Astronomers reveal interstellar thread of one of life’s building blocks

ALMA and Rosetta map the journey of phosphorus


This infographic shows the key results from a study that has revealed the interstellar thread of phosphorus, one of life's building blocks. Thanks to ALMA, astronomers could pinpoint where phosphorus-bearing molecules form in star-forming regions like AFGL 5142. The background of this infographic shows a part of the night sky in the constellation of Auriga, where the star-forming region AFGL 5142 is located. The ALMA image of this object is on the top left of the infographic, and one of the locations where the team found phosphorus-bearing molecules is indicated by a circle. The most common phosphorus-bearing molecule in AFGL 5142 is phosphorus monoxide, represented in orange and red in the diagram on the bottom left. Another molecule found was phosphorus nitride, represented in orange and blue. Using data from the ROSINA instrument onboard ESA's Rosetta, astronomers also found phosphorus monoxide on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, shown on the bottom right. This first sighting of phosphorus monoxide on a comet helps astronomers draw a connection between star-forming regions, where the molecule is created, all the way to Earth, where it played a crucial role in starting life. Credit ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), Rivilla et al.; ESO/L. Calçada; ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM; Mario Weigand,
This infographic shows the key results from a study that has revealed the interstellar thread of phosphorus, one of life’s building blocks. Thanks to ALMA, astronomers could pinpoint where phosphorus-bearing molecules form in star-forming regions like AFGL 5142. The background of this infographic shows a part of the night sky in the constellation of Auriga, where the star-forming region AFGL 5142 is located. The ALMA image of this object is on the top left of the infographic, and one of the locations where the team found phosphorus-bearing molecules is indicated by a circle. The most common phosphorus-bearing molecule in AFGL 5142 is phosphorus monoxide, represented in orange and red in the diagram on the bottom left. Another molecule found was phosphorus nitride, represented in orange and blue. Using data from the ROSINA instrument onboard ESA’s Rosetta, astronomers also found phosphorus monoxide on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, shown on the bottom right. This first sighting of phosphorus monoxide on a comet helps astronomers draw a connection between star-forming regions, where the molecule is created, all the way to Earth, where it played a crucial role in starting life. Credit ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), Rivilla et al.; ESO/L. Calçada; ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM; Mario Weigand,

Phosphorus, present in our DNA and cell membranes, is an essential element for life as we know it. But how it arrived on the early Earth is something of a mystery. Astronomers have now traced the journey of phosphorus from star-forming regions to comets using the combined powers of ALMA and the European Space Agency’s probe Rosetta. Their research shows, for the first time, where molecules containing phosphorus form, how this element is carried in comets, and how a particular molecule may have played a crucial role in starting life on our planet.

“Life appeared on Earth about 4 billion years ago, but we still do not know the processes that made it possible,” says Víctor Rivilla, the lead author of a new study published today in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. The new results from the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA), in which the European Southern Observatory (ESO) is a partner, and from the ROSINA instrument on board Rosetta, show that phosphorus monoxide is a key piece in the origin-of-life puzzle.

With the power of ALMA, which allowed a detailed look into the star-forming region AFGL 5142, astronomers could pinpoint where phosphorus-bearing molecules, like phosphorus monoxide, form. New stars and planetary systems arise in cloud-like regions of gas and dust in between stars, making these interstellar clouds the ideal places to start the search for life’s building blocks.

The ALMA observations showed that phosphorus-bearing molecules are created as massive stars are formed. Flows of gas from young massive stars open up cavities in interstellar clouds. Molecules containing phosphorus form on the cavity walls, through the combined action of shocks and radiation from the infant star. The astronomers have also shown that phosphorus monoxide is the most abundant phosphorus-bearing molecule in the cavity walls.

After searching for this molecule in star-forming regions with ALMA, the European team moved on to a Solar System object: the now-famous comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The idea was to follow the trail of these phosphorus-bearing compounds. If the cavity walls collapse to form a star, particularly a less-massive one like the Sun, phosphorus monoxide can freeze out and get trapped in the icy dust grains that remain around the new star. Even before the star is fully formed, those dust grains come together to form pebbles, rocks and ultimately comets, which become transporters of phosphorus monoxide.

ROSINA, which stands for Rosetta Orbiter Spectrometer for Ion and Neutral Analysis, collected data from 67P for two years as Rosetta orbited the comet. Astronomers had found hints of phosphorus in the ROSINA data before, but they did not know what molecule had carried it there. Kathrin Altwegg, the Principal Investigator for Rosina and an author in the new study, got a clue about what this molecule could be after being approached at a conference by an astronomer studying star-forming regions with ALMA: “She said that phosphorus monoxide would be a very likely candidate, so I went back to our data and there it was!”

This first sighting of phosphorus monoxide on a comet helps astronomers draw a connection between star-forming regions, where the molecule is created, all the way to Earth.

“The combination of the ALMA and ROSINA data has revealed a sort of chemical thread during the whole process of star formation, in which phosphorus monoxide plays the dominant role,” says Rivilla, who is a researcher at the Arcetri Astrophysical Observatory of INAF, Italy’s National Institute for Astrophysics.

“Phosphorus is essential for life as we know it,” adds Altwegg. “As comets most probably delivered large amounts of organic compounds to the Earth, the phosphorus monoxide found in comet 67P may strengthen the link between comets and life on Earth.”

This intriguing journey could be documented because of the collaborative efforts between astronomers. “The detection of phosphorus monoxide was clearly thanks to an interdisciplinary exchange between telescopes on Earth and instruments in space,” says Altwegg.

Leonardo Testi, ESO astronomer and ALMA European Operations Manager, concludes: “Understanding our cosmic origins, including how common the chemical conditions favourable for the emergence of life are, is a major topic of modern astrophysics. While ESO and ALMA focus on the observations of molecules in distant young planetary systems, the direct exploration of the chemical inventory within our Solar System is made possible by ESA missions, like Rosetta. The synergy between world leading ground-based and space facilities, through the collaboration between ESO and ESA, is a powerful asset for European researchers and enables transformational discoveries like the one reported in this paper.”


More information

This research was presented in a paper to appear in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The team is composed of V. M. Rivilla (INAF-Osservatorio Astrofisico di Arcetri, Florence, Italy [INAF-OAA]), M. N. Drozdovskaya (Center for Space and Habitability, University of Bern, Switzerland [CSH]), K. Altwegg (Physikalisches Institut, University of Bern, Switzerland), P. Caselli (Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, Garching, Germany), M. T. Beltrán (INAF-OAA), F. Fontani (INAF-OAA), F.F.S. van der Tak (SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research, and Kapteyn Astronomical Institute, University of Groningen, The Netherlands), R. Cesaroni (INAF-OAA), A. Vasyunin (Ural Federal University, Ekaterinburg, Russia, and Ventspils University of Applied Sciences, Latvia), M. Rubin (CSH), F. Lique (LOMC-UMR, CNRS-Université du Havre), S. Marinakis (University of East London, and Queen Mary University of London, UK), L. Testi (INAF-OAA, ESO Garching, and Excellence Cluster “Universe”, Germany), and the ROSINA team (H. Balsiger, J. J. Berthelier, J. De Keyser, B. Fiethe, S. A. Fuselier, S. Gasc, T. I. Gombosi, T. Sémon, C. -y. Tzou).

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an international astronomy facility, is a partnership of ESO, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) of Japan in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. ALMA is funded by ESO on behalf of its Member States, by NSF in cooperation with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the National Science Council of Taiwan (NSC) and by NINS in cooperation with the Academia Sinica (AS) in Taiwan and the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute (KASI). ALMA construction and operations are led by ESO on behalf of its Member States; by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), managed by Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI), on behalf of North America; and by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) on behalf of East Asia. The Joint ALMA Observatory (JAO) provides the unified leadership and management of the construction, commissioning and operation of ALMA.

ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It has 16 Member States: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile and with Australia as a Strategic Partner. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope and its world-leading Very Large Telescope Interferometer as well as two survey telescopes, VISTA working in the infrared and the visible-light VLT Survey Telescope. Also at Paranal ESO will host and operate the Cherenkov Telescope Array South, the world’s largest and most sensitive gamma-ray observatory. ESO is also a major partner in two facilities on Chajnantor, APEX and ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre Extremely Large Telescope, the ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.



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Ron Long
January 16, 2020 2:51 am

My impression of this paper and its conclusion reinforces my belief that geologists walk around looking down and astronomers walk around looking up. There is not any evidence known to me that life on earth in any way depended on being delivered by a comet. That having been said these observatories are seeing amazing things, but mork is not one of them.

John Tillman
Reply to  Ron Long
January 16, 2020 3:21 am

It’s possible, indeed probable, that most of Earth’s water arrived here by comet, after the crust cooled.

Meteorites deliver the building blocks of life here, amino acids, fatty acids (lipids), sugars and nucleobases. Comets probably carry them too. All those organic compounds also form naturally on Earth as well, however.

Reply to  John Tillman
January 16, 2020 5:53 am

Carbon dioxide is also an important building block that I would add to your list, though it may come from secondary reactions, e.g. water with carbon containing compounds.

John Tillman
Reply to  Scissor
January 16, 2020 7:36 am

CO2 is a feedstock for the more complex compounds I mentioned as building blocks. It’s an essential nutrient for autotrophs such as photosynthesizers.

Ron Long
Reply to  John Tillman
January 16, 2020 10:57 am

Actually I think most of earth water originated as juvenile water, exsolved from cooling magma. Read the Wager and Brown book “Layered Mafic Intrusions” to see crystal fractionation documented. The other components are commonly developed early in earths history. So, I’m still not waiting for Mork.

John Tillman
Reply to  Ron Long
January 16, 2020 2:11 pm

The D/H ratio of Earth’s surface water matches that of asteroids. Cometary water is off by a factor of two to three, depending upon type, so I should have said meteors rather than comets, whose contribution has been only perhaps ten percent, Just one recent paper among many such studies:

The delivery of water by impacts from planetary accretion to present

William Astley
Reply to  John Tillman
January 16, 2020 4:05 pm

The early Earth water problem is due to the belief that the Earth was struck by a Mars sized object roughly 100 million years after its formation.

Prior to the Mars sized impact, the Earth had a Venus like atmosphere.

The Mars size object impact, removed the early Earth’s atmosphere and create the Moon. The earth’s surface has believed to roughly 700C at that time. The high earth temperature would have removed more surface water, lost to space.

The comet theory died, is dead, as the noble gas content of comets is much higher than the earth’s atmosphere. So the current nobel gas content of the earth rules out a late bombardment comets as the source of water.

In addition to the early water problem, there is a current water paradox. Three times more water is being dragged done with the ocean plate as it is pushed under the continents as is coming out via volcanos.

William: This paper explains the early earth water paradox. The Moon rock oxygen content is almost exactly the same as the Earth. This limits the amount of late bombardment material and limits the amount of water that could have come from asteroids.

Most of Earth’s water was likely present before the moon-forming giant impact

Based on an extensive collection of lunar and terrestrial samples, a new study probing the elusive origins of the moon — now typically thought to have formed from a collision between a proto-Earth and a solid impactor — supports theories of a collision with extremely high energy. So high, in fact, that it resulted in nearly complete mixing of materials between the impactor and proto-Earth.

Based on an extensive collection of lunar and terrestrial samples, a new study probing the elusive origins of the Moon — now typically thought to have formed from a collision between a proto-Earth and a solid impactor — supports theories of a collision with extremely high energy. So high, in fact, that it resulted in nearly complete mixing of materials between the impactor and proto-Earth. Critically, the study further suggests that most of Earth’s water was delivered before the Moon-forming impact, and not later, as often proposed.

Reply to  William Astley
January 17, 2020 12:43 am

A Mars size object hit the earth and formed the moon?
Examine the evidence in front of your eyes. The reason the materials on the moon and the earth are identical is that the moon had a glancing blow with the earth and was captured by earth’s gravity. 2 miles of the lunar surface facing the earth is missing, exposing the lunar core. Nearly the same amount of mass that makes up the drifting continents on earth. Material deposited on top of earths early atmosphere of carbon dioxide. (“life” produced free oxygen and the carbon became calcium carbonate/lime stone which makes up 10% of the surface of the earth) Lime stone is fossils, and the lunar collision deposited so much material on top of it that the heat and pressure created oil. Fossil fuel. It also created temperatures that surpass a supernova! It is the reason there are heavy elements in the crust of the earth where we have access to them. (We’re not made of star stuff, but moon stuff)
Haven’t you ever wondered why the scorch marks on the moon, obsidian/basalt seas, which are larger than the American continent in size, has no shield volcano? In the low gravity of the moon, there should be a volcano that rivals Mount Olympus on Mars. There’s virtually no volcanoes of any size whatsoever!
As for the source of water, every time you see the aurora borealis you are witnessing the conversion of solar hydrogen gases reacting with oxygen, burning in our atmosphere creating water as a byproduct. In a billion years, earth will be Waterworld.
I think it was 2004? When the “perfect solar storm”, A coronal mass ejection overtook another coronal mass ejection and hit the earth at the same time creating a spectacular aurora display in both hemispheres. Billions of tons of methane and ammonia burning green and blue in the upper atmosphere resulting in carbon dioxide levels exceeding 400 ppm in the arctic for the first time ever recorded.

Reply to  Ron Long
January 16, 2020 7:55 am

“Stuff” from the rest of our solar system and beyond has been, is and will continue to arrive on this planet. What ever it brings it adds to the mix. Whatever gave anybody the impression that our planet’s accretion is static. It is just very, very slow.
Most peoples time frames and scales of reference are far too limited to comprehend both infinite and infinitesimal beyond their own familiarity and trice of an existence.
Our perceptions of the universe are by necessity born from our perceptions of our planet. We see how rain and seeds are spread by the wind to previous barren soils and we extend the hypothesis to the stars. “If it could happen here, what mechanisms would allow it to happen there?”

John Tillman
January 16, 2020 3:15 am

Phosphate groups, ie compounds of P and O, connect the nucleotides in RNA and DNA. Phospholipids form the bilayers of cell membranes.

The article fails however to mention adenosine triphosphate, ie ATP, the energy currency of cells, and its relatives ADP and cAMP, ie adenosine diphosphate and cyclic adenosine monophosphate. Adenosine is a nucleoside, composed of the purine nucleobase adenine and the five-carbon sugar ribose, one of the constituents of the nucleic acids DNA and RNA, which use four other nucleobases in the genetic code.

Adenine self-assembles easily from hydrogen cyanide, HCN. Phosphate is much less common in the universe than hydrogen, carbon, oxygen and nitrogen, yet essential to life as we know it.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
January 16, 2020 5:07 am

PS: A nucleoside is a nucleobase attached to a sugar. A nucleotide is a nucleoside attached to a phosphate group. A nucleic acid, such as DNA and RNA, is a chain of nucleotides linked by shared phosphate groups.

The sugar in RNA is ribose, and in DNA deoxyribose, which, as its name suggests, lacks one oxygen atom.

The nucleobases are the purines adenine and guanine and the pyrimidines cytosine, thymine (in DNA) and uracil (in RNA). Nucleotide triplets code for the 20 amino acids which bond together into proteins.

January 16, 2020 3:32 am

Seems to me that phosphorous is a normal element during star formation, and the latter process of earth agglomeration.

John Tillman
Reply to  Krishna Gans
January 16, 2020 4:05 am

As noted, however, P is much less abundant than H, C, O, N and many other elements important to life.

Reply to  John Tillman
January 16, 2020 5:59 am

What do we know, hand how good do we know about the components near earth’s crust or just below it ?

John Tillman
Reply to  Krishna Gans
January 16, 2020 7:41 am

The crust and upper mantle are well sampled. Phosphorus minerals are a minor component of both, found in igneous and metamorphic rocks.

Reply to  John Tillman
January 16, 2020 8:32 am

Here we show, both from experiments that simulate magmatic conditions and from analysis of volatile condensates in volcanic gas, that volcanic activity can produce water-soluble polyphosphates through partial hydrolysis of P4O10. This mechanism seems to be the only viable route identified so far for the production of these species on the primitive Earth.

Endophytic bacteria can promote plant growth by helping the plant acquire nutrients including through phosphate solubilization19,20. Phosphate solubilizing microorganisms (PSM) can solubilize P through the acidification of the rhizosphere4,21,22 or through increasing root surface area for nutrient uptake4 by promoting the growth of roots and root hairs23,24.

Reply to  John Tillman
January 16, 2020 7:00 am

You find phosphorus in different composition in vulcanoes, f.e.

Michael S. Kelly
Reply to  John Tillman
January 16, 2020 8:06 pm

Phosphorus is the 12th most abundant element on earth, and it isn’t far behind carbon.

John Tillman
Reply to  Michael S. Kelly
January 17, 2020 6:17 am

P is the 11th, ahead of C, but still a tiny fraction of O, the most abundant element by mass in Earth’s crust.

The low occurrence of C in the crust isn’t a problem for life, which gets its carbon from the air and seawater.

January 16, 2020 3:45 am

I wonder if ALMA is testing this :
On the nucleosynthesis of phosphorus in massive stars
The nucleosynthesis of 31P in stars of 30 M⊙ model with solar metallicity is investigated using the MESA (Modules for Experiments in Stellar Astrophysics) stellar evolution code. Mass loss mechanisms are included in the evolution of the star with no rotation. The mass loss mechanism used is one constructed by MESA. The paper is divided into two parts. The first part deals with the investigations of the main reactions involved in the production and destruction of 31P. The site for the nucleosynthesis of 31P is also suggested. In the second part of the paper we compare the results of our production of 31P to other papers whenever possible and discuss the need to add new reactions to the network. We also explore the possible mechanisms for the distribution of 31P to the galaxy.

Or this :
Chemical evolution of the Milky Way: the origin of phosphorus
“We conclude that the entire available yields of P from massive stars are largely underestimated and that nucleosynthesis calculations should be revised. ”

Something is afoot with nucleosynthesis. ALMA to the rescue!

January 16, 2020 4:09 am

Funny that thw writer didn’t mention the name of the woman who gave him the idea.

James F. Evans
January 16, 2020 4:40 am

This is speculation, based on assumptions.

There is a crisis in astronomy.

This is only one example of the ongoing crisis… a paradigm shift has to come for astronomy to advance beyond the early assumptions of the 20th century.

James F. Evans
Reply to  James F. Evans
January 16, 2020 5:58 am

To clarify: the idea that the formation of elements via transmutation only happens in stars and more specifically only in particular star groups (this paper”s hypothesis) is contradicted by scientific experiments conducted by the Safire Project supported by the International Science Foundation where transmutation of elements was detected & confirmed.

John Tillman
Reply to  James F. Evans
January 16, 2020 1:56 pm

The “electric universe Safire Project” contradicts nothing since it has shown nothing, except the gullibility of donors.

James F. Evans
Reply to  John Tillman
January 17, 2020 6:32 am

No sir, the results have been independently confirmed. Your comment suggests you have little or no interest in actual scientific experiments with real observations & measurements of physical events. These experiments can be replicated & adjusted for various physical conditions.

Perhaps, you prefer abstract mathematical hypothesis which often lead to erroneous assumptions.

Haven’t we seen enough of that in the climate debate?

John Tillman
Reply to  James F. Evans
January 17, 2020 6:49 am

No, they haven’t.

I go by the scientific method. Electric universe shills reject it.

If you imagine that these charlatans have demonstrated something, please link to the papers presenting such results here.


John Tillman
Reply to  James F. Evans
January 16, 2020 2:01 pm

Cosmic ray spallation is an observation, not an hypothesis.

Stellar nucleosynthesis is an hypothesis repeatedly confirmed by making predictions found valid.

The “electric universe”, on the contrary, has no support and all the evidence in the observable, testable universe against it.

James F. Evans
Reply to  John Tillman
January 17, 2020 7:23 am

Tillman:”Stellar nucleosynthesis is an hypothesis repeatedly confirmed by making predictions found valid.”

Plasma cosmology does not dispute that elements are formed by stars via transmutation. What the Safire Project demonstrates is a physical process for transmutation that can be replicated in laboratory experiments.

Electromagnetism is scale independent to at least 17 orders of magnitude which why laboratory experiments can ad to our understanding of cosmology.

Tillman: “The “electric universe”, on the contrary, has no support and all the evidence in the observable, testable universe against it.”

Actually, what we are able to observe by telescopes, both visual and other electromagnetic wave ranges, are consistent with plasma cosmology.

“all the evidence” Patently false.

Magnetic fields are observed & measured throughout the Milky way galaxy and the observable universe. You can’t have magnetic fields without electric fields. That is an accepted scientific fact.

Your comment seems closed-minded as demonstrated by its absolute terms of denial.

Given your expressed attitude, I question whether you know anything about the Safire project experiment or its results.

James F. Evans
Reply to  John Tillman
January 17, 2020 8:08 am

Tillman, per your request.

If you wish, review it and state any specific objections to their methodology results & conclusions.

General ad hominems don’t advance a reasonable discussion.

James F. Evans
Reply to  James F. Evans
January 17, 2020 8:23 am

Sorry, the link to the Safire Project 2019 Update didn’t go through, but it’s not hard to look it up on Google.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
January 20, 2020 5:22 pm

No ad hominem.

Only ad no evidence whatsoever.

Reply to  James F. Evans
January 16, 2020 6:00 am

There is a crisis in science generally.

Physicists today can happily make career by writing papers about things no one has ever observed, and never will observe. This continues to go on because there is nothing and no one that can stop it. example

Physics has been stalled out since the 1970s.

Justin Burch
Reply to  commieBob
January 16, 2020 6:48 am

The same can be said of astrobiology. (The study of life beyond our planet.)

Luther Bl't
Reply to  commieBob
January 16, 2020 12:01 pm

“Physicists today can happily make career by writing papers about things no one has ever observed, and never will observe….”

Those are not mere things, they are hefalumps. (As presented in the books by A.A. Milne, not the Disney animations). A career in hefalumpology beckons surely for those who succeed in believing six impossible things before breakfast.

January 16, 2020 5:16 am

Some folks think we are literally stardust. link They believe that many elements essential for human life originated in exploding stars. Given the vast distances in interstellar space I’m somewhat skeptical. I’d look closer to home for the source of these elements.

Dodgy Geezer
Reply to  commieBob
January 16, 2020 8:05 am

You need a lot of energy for matter creation. Do you know ANYWHERE in the universe where matter is created in decent quantities apart from stars?

Reply to  Dodgy Geezer
January 17, 2020 2:51 pm

The sun is a star.

Craig Rogers
January 16, 2020 5:27 am

People cant see the forest through the trees..

You are looking with the wrong viewpoint.

All this jibber jabber you are trying to prove that the staggering amount of coincidences happened by chance which were all needed to be there to make life spontaneously happen.
In every occurrence of true observable science, Life comes from Life!
So why is it Scientists will all their super computers and chemicals at their disposal cannot create life?
Evolution is a Satanic Lie, period. Use common sense and your eyes and look around and be amazed and thank the Creator for giving us so much to enjoy life. The Bible tells us the Creator is alive and is going to fix this mess very soon on earth that his enemy, Satan and the demons, along with wicked human pawns will be done away with. The Bible explains why God has allowed this to occur.

In 1007 languages.

Pat Frank
Reply to  Craig Rogers
January 16, 2020 5:46 pm

Leaving out natural selection does not improve your argument, Craig.

Some years ago I co-authored a book chapter on chemical biogenesis with Bill Bonner and Dick Zare: “On One Hand But Not The Other (5.8 MB pdf).

In it we proposed that the chemical events leading to the emergence of life happened in the interconnected pores and galleries on the top layers of basaltic reefs awash close to near-surface hydrothermal vents.

The early Earth had an abundance of such places. Hydrothermal vents are rich in ferrous iron as well as the organics and sulfurous chemicals native to life.

In this system, natural chemical experimentation can happen in a massively parallel way. Material transfers from pore to pore can occur through the connecting galleries. These spaces amount to a set of many millions of inter-communicating chemical reactors, in each reef.

Spontaneous selection among the random chemicals produced in those pores can facilitate the eventual dominance of any randomly-produced self-reproducing polymer.

Experiments have already shown that such conditions produce complex materials, including polymers and lipids that spontaneously form cell-like vesicles.

All the way back in the 1970’s Manfred Eigen derived the theory and equations for the self-organization of complex self-reproducing polymers.

Spontaneous symmetry-breaking is already known, making the origin of biological chirality no longer a deep mystery.

Most of the basic chemical mystery is solved. The only question is to find a viable mechanism and pathway to life. I don’t doubt that future ambitious experiments, capitalizing on the technology of automated small-scale parallel reactors and product analysis, will eventually turn up an effective pathway.

Historical contingency says we’ll never know the exact trail from chemicals to life on Earth. But very likely we will eventually know at least one demonstrable possibility.

In short, Craig, you’re wrong about evolution. And your religion is non-demonstrable.

John Tillman
Reply to  Pat Frank
January 17, 2020 6:46 am

Sadly, it’s you who are sorely mistaken.

Natural processes not only can do that but have done so for four billion years on Earth.

The first protocell might have had a single gene, possibly encoded by an RNA strand of barely polymer length.

The shortest functional protein encoded today is only three amino acids long, which requires just nine nucleobases to encode, plus start and stop codons, for a total of 15. That’s not much longer than RNA oligomers observed to form naturally.

The first encoded protein, which may have served both a cellular structural and enzymatic function, was probably longer than three amino acids however. It would have needed to be long enough to fold into a useful shape. Maybe 15 amino acids, rather than the hundreds in typical modern proteins.

Conventionally, proteins containing under 40 amino acids are called peptides. Even today, life enjoys the services of many such peptides.

You fail to appreciate the power of evolutionary processes to develop complexity from simple origins.

Reply to  Pat Frank
January 17, 2020 9:29 am

That Man has continued to fail at achieving something deliberately, with all his acquired knowledge, that which nature did randomly by accident, is very troubling to me. There is no problem of scale, like creating stars and planets, that would render creation of life in the laboratory intrinsically impossible, except for time.

But research indicates that life began early-on in Earth’s history, likely in a harsh environment, which makes the failure of our efforts even more inexplicable.

I have doubts about the spontaneous creation of life. But ascribing religion or other sources of ‘intelligent design’, is also unsatisfying. Where/how would that have been created?

I suspect there is an unknown unknown in the universe wrt creation of life – a much bigger picture.

As far as the observed ‘building blocks’, I have seen the aftermath of rockslides that took out a few trees. The rubble was a mess of rocks, boulders. and tree limbs; the building blocks of a Tudor house. But that’s pretty much as far as it went.

Craig Rogers
January 16, 2020 5:35 am

Here are some testimonies from Scientists from around the world who explain why they disagree with evolution.

Reply to  Craig Rogers
January 16, 2020 6:19 am

Be happy that evolution exists, because else you coudn’t write here… 😀

Craig Rogers
Reply to  Krishna Gans
January 16, 2020 6:39 am

Me writing here happened by chance!

Smart Rock
Reply to  Craig Rogers
January 16, 2020 9:10 am

Krishna is right. If it wasn’t for evolution, you would be a one-cell organism, and you would have a hard time using your keyboard and mouse. Or even seeing your monitor.

You may wish to debate the mechanisms that drive evolution, but to deny it is to totally ignore 250 years worth of geological studies that have helped us to understand a lot (but not everything) about the earth’s history.

As to the mechanics behind evolution, no one can fail to be aware of how selective breeding has led to the evolution of strains of animals and plants that are quite different from their natural ancestors. Speciation hasn’t happened yet AFAIK, but it’s probably not far off. Having seen artificial selection happening, it is hard to imagine how natural selection wouldn’t occur in response to changes in the ecosystem. This simple logical step is a crucial piece of the thinking that led Darwin to his theory of natural selection.

Darwin lived in what you might call the golden age of geology, when the educated public was first becoming aware of the length and diversity of the earth’s history, and the astonishing variety of life forms that have come and gone through that history. Evolution was an undeniable fact to Darwin; he just figured out its most important mechanism. And if he hadn’t figured it out, Wallace was right behind him, and if neither of them had got it, someone else would, it’s really that obvious now in retrospect.

Now we know about DNA, and genetic drift, and opportunistic DNA splicing by microbes, and even epigenetics. Which all makes the mechanics of evolution more complex than it was before, but in no way makes denial of evolution a viable option for anyone capable of logical thought.

Reply to  Craig Rogers
January 16, 2020 9:32 am

Me writing here happened by chance!
That’s bad luck for most here 😀

Reply to  Krishna Gans
January 18, 2020 2:48 am

One has to cope with delusional nutters every day.

John Tillman
Reply to  Craig Rogers
January 16, 2020 2:24 pm

Evolution is a fact, observed every day in every way, everywhere in the natural world.

Reply to  Craig Rogers
January 17, 2020 6:53 am

Craig, biology is a difficult subject. Evolution is part of biology. Evolution is a series of genetic mutations that sometimes result in new life forms, beneficial or otherwise.

And in regard to how Earth was formed:
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. – Well, there’s always a starting point, isn’t there? All solar systems, including our own, start as massive gas clouds.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. – Perfect description of formation of a solar system.
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. – Perfect description of a new star leaving a star nursery, trailing behind it a gas cloud as if it were an umbilical. Plenty of photos available of this kind of thing.
And God saw the light, and it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. – Solar system sorts itself out into planetary bodies and becomes a coherent, balanced system. There are also photos of THIS kind of thing going on, if you bother to look. I suspect now that you believe in a Flat Earth and that planets like Mars, Jupiter and all the other outer planets are just made up out of whole cloth.

There is NO timeframe for any of this mentioned anywhere in Genesis, therefore, when you dispute science, you are showing a willing refusal to acknowledge hard evidence. So, where in this, Craig, is Genesis disputing Science????? Where? I’ll happily wait for your response, but I don’t think you have one. Sad.

John Tillman
Reply to  Sara
January 20, 2020 5:26 pm


The two irreconcilably contradictory creation myths in Genesis 1 and 2 differ from reality in every single detail, all the more remarkably because they also differ from each other.

Reply to  Craig Rogers
January 16, 2020 10:53 am

The biological evidence for adaptation and evolution in living organisms is pretty overwhelming. There are some big gaps, of course, but disputing that evolution happens is unfruitful.

How life got started in the first place, however, requires a leap of faith. No one can explain how the first prokaryotic of eukaryotic organisms appeared on Earth. It’s a big jump from the inanimate chemical “building blocks of life” to even the simplest unicellular organism that reproduces itself. Either it was a serendipitous accident of chemistry under extremely specific conditions (which no one has explained, much less duplicated) or it was done on purpose by an outside influence, part of an “intelligent design”. Or a parthenogenic tardigrade hitchhiked on a comet or asteroid from another solar system, survived radiation and the vacuum and cold of interstellar space for millions of years and the searing heat of entry to Earth’s atmosphere to initiate biology on our planet. You decide.

John Tillman
Reply to  stinkerp
January 16, 2020 2:20 pm

Eukaryotic evolution is pretty well understood.

How prokaryotes could have evolved from protocells has been demonstrated.

The trick is generating protocells, which requires abiotic or prebiotic enzymes to catalyze polymerization of RNA, oligomers of which form spontaneously under a variety of conditions, to include in water pockets between ice crystals, on mineral substrates and in wet and dry cycles in volcanic ponds.

There are basically two main schools of origin of life thought and experiment, ie metabolism first around alkyline marine vents (see Youtube video lectures by Nick Lane) and replication first in volcanic pools on land (see same by Jack Szostak, et al.).

The two schools are fusing, as the recognition has dawned that abiogenesis occurred in a system of organic chemical compounds, not with nucleic and amino acids in isolation. This specialization among biochemists and biologists retarded progress in OoL research.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
January 16, 2020 3:08 pm

On the endosymbiosis by an Asgard archaean of an alphaproteobacterium to form the first eukaryote, which momentous event apparently happened only once, some 2 Ga:

Four hypotheses hope to explain the origin of the eukaryotic nucleus, but it looks more and more as if a megavirus were involved.

That would make us eukaryotes a combo of virus, archaean and bacterium. What are the odds of that happening? Easy to see why astrobiologists increasingly think that complex multicellular life must be rare in our galaxy. We might be alone, even if, as is likely, microbes be common.

John Tillman
Reply to  Craig Rogers
January 16, 2020 2:22 pm

Please not the total lack of scientists who are actually working on the origin of life.

Those on your list commit the fallacy of argument from ignorance.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
January 16, 2020 2:39 pm

“Note” for “not”.

January 16, 2020 6:22 am

It will be very interesting when (if) the Webb telescope gets launched and starts sending back the next generation of photos and data. Hubble was launched way back in 1990 and had one upgrade, but its optics are primitive compared to even the current cellphones.

Maybe one advantage of having Webb sitting on the ground for so long is being able to incorporate updated sensors and tweak a few things based on what we know now versus what we knew when it was originally designed. The one big issue with Webb is we only have one shot to get it into space and operational. It will be parked way out there and like all the other satellites above low earth orbit, on its own.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  rbabcock
January 16, 2020 8:19 am

“The one big issue with Webb is we only have one shot to get it into space and operational. It will be parked way out there and like all the other satellites above low earth orbit, on its own.”

NASA needs to develop an orbital transfer vehicle. With such a vehicle, astronauts could go visit the Webb telecope if it needed fixing.

And a lot more uses for an orbital transfer vehicle will develop as humans expand into the Earth/Moon system.

Christopher Paino
January 16, 2020 6:51 am

I find the term “only happens” always dubious in the context of the natural universe.

January 16, 2020 7:42 am

Interesting stuff. Not missing ‘building blocks’ required for life is the main problem however . We’ve got abundance of such building blocks currently on Earth plus obviously in any chemical lab. How those building blocks organised themselves (or were organised) into a configuration which begets life is the crucial question. Some say that though life obviously uses chemistry it cannot be simply reduced to it.

John Tillman
Reply to  Paramenter
January 16, 2020 2:35 pm

Life is chemistry. Nothing else is needed. It’s probably inevitable under the right conditions, but there is disagreement on that point.

American-French biochemist and Nobel Laureate Jacques Monod, in “Chance and Necessity” (1971), argued that the emergence of life is highly improbable. His fellow Francophone, English-Belgian cytologist and Nobel Laureate Christian de Duve, plead in “Vital Dust: Life as a Cosmic Imperative” (1996) au contraire that life is inevitable.

I’m with de Duve. Life science has progressed a lot since 1971, when I was a human biology undergrad.

Reply to  John Tillman
January 17, 2020 3:43 am

Life is chemistry. Nothing else is needed.

Not sure about that. We don’t observe life spontaneously arising from organic components. We cannot assemble even a simplest cell using most advanced technologies and analytical tools. so, I would say something else is needed indeed though I appreciate there may be different answers what exactly is needed.

John Tillman
Reply to  Paramenter
January 17, 2020 6:28 am

It’s not possible for life to arise spontaneously on today’s Earth. The conditions are radically different from those of four billion years ago. Furthermore, any prebiotic organic compounds on the path to life are now promptly consumed by hungry organisms.

Only recently have a few labs around the world been working on the problems of protocell self-assembly. Alkaline deep sea vents, a prime candidate for life incubator, were not discovered until this century, although predicted in the last.

Reply to  John Tillman
January 17, 2020 1:21 pm

It’s not possible for life to arise spontaneously on today’s Earth.

Take sterile Eppendorf tube with a small amount of buffer with a right temperature and PH. Place into it a living cell and puncture it so the content leaks into the buffer. You’ve got now all ‘basic blocks of life’ required to make a living cell. Moreover, you’ve got also fully assembled molecules as DNA, RNA and proteins. You’ve got them in one place, in right proportions, under right conditions and without any interfering substances. Yet there is no known in the Universe force that can put back all those units into living cell. No matter how long you wait or whatever you do given present technology and knowledge. That’s the experiment sometimes called Humpty-Dumpty. Once is done all the king’s horses and all the king’s men cannot put it back again. Null, nothing, nada de nada. And there is no experimental or theoretical evidence that any naturalistic, unguided process can ever put Hupmty-Dumpty again.

Chemistry provides medium for life but looks like life cannot be reduced to it in similar manner as computer hard drive cannot generate any coding system it conveys. Suggesting otherwise is like suggesting that ink and paper have the power to organise themselves into pages of meaningful text. They don’t have such powers.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
January 18, 2020 1:04 pm

OoL research aims to find the prebiotic conditions which will catalyze the biochemical reactions of life.

I wonder at just which stages in abiogenetic chemical evolution you suppose that supernatural intervention was required.

That amino acids spontaneously form peptides is a fact. That RNA oligomers self-assemble under various conditions has also been repeatedly observed. Lipid vesicles readily form in aqueous solution. So when exactly does the magic come into play?

Is it when RNA oligomers polymerize into long chains? Or when these strands have replicated and need to pull apart? Or is it the origin of the genetic code, with five nucleobases coding 20 amino acids?

Do these chemical reactions appear impossible to you without divine intervention, or are they instead subject to scientific investigation?

Reply to  John Tillman
January 17, 2020 4:52 am

John, your view lacks the essential role of complex, function-specifying information in all of life and biology. It is very dated, as in 1970s dated. Your arguments from authority are both false and contrary to logic, and sound exactly like the worst of the global warming arguments trying to shame deniers in order to prop up a falsified ideology. As such, they are the ultimate irony on this skeptic friendly site.

John Tillman
Reply to  Dean_from_Ohio
January 17, 2020 6:55 am

I make no arguments from authority. I cite repeatable experiments.

Your baseless claims about Pointless arithmetic ignore the reality of how biology works.

Every discovery since 1970 has strengthened the case for abiogenesis. We know a lot more Now about how life could have started than when I was an undergrad.

You really ought to study origin of life research before commenting on it.

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  John Tillman
January 17, 2020 2:56 pm

“Enjoy the delusion while it lasts. It won’t last long.”

Saying “God did it” is the lazy way out. It explains nothing.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
January 18, 2020 1:08 pm


No, I’m not kidding.

You’ve bought into the mendacity of paid liar creationist shills. Their idiotic arithmetic assumes a complete breakup of DNA into its base pairs at every generation, which of course is implies either a bold-faced lie or profound ignorance of the most elementary biology.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
January 20, 2020 1:54 pm


I’m not misinterpreting anything.

You keep citing paid liars who either know better and lie anyway, or are willfully ignorant. Either way, they blaspheme God.

As I’ve already pointed out, there is no arithmetic argument to be made. The human genome, for example, consists of 2.9 billion base pairs, but we are born with on average only four mutations. We accumulate more during our lives, but most of them aren’t in sperm and egg cells lines.

The vast majority of genomes are passed on intact as from the parental generation. Why is this simple fact so hard for creationists to grasp?

Our most distant ancestors had a single gene, or at most a few. Even if their number doubled only once every 200 million years, you get to the human level (19,000 or fewer) in less than three billion years, ie about 1.0 Ga.

There is an amoeba with a gigantic genome of 670 billion bp. How many actual genes, ie protein-coding sequences, this protozoan has, I don’t know.

The largest number of genes yet discovered, about 31,000, belongs to the near-microscopic freshwater crustacean Daphnia pulex, or water flea. This finding might be outdated. The estimate of H. sapiens genes started out around 30,000 but keeps shrinking. Same might have happened to D. pulex.

John Tillman
Reply to  Dean_from_Ohio
January 20, 2020 2:05 pm


Since AD 1543, the start of the Scientific Revolution, our understanding of the universe and ability to use such to improve life have advanced against biblical authority and other ancient sources of error.

Why then are you so invested in believing that scientists can’t solve the chemistry problem of abiogenesis?

As the Venerable Cesare Cardinal Baronio said to Galileo, “The Bible teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go”.

His older contemporary Protestant theologian John Calvin agreed.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
January 21, 2020 10:07 am

There is no such thing as “methodological naturalism”. The point of science is to explain the world in purely natural terms, without recourse to supernatural explanations. That’s what scientists on your tendentious list did.

To what extent any of them might have been motivated theologically is entirely beside the point. The scientific method requires purely natural explanations, regardless of scientists’ religious beliefs.

I would have thought the distinction obvious. Copernicus and Vesalius overthrew ancient authority, of Aristotle, Ptolemy, the Bible and Church in Copernicus’ case, and of Galen in Vesalius’. Science has continued to advance by further rejecting any authority or explanation of natural phenomena not based upon observation, hypothesis, prediction and test by falsifiable experiment or further observation.

John Tillman
Reply to  Paramenter
January 16, 2020 3:46 pm

Vitalism has been pretty thoroughly debunked and redebunked:

January 16, 2020 8:09 am

One interesting thing about this paper is that it reinforces the theory that 67P/CG formed in the Kuiper Belt before being thrown inward to become a Jupiter Family Comet. This is fairly uncontroversial. However, since the Rosetta mission scientists believe 67P’s two lobes are the result of a gentle merger of two independent cometessimals (Massironi et al. 2015) it presents a problem. It’s called “The Collisional Problem.

If the two lobes merged gently, it had to be in the very early stages of the formation of the solar system when orbits of Kuiper Belt objects (and therefore the two constituent) lobes were circular and concentric. This is the only way they could have merged at collision speeds slow enough not to annihilate each other on impact. (Even these speeds, around 40m/sec are incompatible with Massironi et al’s stated “bicycle speeds” which in turn are 10x faster than the computer sim they used showing a merger at 0.3 m/sec.

Even if you accept the above ~40m/sec speed for a merger without self-destruction, the resulting 2-lobes comet then had to survive 4.5 Gyr without any further collision in order to preserve that two-lobes shape that’s deemed to be pristine and unaltered since.

Astronomers have therefore put themselves through all manner of contortions to explain how 67P could survive without another collision. It involves almost rewriting the Nice Model to eviscerate the proto-solar disk, at Kuiper Belt distances, of most of the material we’d thought it contained (less material= fewer collisions). This then allows 67P to run the gauntlet of the Kuiper Belt shooting gallery for 4.5Gyr.

But the clue to the two-lobed shape of 67P and therefore the slow initial merger of the two cometessimals is that Massironi et al describes such supernatural-slow merger speeds. This implies the “two cometessimals” had almost identical circular orbits and were also in exactly the same place in those orbits to merge (within 2km on a ~12 billion km orbit). Turning this on its head, the “two cometessimals” were always in the same orbit, i.e. one body that split (via spin-up) to become a bilobe. This is known as stretch theory i.e. the comet stretching into an ellipsoid, then herniating the head lobe that rises in a stretching neck.

I have established, along with @MarcoParigi1 that this is indeed the case, by identifying matches between 67P’s head lobe and body lobe. I’ve had email conversations with Rosetta scientists who are impressed with our work but nevertheless refuse even to investigate stretch theory. Massironi’s paper is used as a repudiation of stretch when it in fact supports it.

I’m quite certain comet researchers will come round to stretch theory in due course. They’re completely stumped by the morphology of 67P which is explained elegantly by stretch.

Meanwhile, I’ve done 100 blog posts completely explaining the morphology of the comet when looked at through the lens of stretch. Here’s one describing matches between head and body:

Joel O’Bryan
Reply to  Scute
January 16, 2020 9:37 am

Nice work. This is not anything I have ever studied, but cursory readings of the bilo e structure always seemed contrary to a collisional mechanism. It’s literally a shooting gallery “out there” of high relative velocities of even similar objects in similar orbits.

Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
January 16, 2020 3:49 pm

Thanks! And you’re absolutely right about the cursory look at the bilobe not supporting collision. One big red flag is that the flat underside of the head lobe is directly facing the body lobe. The chances of that are minimal- and if they co orbited for a while after collision (likely) the head would have turned its curved part towards the body before merging. It’s currently facing away.

And why is the flat underside facing the body? Because it sheared from the similarly flat section of body directly below it and dragged the neck out as it rose.

Reply to  Scute
January 16, 2020 4:02 pm

“Supernatural-slow” = super-slow! Predictive text going mad.

FYI Anthony:

And various missing brackets- sorry. This is because of typing into the comment box on an IPhone. It’s not very user friendly, for instance, the right hand side of the box kept going off-screen while typing so I had to keep scrolling right-left-right to check what I’d typed. I must’ve missed a couple of things in the process plus it absorbs brain power when so restricted. Once it’s posted you can read it all really easily- and see all the mistakes- by which time it’s too late.

Also up/down scrolling while typing is dodgy. Sometimes works, sometimes scrolls the entire page with box instead of text within the box!

Funnily enough, the left-right thing didn’t happen for this comment (up down did though). I tried everything the last time and had to live with it while typing.

January 16, 2020 10:13 am

It could be from that newly discovered galaxy at 100 lightyears distance.

Reply to  Hans Erren
January 16, 2020 3:53 pm

That galaxy is our own Milky Way, diameter 150 000-200 000 light-years.

Reply to  Teerhuis
January 16, 2020 10:05 pm

You don’t get jt.

Jon's Reality Dysfunction
Reply to  Hans Erren
January 20, 2020 10:39 am

Yes, we don’t. Can you explain it to us then, please? I haven’t seen any articles about a newly discovered galaxy *that* close to the Milkyway. So, according to many articles, this system is located 100 light-years away in the southern constellation of Dorado. Now, looking at a constellation for galactic location reference doesn’t really give you proper depth and distance.

I’ve read that the Dorado system is in the LMC: The Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) is an irregular galaxy located in the constellations Dorado and Mensa. It is a satellite galaxy to the Milky Way, and the third closest galaxy to ours, after the Sagittarius Dwarf Spheroidal Galaxy in Sagittarius constellation and Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy in Canis Major. This last one is 25,000 light years from the Solar system.

LMC is over 160,000 light years away and 14,000 light years in diameter. So, how can it possibly be in the Dorado constellation unless it’s merely ‘in front of’ the more distant LMC?

Smart Rock
January 16, 2020 10:22 am

The posting is a nice piece of astronomical study (and a bit outside of my rock-bound area of ability to comprehend), but the news article tries – too hard – to make it an answer to a long-standing question. That’s what press release writers are paid to do, so no real surprise there; but it doesn’t mean it’s a true statement.

All 92 natural elements are present in the earth. How any one of them arrived is not a question that anyone has been asking. But how they all arrived, in the proportions that they did, is a valid – and active – field of study.

The most primitive rocks on earth, in the mantle, contain about 0.01% P on average, and crustal rocks have much more than that. So when god decided it was time to start making ATP, she didn’t have to go halfway across the galaxy to find a ready source of it. And the great majority of phosphorus in rocks is in the form of apatite, which is calcium (hydroxy-, fluoro-, chloro-) phosphate. It’s what makes up our bones and teeth. The phosphorus is readily available; apatite breaks down in aqueous environments (just look at my teeth). Fluorapatite breaks down more slowly than hydroxyapatite, which is why we have fluorides added to municipal water supply. And it works, despite all efforts of the science-deniers who managed to get Calgary to stop it.

Phil L Salmon
January 16, 2020 12:46 pm

This research news item is a good example of what Jordan Peterson calls “unfocused thinking”.
The author gushes about a supposed problem about how phosphorous got to earth.
But we are not told why this is a problem.
Why is the question of how P got here any more perplexing than of how iron or carbon – or any element – got to the earth?
Planets accrete from supernova debris, with elements all the way from hydrogen up to plutonium present.
Before gushing about a phosphorous problem, explain why it is a problem.
What is the expected abundance of P on earth from supernova debris accretion?
By how much is the actual abundance greater than this?

Hello – anyone at home??

Then there is an inane paradox about a stellar dust cavity around a new star.
When a star forms within a dust cloud, it’s radiation of photons and particles blows a spherical cavity around that star.
Apparently phosphorous oxide PO accumulates on the boundary of this cavity.
But then – a few lines later – we are talking about the walls of the cavity collapsing again to form a star.
But wait – the cavity already has a star in the middle of it.
That’s why there is a cavity there. What happened to this star??
Has this star magically disappeared, so that a new star can form in the same cavity?
This makes no sense.

Crappy scifi movies like Prometheus have got millennials believing that all the ingredients of life came from space to an already formed earth.
Organic molecule and elements like P all ave to descend like a deus ex machina.
Even water is meant to have come from comets.
This is all pure BS.
There is no water or element or organic deficit on earth, everything needed for life arose from chemical reactions involving elements present at the supernova debris accretion.

Time to bin all this scifi C-movie nonsense about life from the vacuum of space and an electric universe.
And divine power riding the tail of a comet.

Reply to  Phil L Salmon
January 18, 2020 2:53 am

They found P forming, interesting, but then it has to be sold as a narrative by the everpresent useless salespeople, B ark types.

David Blenkinsop
January 16, 2020 4:35 pm

Since phosphorus is essential for life, don’t we need a phosphorus tax to control all the dangerous phosphorus somehow?

Reply to  David Blenkinsop
January 18, 2020 2:54 am

Shhh. Stop giving them ideas.

January 18, 2020 6:02 am

There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact. — Mark Twain

January 19, 2020 12:21 pm

Hey John,

I wonder at just which stages in abiogenetic chemical evolution you suppose that supernatural intervention was required.

Easy. When our technology and knowledge is e enough to make a living cell from chemical components it will reveal possible ways a cell can be assemble and hence may have been assembled in the past. Reverse engineering, John, classical reverse engineering principles. Thus far our technology is not even close to beign closer for such task.

Do these chemical reactions appear impossible to you without divine intervention, or are they instead subject to scientific investigation?

I cite repeatable, relatively simply low-cost scientific experiments. Reverse engineering principles, verifiable experiments like Humpty-Dumpty problem. You cite divine interventions and magic. I wonder who really represents witchcraft here.

Distinction between a carrier and information/organisation is quite simple – that’s fundamental for data storing and transmission. Sure, informational signal cannot exists without a carrier/medium but carrier cannot ‘organise’ itself into informational signal – it has to be appropriately formed by some external ‘agent’. The same is true for life, I reckon.

What’s the difference between life and dead cell? Both have the same chemical makeup. Yet the difference is quite vast – life cell uses chemistry to perform its function far beyond dead matter. How long does it take (on average) for organism to replace all atoms in your body? 12 weeks or so? For anyone who wants to see it’s blindly obvious that medium of chemistry is used by organism as a carrier or tool to perform its functions. You surely saw fountain of different fancy shapes where static form of flowing water consists multitude of moving particles? That’s a good analogy how our body looks alike. It’s a dynamic, self-sustaining entity that cannot be reduced to the carrier of chemistry.

John Tillman
Reply to  Paramenter
January 20, 2020 1:19 pm


Origin of life researchers have already managed to “reveal possible ways a cell can be assemble and hence may have been assembled in the past”.

The reverse engineering approach provides some clues, but modern cells are quite different from their protocell ancestors, although it might have taken no more than 100 million years for simple prokaryotes, using DNA, RNA and proteins, with phospholipid membranes, to evolve from the first protocell in easy steps. Maybe even more rapidly than that.

One problem is that there are so many ways for prebiotic chemical evolution to produce bioshemistry that not all avenues of research can be funded.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
January 20, 2020 1:28 pm

Here’s Nobel laureate Jack Szostak of Harvard on origin of life research from last year:

He’s of the “replication first” school, and looks for terrestrial rather than marine environments as the incubator of protocells. For the “metabolism first”, marine school, please see videos by USL’s Nick Lane.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
January 20, 2020 1:30 pm

“RNA” Jack:

“Bioenergetics” Nick:

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