Scientists in the U.K. have examined a tiny metal circular object, and are suggesting it might contain a micro-organism deliberately sent by extraterrestrials to create life on Earth. Image from the film Prometheus, by legendary director Ridley Scott who also made Alien.
Planet Earth might be home sweet home, but is it really humanity’s birthplace? Panspermia (from Greek πᾶν (pan), meaning “all”, and σπέρμα(sperma), meaning “seed”) is the hypothesis that life exists throughout the Universe, distributed by meteoroids, asteroids, comets, planetoids, and also, by spacecraft in the form of unintended contamination by microorganisms. There’s circumstantial evidence for the theory (although far, far more to support the reliable old “Life comes from Earth” hypothesis), and there is something undeniably fascinating about the subtext – the aliens are already here, and we are they.
The theory of Panspermia is not widely known. Science fiction barely ever depicts the actual theory, mostly because it’s just a physical process that takes billions of years to play out and is pretty boring unless you’re willing to get really mystical. What science fiction more properly deals with is exogenesis, which simply states that humanity or its genetic ancestors didn’t always live on Earth. That generally means one of two things – either an ancient alien race introduced life to a previously dead Earth (sometimes as part of a larger directed panspermia project) or a bunch of humans from some other civilization colonized Earth, a fact that somehow slipped the minds of their descendants.
The Day of the Triffids is a 1951 post-apocalyptic novel about a plague of blindness that befalls the entire world, allowing the rise of an aggressive species of plant. Image: The Day of the Triffids remake (2009)
However, truth once again seems to be stranger than fiction. The University of Buckingham reports that a minuscule metal globe was discovered by astrobiologist Milton Wainwright and a team of researchers who examined dust and minute matter gathered by a high-flying balloon in Earth’s stratosphere.
The microscopic metal globe spewing out biological material is feared to be an infectious agent. Though the origin or purpose of the mysterious sphere is uncertain, experts say it could contain genetic material – the precursor to life. They sensationally claim it could have been designed by an intelligent species to “seed” and propagate alien life on Earth. “It is a ball about the width of a human hair, which has filamentous life on the outside and a gooey biological material oozing from its centre,” Wainwright said, according to .
It is the first time anything like this has been seen and points not only to the existence of extra-terrestrial life, but to complex and civilised beings watching our planet. It follows findings that DNA capable of inserting itself into living creatures and replicating can exist in harsh space conditions.
“One theory is it was sent to Earth by some unknown civilization in order to continue seeding the planet with life,” Wainwright hypothesizes.
“This seeming piece of science fiction — called ‘directed panspermia’ — would probably not be taken seriously by any scientist were it not for the fact that it was very seriously suggested by the Nobel Prize winner of DNA fame, Francis Crick,” said Wainwright.
The ancient Greeks were the first to suggest this theory in ‘Panspermia’. The first known mention of the term was in the writings of the 5th century BC Greek philosopher Anaxagoras. But Panspermia is actually based on some real modern day science. Panspermia began to assume a more scientific form through the proposals of Jöns Jacob Berzelius (1834),Hermann E. Richter (1865), Kelvin (1871), Hermann von Helmholtz (1879) and finally reaching the level of a detailed hypothesis through the efforts of the Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius (1903).
In ‘Watchers‘ Artist Tom Estes has created a digital installation of a Sci-fi image of ancient and highly advanced alien civilizations- and literally projected it directly onto a Bible open at ‘Genesis’. By merging these two existing narratives and their related ideological fictions (alien super-beings alongside our own cultural beliefs in an all-powerful creator) the artist transforms both narratives, giving rise to a host of new associations.
In 1903, Svante Arrhenius published in his article The Distribution of Life in Space, the hypothesis now called radiopanspermia, that microscopic forms of life can be propagated in space, driven by the radiation pressure from stars. Arrhenius argued that particles at a critical size below 1.5 μm would be propagated at high speed by radiation pressure of the Sun. However, because its effectiveness decreases with increasing size of the particle, this mechanism holds for very tiny particles only, such as single bacterial spores. The main criticism of radiopanspermia hypothesis came from Shklovskii and Sagan, who pointed out the proofs of the lethal action of space radiations (UV and X-rays) in the cosmos.
Neuroscientist and biophysicist Francis Crick, pioneer in DNA research and the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA in 1953- was one of the first to seriously look into the origin of the DNA code – his conclusion was it was the result of Panspermia. Twenty years later, Crick co-wrote — with biochemist Leslie Orgel — a scientific paper about directed panspermia. The highly respected scientist/physicist Paul Davies based at Institute of Quantum Studies researched into microbial life found in meteorites and other space bodies.
Regardless of the evidence, Wallis and Wickramasing argued in 2004 that the transport of individual bacteria or clumps of bacteria, is overwhelmingly more important than lithopanspermia in terms of numbers of microbes transferred, even accounting for the death rate of unprotected bacteria in transit. And ‘Pan Seeding’ was an idea seriously suggested by Stephen Hawking “Life could spread from planet to planet or from stellar system to stellar system, carried on meteors” and by Sir Fred Hoyle – The Nobel prize winner and Microbiologist.
Is this the picture of a seed sent to earth by aliens? Don’t be fooled by the size of the object in the microscopic image above. This never seen before image may at first appear to be a large-sized globe, but in fact, it’s no bigger than the width of a human hair.
The abstract of astrobiologist Milton Wainwright and his team of researchers at The University of Buckingham states:
“It now seems unlikely that extraterrestrial living organisms could have reached the Earth either as spores driven by the radiation pressure from another star or as living organisms imbedded in a meteorite. As an alternative to these nineteenth-century mechanisms, we have considered Directed Panspermia, the theory that organisms were deliberately transmitted to the Earth by intelligent beings on another planet.
The question of whether certain microorganisms can survive in the harsh environment of outer space has intrigued biologists since the beginning of spaceflight, and opportunities were provided to expose samples to space. Data gathered by the orbital experiments ERA, BIOPAN, EXOSTACK and EXPOSE, have determined that isolated spores, including those of B. subtilis, were killed by several orders of magnitude if exposed to the full space environment for a mere few seconds, but if shielded against solar UV, the spores were capable of surviving in space for up to 6 years while embedded in clay or meteorite powder (artificial meteorites).Though minimal protection is required to shelter a spore against UV radiation, exposure to solar UV and cosmic ionizing radiation of unprotected DNA, break it up into its bases. Also, exposing DNA to the ultrahigh vacuum of space alone is sufficient to cause DNA damage, so the transport of unprotected DNA or RNA during interplanetary flights is extremely unlikely.
Based on experimental data on radiation effects and DNA stability, it has been concluded that for such long travel times, boulder sized rocks which are greater than or equal to 1 meter in diameter are required to effectively shield resistant microorganisms, such as bacterial spores against galactic cosmic radiation. These results clearly negate the radiopanspermia hypothesis, which requires single spores accelerated by the radiation pressure of the Sun, requiring many years to travel between the planets, and support the likelihood of interplanetary transfer of microorganisms within asteroids or comets, the so-called lithopanspermia hypothesis.
When Wainwright and his team launched balloons nearly 17 miles into Earth’s stratosphere, they examined the material collected by one of the balloons (like the one pictured above), they discovered a small crash mark which indicated to them that the microscopic, circular object didn’t simply land softly.
“On hitting the stratosphere sampler, the sphere made an impact crater, a minute version of the huge impact crater on Earth caused by the asteroid said to have killed off the dinosaurs,” Wainwright said.
Lithopanspermia, sometimes referred to as interstellar panspermia, is a version of the panspermia hypothesis in which it is argued that impact-expelled rocks from a planet’s surface serve as transfer vehicles for spreading biological material from one solar system to another. It requires that the microorganisms survive the impact ejection process from the planet of origin; travelling through space; landing on a planet in another solar system.
In contrast to what Crick-Orgel speculated about in 1973, four decades later, a team of scientists, led by astronomer-astrobiologist Chandra Wickramasinghe of the Buckingham Center for Astrobiology, announced they had found fossils with biological properties attached to a meteorite that fell in Sri Lanka.
Of course, these controversial claims bring forth the skeptical side of science. In the case of the meteorite fossils, astronomer Phil Plait wrote that the scientists didn’t do a good enough job convincing him there were actual fossils in that meteorite.
The first tests questioning whether certain microorganisms can survive in the harsh environment of outer space were made in 1966, during the Gemini IX and XII missions, when samples of bacteriophage T1 and spores of Penicillium roqueforti were exposed to outer space for 16.8 h and 6.5 h, respectively. Other basic life sciences research in low Earth orbit started in 1966 with the Soviet biosatellite program Bion and the U.S. Biosatellite program. Thus, the plausibility of panspermia can be evaluated by examining life forms on Earth for their capacity to survive in space. The following experiments carried on low Earth orbit specifically tested some aspects of panspermia or lithopanspermia.
The Exobiology Radiation Assembly (ERA) was a 1992 experiment on board the European Retrievable Carrier (EURECA) on the biological effects of space radiation. EURECA was an unmanned 4.5 tonne satellite with a payload of 15 experiments. It was an astrobiology mission developed by the European Space Agency (ESA). Spores of different strains of Bacillus subtilis and the Escherichia coliplasmid pUC19 were exposed to selected conditions of space (space vacuum and/or defined wavebands and intensities of solar ultraviolet radiation). After the approximately 11 month mission, their responses were studied in terms of survival,mutagenesis in the his (B. subtilis) or lac locus (pUC19), induction of DNA strand breaks, efficiency of DNA repair systems, and the role of external protective agents. The data were compared with those of a simultaneously running ground control experiment.
EXPOSE is a multi-user facility mounted outside the International Space Station dedicated to astrobiology experiments. Results from the orbital mission, especially the experiments SEEDS and LiFE, concluded that after an 18-month exposure, some seeds and lichens (Stichococcus sp. and Acarospora sp., a lichenized fungal genus) may be capable to survive interplanetary travel if sheltered inside comets or rocks from cosmic radiation and UV radiation. And a tiny ‘plasmid’, a circular strand of DNA used in genetic engineering, was sent into space from Sweden in 2011 on the exterior of a TEXUS-49 rocket.
Microorganisms embedded into rocks or clay seems on the whole seems like quite natural and logical conclusion. A tiny metal sphere spewing biological material is a bit of a game changer. Provided the sphere is real and not created by someone on earth- and subject to peer review it would seem a pretty compelling argument for Direct Panspermia- and the existence of intelligent alien life forms. Even with this more recent discovery of a tiny globe found lodged into a high-flying balloon, the alien space seed proponents know they have a long way to go before that can be proved and accepted by the scientific community. We can conclude it is possible that life reached the Earth in this way, but that the scientific evidence is inadequate at the present time to say anything about the probability. We draw attention to the kinds of evidence that might throw additional light on the topic.
EXPOSE is a multi-user facility mounted outside the International Space Station dedicated to astrobiology experiments.
The chemistry of life may have begun shortly after the Big Bang, 13.8 billion years ago, during a habitable epoch when the Universe was only 10–17 million years old. According to the panspermia hypothesis, microscopic life—distributed by meteoroids, asteroids and other small Solar System bodies—may exist throughout the universe. Nonetheless, Earth is the only place in the universe known to harbor life. The sheer number of planets in the Milky Way galaxy, however, may make it probable that life has arisen somewhere else in the galaxy and the universe. It is generally agreed that the conditions required for the evolution of intelligent life as we know it are probably exceedingly rare in the universe, while simultaneously noting that simple single-celled microorganisms may be more likely
“Unless, of course, we can find details of the civilization that is supposed to have sent it, it is probably an unprovable theory,” Wainwright conceded. However, people often seem to forget that it is the job of science to suggest the outlandish or strange as real or possible conclusions in order to better understand they mysteries of life. I prefer to keep my mind open, not closed.