hiding very silently and unobtrusively on apparently barren planets.

    At 0.92C, btw, you see incoming about 12X as far away as they actually are. So detecting gamma bow wakes from missiles at one l.y. away means the missiles are actually about a month out. When you see them at 2 light-weeks, they’re just over a day away. When they seem to be a day away, you’ve got 2 hours. When they’re a light minute or two away, you have just time to bend over and kiss your bippy good-bye.

    So the sooner we get our near-solar planet-blaster factories set up, and start dispersing to nondescript near and far solar systems, the better.

  101. Am I the only poster on here who read his paper? Apparently I am, no other comments refer to his text.

  102. Don’t get them wet, and don’t feed them after midnight.

    Seriously – life of this kind would exist for what purpose? Spending eternity waiting for orbital mechanics to interfere and divert your sorry self to a nourishing planet must be the result of divine creation because it sure as hell can’t happen in the laboratory of evolution. There is no possibility for such life to know what to prepare for, genetically. It has no mission, and not having a mission is not a mission. Why would a collection of molecules assemble for the specific task of drifting perhaps forever in orbit around a star that will blink out some day? Real life has far greater ambition, hence the iPhone and Facebook.

    This thing belongs in the nutter archives with the Mother Tree story – and perhaps Ayla, the world’s original horse whisperer.

  103. Mike Lorrey says: March 6, 2011 at 6:00 pm: This demonstrates Mr. Longstaff fails to understand the nature of interplanetary ballistics.

    Look again – I did not state a velocity. Indeed, my 70 kyr estimate was based (from memory) on Voyager 1. Just add more time or speed to get to 100 light years.

  104. Roger Longstaff says:
    March 7, 2011 at 2:45 am

    Mike Lorrey says: March 6, 2011 at 6:00 pm: This demonstrates Mr. Longstaff fails to understand the nature of interplanetary ballistics.

    “Look again – I did not state a velocity. Indeed, my 70 kyr estimate was based (from memory) on Voyager 1. Just add more time or speed to get to 100 light years.”

    4.2 light years is less than 1/20th of 100 light years, so to reach 100 light years in the same time frame, Voyager 1 would need to be travelling 20+ times its present velocity, hardly “slightly more than escape velocity” as you first claimed, even tho Voyager 1 is going significantly more than escape velocity already. So, suck it up, admit your error, and move forward.

  105. Mike Lorrey says: March 7, 2011 at 6:30 am: So, suck it up, admit your error, and move forward.

    I grow weary of your grandstanding – look at my post (7.56 am, March 6th) which does not say “slightly more than escape velocity”. Also, buy a book on maths!

  106. Eric Anderson says:
    March 6, 2011 at 2:06 pm
    D. Patterson: “Based upon numbers and probabilities, it can be reasonably argued that lt is virtually a 100 percent certainty that life has developed from inorganic matter innumerable times throughout this and other galaxies in the Universe.”

    With all due respect, I’m not sure what numbers you would be referring to. The probabilities in fact suggest that the likelihood of life developing from inorganic matter in the time and availiable space of the known universe is virtually nil.

    Amino acids are common throughout interstellar space. Their further organization into organic structures common to Earth’s biological lifeforms have already been obtained in early deep space like experimental conditions. “In their deep-space simulator, the Astrochemistry Lab team has previously produced cell-membrane-like structures and other organic compounds basic to life.” You are going to have a very difficult time making a convincing argument why these pervasive precursors to reproductive lifeforms are not a natural and common extension of such organic chemistry as found in astrobiology.

    NASA Scientists Create Amino Acids in Deep-Space-Like Environment

    A team of scientists at the NASA Astrochemistry Laboratory today announced that they had created amino acids in conditions mimicking deep space. Amino acids are the basic components of proteins, from which all life is made. According to researcher Max Bernstein, “We found that amino acids can be made in the dense interstellar clouds where planetary systems and stars are made. Our experiments suggest that amino acids should be everywhere, wherever there are stars and planets.”

    The three amino acids produced in the Astrochemistry Lab are similar to those found previously in certain meteorites. Meteorites are pieces of asteroids or comets. The chemical similarities may indicate that amino acids were made in deep space, before the solar system formed, then eventually fell to Earth in meteorites. “This finding suggests that Earth may have been seeded with amino acids from space in its earliest days,” said team member Jason Dworkin, adding, “[T]his increases the odds that life also evolved in places other than Earth.”

    In their deep-space simulator, the Astrochemistry Lab team has previously produced cell-membrane-like structures and other organic compounds basic to life. Next, they plan to investigate why left- and right-handed amino acids exist in space, but only the left-handed forms are used by life on Earth. Other scientists on the team include Lou Allamandola, George Cooper and Scott Sandford.

    More on this story Full text of original item from NASA, Mar 27, 2002

    http://astrobiology.arc.nasa.gov/news/expandnews.cfm?id=1319

  107. D. Patterson,

    Well, the faith of the believers sometimes knows no bounds. Pardon me if I’m not too impressed with some amino acids in space. I’ll do you one better.

    I’m willing to grant you all the amino acids you want; heck, I’ll even give them all to you in a non-racemic mixture. I’m willing to give you the most benign and hospitable environment you can possibly imagine for your fledgling structures to form (take your pick of the popular ideas: tide pools, volcanic vents, undersea hydrothermal vents, mud globules, cometary clouds in space . . .). I’ll even throw in the energy you need in Goldilocks fashion: just the right amount to facilitate the chemical reactions, not too much to destroy the nascent formations. I’ll grant you the exact relative mixture of the specific amino acids you want and will give you just the right concentration needed for optimum reaction. I’ll further spot you that all these critical conditions occur in the same location at the same time. Shoot, as a bonus I’ll even prevent contaminating cross reactions and will step in to keep the fledgling structures from their natural rate of breakdown. Every one of the foregoing items are huge challenges and significant open questions to the formation of life, but I’m willing to grant them all.

    You still won’t have anything even closely resembling life. If anyone thinks otherwise, please let Harvard know immediately, before they spend the $100 million they recently committed to study these very issues to try to determine how in the world (pun intended) life could possibly have come about.

    So yes, if one is convinced that it is easy for life to form — a few amino acids here, a bit of energy there, mix in a few millennia, and viola — then the occasional discoveries about amino acids in space or natural structures that kind of resemble biological ones (cock your head to the left and squint just right — there, you can see the resemblence, can’t you?) may seem like confirmation. For those who have looked into the issue in more detail and have a firmer grasp on what is needed, such discoveries simply underscore how utterly distant the elusive explanation lies.

  108. Is it just me or does the picture at the beginning of this article look a lot like this picture from the movie “The Abyss”?

    NTI Water Tentacle:

  109. DocMartyn says:
    March 7, 2011 at 4:35 am
    [response, snipped ~ ctm]

    Vince Causey says:
    March 7, 2011 at 5:45 am
    [snip ~ ctm]

    Why were these two comments snipped? I was so intrigued by the suggestion that the genetic code of terrestrial animals contains the code of all (most? many?) of the other animals that I quoted them to the biologists in the family. Seems to me that idea also has some relevance to the topic of panspermia that permeates (as it were) this thread. Did the moderator think it took us into the ID debate? I didn’t.

    /Mr Lynn

  110. Addendum: Well, I see that CTM also snipped John McDonald’s post of March 6, 2011 at 9:50 pm, which did claim that Darwinian evolution “was proved mathematically wrong,” and the other two were responses to that. But, but— They were really interesting responses! I wouldn’t have snipped the trio, and I am sympathetic to Anthony’s rule, having gotten imbroigled in fruitless ID/evolution debates elsewhere.

    /Mr Lynn

  111. Mr Lynn,

    “Addendum: Well, I see that CTM also snipped John McDonald’s post of March 6, 2011 at 9:50 pm, which did claim that Darwinian evolution “was proved mathematically wrong,” and the other two were responses to that.”

    I’ve just seen the snip and was scratching my head – I couldn’t remember what I’d posted. Your comment jogged my memory. I guess it was off topic, but I felt it was also a valid attempt at a refutation.

  112. I will try to keep this post low-snark, despite my instincts (which is another reason I don’t post very often), but I find it tragi-comic that an attempt was made to exclude religious discussion on this topic, which is almost entirely religious in nature.

    Most of the arguing, even outside the specific disallowed controversy, seems very faith-based to me.

    Firstly, statistics are used to determine the likelihood of future events, not events that have already happened. I run into this in medicine sometimes, a doctor’s response to, for example, a complaint of a medicine’s side-effect will be that it is “rare.” That, of course, does not address the issue at all, to the point of insulting the patient – it’s like telling someone who has a severe peanut allergy that their condition is so rare that they should eat peanuts.

    Clearly the original article is ambiguous enough to invite controversy and needs further study. If no one else wants to study it, we may have to wait a while, but statistics doesn’t really enter into it, the objects are or are not micro-fossils regardless of past experiences.

    The second most common major flaw in the argument so far is the rather surprising certainty on the part of some as to the difficulties of future deep space travel and the likely behavior of alien civilizations, two things that we have only the vaguest guesses about (UFO Contactees left out of the discussion for the moment).

    It could be that current ideas are predictive and there are no new discoveries waiting, and that travel over great distances will be prohibitively expensive or one-way. It could also be that someone finds a clever method of reducing that expense to make the action practical, we just don’t know yet. Wild guesses.

    As to the behavior of aliens, we can’t even predict the behavior of our neighbors, and they’re the same species. The correct answer is the terrifying phrase, “I don’t know.”

    It is kind of interesting seeing how some topics turn otherwise rational people to “questionable” arguments almost instantly.

    If the goal is to avoid divisive, faith-based arguments, the entire topic of life outside of Earth may have to be avoided, because everywhere I’ve seen it discussed, the discussion largely followed this pattern. We’re kind of like people who have yet to discover metalworking trying to design a skyscraper.

  113. D. Patterson says:
    March 7, 2011 at 8:15 am

    The step between amino acids to a prokaryote is like the step between wood and graphite to the Library of Congress. Naturally occuring chemistry has not been shown capable of even making the step of turning amino acids into the simplest of widgets made of protein. This would be analogous to making pen, pencil, and paper out of wood and graphite which is itself still very far removed from developing an alphabet, words, syntax, and then stringing it all together into a meaningful tome.

    I’d at least be a bit more inclined to believe that happened by law & chance alone if every comet in every solar system in the entire milky way were organic chemistry labs cooking up chemical precursors of living things but I’d still find it far less likely than a volcano spitting out a chunk of molten rock that hardened into a perfect replica of the faces of presidents carved into Mount Rushmore.

    Most people have very little inkling of how complex is the basic machinery contained within the simplest known free living organism. Machines don’t just pop up out of nowhere. The very idea is absurd yet it’s widely accepted that it just happened by accident. It’s the biggest argument from ignorance ever conceived – no direct observation of any agency that could have constructed the most complex machinery known to man so it must have been a result of a random dance of atoms, law, and chance. Ignorance cubed. Non sequitur!

  114. Dave Springer says:
    March 8, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    . . . Most people have very little inkling of how complex is the basic machinery contained within the simplest known free living organism. Machines don’t just pop up out of nowhere. . .

    No, but it is also possible that (as Smokey postulated in the other thread), given 92 elements and enough energy (and time), you might inevitably end up with life: there may be an inherent tendency toward organization in the Universe. At this point we just don’t know enough to even begin to answer the question of how (and where) life originated. The only problem I have is with those who would shut off inquiry (and speculation) by pronouncing the question ‘settled’, or even worse, ‘unanswerable’.

    /Mr Lynn

  115. dp says:
    March 6, 2011 at 8:01 pm

    “Seriously – life of this kind would exist for what purpose?”

    According to mainstream ToE (theory of evolution) life doesn’t have a purpose. It simply exists because law and chance happened to cobble it together. Evolution doesn’t plan for the future. That requires a mind capable of abstraction. Evolution is a process of trial and error with feedback (no planning!). The feedback consists of genetic memory where successful trials are recorded and passed along to offspring. The error part is degraded reproductive success. The trials are random recombination (sexual reproduction which randomly mixes alleles from two parents) and random errors in copying DNA. None of these things is able to envisage possible futures and select for them. Evolution is reactive not proactive.

  116. Brian H says:
    March 6, 2011 at 7:12 pm

    re; The Fermi Paradox

    There are a number of unknown factors in the Drake Equation which could explain why we aren’t swimming in aliens. For that matter we may not be native to this planet.

    Anyhow, popular solutions to the Drake Equation you don’t mention relates to the average length of time that civilizations at our technologic level persist. One solution says that they all annihilate themselves before they progress to the point of being able to colonize other solar systems. Another solution supposes that once they reach our level of technology its a short time before they change themselves into something that no longer lives on mudballs like the earth or in bodies made of meat. Either of these possibilities seems reasonable based on our history so far.

  117. Mr Lynn says:
    March 6, 2011 at 5:36 pm

    re; evolution isn’t random

    Mutations are ostensibly random with respect to fitness. Evolution isn’t predictive. Evolution isn’t proactive. Evolution is reactive. It’s a process of trial and error with feedback.

  118. Mr Lynn says:
    March 8, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    “No, but it is also possible that (as Smokey postulated in the other thread), given 92 elements and enough energy (and time), you might inevitably end up with life:”

    Given enough time it isn’t just possible it’s inevitable. A finite number of monkeys banging away randomly in typewriters for an infinite length of time will no just reproduce the works of Shakespeare they’ll reproduce them an infinite number of times with an infinite number of variations.

    The universe isn’t generally considered to be spatially or temporally infinite.

    “there may be an inherent tendency toward organization in the Universe.”

    The hypothetical self-organizing nature is a minority hypothesis called process structuralism. It isn’t popular with the dominant Darwinian lobby and subscribers to it generally get their Friends of Charles Darwin membership card cancelled (along with any hope of publication in mainstream journals or being awarded tenure in any secular university).

    IMO the most interesting reading isn’t what biologists think of evolution but rather what mathmaticians and physicists have to say as these are the go-to guys when it comes to what can be reasonably accomplished by law & chance.

    Theoretical physicists don’t puzzle so much over the probability of self-organization of life. They puzzle over how a finely tuned universe that allows any kind of organization at all to persist came to be by pure happenstance. This is referred to as the “fine tuning problem”.

    Here’s an article I wrote a few years ago commenting on a particularly frank admission from a very prominent physicist (in an unexpected source) about the current thinking with regard to the fine tuning problem:

    http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/after-40-years-of-silence-analog-magazine-finally-tackles-intelligent-design/

    Physicist Carl Frederick writes:

    In the early 1990′s, a creeping realization swept through the theoretical physics community that the probability for the universe to even exist was vanishingly small. Indeed, the only “theory” around that seemed able to explain the universe’s existence was Intelligent Design. This was not something physicists and cosmologists liked to talk about.

    Frederick then quotes Lee Smolen (another prominent theoretical physicist) describing the four possible solutions to the fine tuning problem:

    Which Way Out?

    Lee Smolin considers that there are four solutions to the problem, schemas if you will.

    [below are truncated for brevity -ds]

    1) God tuned the parameters for our benefit.

    2) There are a very large number of universes each of which has random parameters.

    3) There is a “unique mathematically consistent theory of the whole universe”.

    4) The parameters evolve in time – in the Darwinian sense.

    [end truncation -ds]

    A good number of very intelligent people have argued for schemas two, three, and four above. At the moment there is nothing resembling a consensus among physicists.

    I’m quite sure the largest number of very intelligent people argue for schema one but that one is generally excluded by modern fashion from the definition of “science”. I’m not convinced it should be as it seems to be a religious argument that god (or God, or gods) is/are untouchable by science and will forever remain that way. That would seem to depend on the nature of the deity and if that nature is being characterized without evidence to support the characterization then that makes it a religious opinion not a scientific opinion.

  119. Dave Springer says:
    March 8, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    Mutations may be random, but natural selection is not, at least from the perspective of the organism. “Trial and error” can be channeled quite severely.

    /Mr Lynn

  120. Dave Springer says:
    March 8, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    “Given enough time it isn’t just possible it’s inevitable. A finite number of monkeys banging away randomly in typewriters for an infinite length of time . . .

    Since with a little energy and a few elements you can get amino acids, it shouldn’t take so awfully long (by cosmological standards) to generate even more complexity, especially if there were some inherent factors in elementary particles or some substratum that encouraged organization in energetic environments. This alone says nothing about subsequent evolution, though it might, too.

    . . . it seems to be a religious argument that god (or God, or gods) is/are untouchable by science and will forever remain that way. . .

    Cf. Olaf Stapledon, Star Maker (1937):

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Maker

    Ours was but one of his cosmoses.

    /Mr Lynn

  121. Mr. Lynn: “Since with a little energy and a few elements you can get amino acids, it shouldn’t take so awfully long (by cosmological standards) to generate even more complexity, especially if there were some inherent factors in elementary particles or some substratum that encouraged organization in energetic environments.”

    Generating some amino acids is a question of having a small number of the right molecules in close proximity, coming together in a reaction, and I think you are right that there is good evidence that generating many kinds of amino acids is a relatively simple process. Would you propose a similar process for the structures of the first life, such as proteins, DNA/RNA, metabolic pathways, cellular structures? And if so, by what law or process would the amino acids join together to form these more complex structures?

    I’m struggling to understand what “inherent factors in elementary particles” would encourage organization (beyond the known interactions of physics and chemistry). What kinds of factors did you have in mind, and would those factors always be operational, or could they be switched on and off?

  122. Eric Anderson says:
    March 8, 2011 at 7:58 pm
    . . . there is good evidence that generating many kinds of amino acids is a relatively simple process. Would you propose a similar process for the structures of the first life, such as proteins, DNA/RNA, metabolic pathways, cellular structures? And if so, by what law or process would the amino acids join together to form these more complex structures?

    I’m struggling to understand what “inherent factors in elementary particles” would encourage organization (beyond the known interactions of physics and chemistry). What kinds of factors did you have in mind, and would those factors always be operational, or could they be switched on and off?

    I wish I knew. Back in the 19th century, writers used to speculate about a ‘life force’, that somehow infused inanimate matter and gave it the energy of life. We still face a gap (which Dave Springer has described well) between simple organic molecules and the extraordinary organization of the genetic code and even the simplest living entities we know of now. It is a narrower gap, but still large and unbridgeable. So what if there were a ‘built-in’ factor at the most elementary level that, given the right conditions, encouraged the organization of ever-more complex, information-storing molecules?

    Beyond this simplistic science-fiction speculation, I have no idea. Perhaps there is a line of research that could put flesh on this bone, which we could call ‘the missing anti-entropic factor’. I do think it a cop-out to give up and attribute it all to some hypothetical Star Maker—though nothing is impossible, not even that.

    /Mr Lynn

  123. Mr. Longstaff,

    Looking at your original comment, you said, “However (and relating to a point earlier in this thread) material from our own planet could have reached all of these other planets [within 100 ly] within about 70,000 years, and vice versa.”

    Again, this is patently false. The Voyager 1 probe achieved a peak velocity six times greater than Earth escape velocity, and significantly greater than Solar escape velocity, and still won’t go a mere 4.2 light years in less than 73,000 years.

    It is physically impossible for an object from Earth’s surface to be blasted off its surface by the natural impact of another object in solar orbit at sufficiently high velocity to escape the Solar gravity well. The law of conservation of momentum dictates this.

    The only possibility would be if an Earth-originating asteroid were boosted out to the neighborhood of Jupiter, happened to accidentally make the same perfect maneuvers Voyager 1 made to slingshot past Jupiter, gaining velocity from its gravity, from there threading the needle on a similar slingshot past Saturn. The odds of all these events occurring successfully are incredibly unlikely.

  124. Mike Lorrey says: March 9, 2011 at 4:09 am

    Agreed – see my post @ 3.35pm, 6th March: “BTW, I think that my figure of 70kyr was wrong – should have been 700kyr -however this adds nothing to the discussion”.

    The point that I was trying to make is that it is theoretically possible (with slingshots) for planetary ejecta to traverse 100 ly within the timeframe of life on Earth. The point that I hoped others would pick up on was the 100 ly communication limit with an equivalent technology, as I was never certain this was correct (I have since seen claims that the “Arecibo message” in 1974 could be detected over most of the galaxy (given time) – but never the calculation).

  125. Re. my earlier post, “…over most of the galaxy” should have been “over galactic distances”.

  126. Mr Lynn: “I wish I knew. Back in the 19th century, writers used to speculate about a ‘life force’, that somehow infused inanimate matter and gave it the energy of life. We still face a gap (which Dave Springer has described well) between simple organic molecules and the extraordinary organization of the genetic code and even the simplest living entities we know of now. It is a narrower gap, but still large and unbridgeable. So what if there were a ‘built-in’ factor at the most elementary level that, given the right conditions, encouraged the organization of ever-more complex, information-storing molecules?”

    We may view the gap in a slightly different light, but I don’t think it is any smaller now than it was then. Indeed, in many instances, we have a much better appreciation now for just how massive the gap really is. I agree with you that it appears seemingly unbridgeable.

    Incidentally, I’m not sure how the concept of a “built in factor at the most elementary level” differs from the 19th century concept of a “life force.” Seems awfully similar — certainly in the sense that it is little more than a speculation that there is some mysterious as-yet-undiscovered factor responsible for life.

    I’m not taking you to task for not knowing, I’m just trying to see if we can think through the idea a bit to see if it has any legs. What kind of entity/thing could cause the organization of complex, information-specific molecules? Apparently such an entity/thing doesn’t constantly perform its work in all cases under all circumstances, so what kind of switching mechanism turns it on/off?

    “I do think it a cop-out to give up and attribute it all to some hypothetical Star Maker—though nothing is impossible, not even that.”

    I do think it is a cop-out to give up and attribute it all to some hypthetical “built-in factor” of matter that we have no reason to believe exists.

    The 19th century writers certainly didn’t understand the makeup of life too well, but at least their basic observation was correct that life possesses some special property that inanimate matter doesn’t. We now know that that special property is information. So the fundamental question for us now is, where does information come from?

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