Earthlings could all be ET’s, say experts

November 14th, 2007 - 10:37 am ICT by admin  

According to project leader John Parnell of the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, scientists Charles Cockell of Britain’s Open University and David Morrison, a senior scientist at the NASA Astrobiology Institute in Moffett Field, California, a study of fossilized microscopic life-forms that were sent into space and back inside an artificial meteorite, has revealed that they could have survived in larger and inhospitable terrain.

The three scientists opine that it is possible that simple organisms could have arrived on Earth via meteorites.

“This study of organic material is completely new,” Parnell was quoted by National Geographic, as saying.

Previous artificial meteorite experiments have examined only the degree to which rocks melt upon entering the atmosphere, he said, adding that in the latest round of 43 experiments that were launched into space by an unmanned spacecraft from Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome, it was found that biological compounds have survived.

“A rock measuring 2.8 inches across was fitted to the exterior of the Foton M3. It was shielded when it went up into space but exposed when it came back. We wanted to see if a rock that was rich in carbon and water would suffer a lot of mass loss. That was certainly the case. About three-quarters of the mass of our sample disappeared. Living microbes probably wouldn’t have survived in a meteorite this size because it reached temperatures of about 392 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celsius), but if our rock was bigger, say 20 centimeters across, then we can be quite confident that the temperature would not penetrate to the middle, so that if anything had been living there, it would have survived,” says Parnell.

A much larger meteorite, however, would completely melt and vaporize on impact, Parnell added.

Microbes are known to live deep inside rocks, and are found several kilometers down in Earth’s crust, Parnell noted.

The theory that says interplanetary organisms seeded life on different planets, such as Earth, is known as panspermia. If panspermia explains the origins of life on Earth, astrobiologists believe that Mars is the most likely source.

For instance, studies suggest that about five percent of meteorites from Mars eventually end up hitting Earth.

“The surface of Mars is quite inhospitable, due to dryness and low temperature, but one could conceive of subsurface life still being on Mars,” Parnell said.

“This biological material didn’t survive, but it may have been preserved, or its signatures may have been preserved,” claims scientist Charles Cockell.

“The rocks are still being analyzed. We know that life can make it from continent to continent, but what about from planet to planet? Of course, at the moment we don’t know of life on another planet, but this experiment is an intriguing test of an interplanetary version of an old ecological question,” Cocknell adds.

NASA’s David Morrison said that Parnell’s project lends credibility to the idea that meteors from outer space can give rides to hitchhiking microbes.

“We should be open to the possibility that there is microbial life on Mars that shares a common ancestor with Earth life,” he said. (ANI)

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