Nalin Chandra Wickramasinghe (born 20 January 1939) is a Sri Lankan-born British mathematician, astronomer and astrobiologist. He is currently Professor and Director of the Buckingham Centre for Astrobiology at the University of Buckingham, a post he has held since 2011. Chandra Wickramasinghe has written 24 books about astrophysics and related topics; he has made frequent appearances on radio, television and film, and he writes extensive online blogs and articles.
The truth is finally being disclosed but in a concealed form. The discoveries of life-related organics on Comet 67P/C-G must be taken together with the recently reported venting of molecular oxygen and water in equal quantity as pointing to the possible action of cyanobacteria.
It is time surely to come clean and conclude that “Life is a cosmic phenomenon”.
Thank you ESA for pushing NASA to admit, albeit obtusely, what they should have known for a very long time. How could they hold back the truth that all your Rosetta/67P results are consistent with the hypothesis that Comet 67P did or does contain life. I believe DOES. Small steps.
2015-10-14 : “The birth centenary of the noted British astrophysicist Sir Fred Hoyle was celebrated on Friday at the Royal Astronomical Society with a one-day meeting of talks describing Sir Fred’s many contributions to 20th century physics”. This post takes you to a fine report of the whole day’s event. I am honoured the writer, Cormac O’Rafferty, spoke highly of my own contribution.
A sleepy little Indian town called Changa in the district of Anand in the State of Gujarat came alive from 21st-24th June with the descent of scores of astronomers and physicists from across in India and abroad. The publication of the very first paper by Albert Einstein on the General Theory of Relativity in 1915 and the centenary of Fred Hoyle’s birth on 24 June 1915 were the dual reason for this noteworthy event. The venue was a modern, well-appointed campus of the Charusat University of Science and Technology, located some 40 minutes drive away from a 3-star hotel in which all the participants were housed.
The conference was convened by Dr. J.J. Rawal under the auspices of the Indian Planetary Society and chaired by the eminent industrialist and sponsor Dr.Mohanbhal Patel. Following the opening ceremony on 21 June, with the traditional lighting of oil lamps to signify a new awakening, the meeting was launched.
The first two days of formal sessions on 22nd and 23rd June were largely devoted to matters connected with Relativity and Cosmology. Jayant Narlikar’s father V.V. Narlikar, who was a student at Cambridge in the 1930’s and a pupil of Sir Arthur Eddington, was the trail blazer for Relativity research in India and he had inspired two generations of young Indians to explore ideas in this field.
The distinguished cosmologist, Professor Thanu Padmanabhan, who was one time Sackler Distinguished Professor at Cambridge University and is now a Professor at the Inter-Universities Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics at Pune India, gave a stimulating opening talk on 22 June in which he described his new ideas about the geometry of space-time and gravity being an emergent property from some deeper thermodynamic principle. J.V. Narlikar next talked about his collaboration with Fred Hoyle on C-field (creation field) cosmology which was an attempt to formulate rigorously the Steady-State Theory of the Universe. This was followed by other speakers who covered a variety of more conventional aspects of cosmology and general relativity.
The Fred Hoyle day on 24th June 2015 (Hoyle’s birth centenary) started with a brilliant presentation by Hoyle’s oldest living student Professor Leon Mestel (92). Leon Mestel was unable to attend in person, but his contribution was read out by Jayant Narlikar. Then came a talk by Peter Eggleton who had collaborated on stellar structure with Fred Hoyle in the 1960’s. The session included a talk by Fred Hoyle’s daughter Elizabeth Butler who gave some of her personal reminiscences. This presentation also peered beyond Fred Hoyle’s relatively impoverished childhood to a more distant lineage that included one noted poet (Ben Preston) and members of the British aristocracy and intellectual elite.
The meeting closed with my 50-minute talk on “Convergence to Cosmic Biology”. Here I traced the steps in my 40-year-long collaboration with Hoyle that had led us from studies of carbonaceous interstellar dust to the theory that life is a cosmic phenomenon.
Since Fred Hoyle’s death in 2001 new results from astronomy, geology and biology, including DNA sequence studies, have shown our theory to be amply vindicated. A major scientific paradigm shift with far-reaching societal implications appears to loom large on the horizon.
June 24, 2015 marks the centenary of the birth of one of the most illustrious figures of modern science – the astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle (1915-2001). Hoyle’s discoveries straddled many branches of astronomy, but he is perhaps best remembered for his long and distinguished collaboration with Sri Lankan scientist Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe concerning the origin of life from comets.
They developed this theory over four decades and when first propounded in 1975 it sparked off a long and bitter scientific controversy. Over a period of several years evidence from various branches of sciences have converged to show that Hoyle and Wickramasinghe were right after all – we are indeed be creatures of the cosmos.
At the time of the first space mission to a comet in 1986 – the European Space Agency’s Giotto Mission to Comet Halley – the prevailing view was that comets were lifeless inorganic “snowballs”. Weeks before the Giotto encounter on March 13, 1986 Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe announced their prediction that the surface of this comet would be “darker than coal”. On the night of March 13 it turned out that their prediction was startlingly verified when, to the dismay of everyone, the comet did indeed appear to be so dark as to be virtually invisible.
The most recent ESA (European Space Agency) mission to a comet – the Rosetta Mission – arrived at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (Comet C-G) last year. A small lander called Philae equipped with scientific instruments arrived at the comet’s surface in November 2014, but its solar batteries went dead shortly after transmitting the first batch of data, These first results already confirmed the dark organic-rich nature of the comet’s surface. Science writers frequently reported that these results supported the idea that the building blocks of life came from comets but they rarely credited or recalled the names of the originators of this theory.
With the news this week that the Philae has “woken up”, with its batteries recharged, the expectation is that more data confirming our cosmic origins will come to light. Hoyle and Wickramasinghe may well find their theories vindicated in this auspicious centenary year of the birth of Fred Hoyle.
He strode the scientific stage of the 20th century like a colossus inspiring a whole generation of scientists but also reaching out to millions with his lectures and his science fiction works. Throughout a career spanning six decades, he sought answers to some of the biggest questions posed by physics and astronomy and was a tireless and creative pioneer, the latter often leading him to being at odds with the mainstream of science. He invented the Steady State theory, was the founder of astrobiology and he discovered how the chemical elements, which are the basis of all life, are formed. His legacy to modern science is arguably unparalleled and his more radical theories about the origin of life are finally on the brink of being accepted.
Sir Fred Hoyle was a regular guest at my family home during my childhood and early adulthood. His visits were owed to his long scientific collaboration with my father on the cosmic origins of life. Yet Hoyle’s pursuits were not confined to this area. Not only did he have a knowledge of astronomy that seemed encyclopaedic but he was also able to apply his intelligence and creative thinking to a wide array of disciplines. During his visits, he used to engage myself and my siblings in various discussions ranging from Shakespeare to politics to food and of course science. He had a passion for music and walking and used them as tools to aid his creativity. His mother had studied piano at the Royal College of Music and had imbued in him a deep love for the piano. I myself had studied the piano to a high level and Hoyle would often ask me to play whilst he and my father were attempting to unravel the unanswered questions posed by the Universe.
In 1983, prior to one of Hoyle’s visits to our home, I overheard my parents discussing the fact that a Nobel prize had been awarded to Hoyle’s friend, the scientist Willy Fowler, for work in nuclear physics that had been led and essentially carried out by Hoyle. Hoyle had been the originator of a theory of the natural history of our known chemical elements and went on to lead the team that resulted in its proof in the 1950s.
For many hundreds of years philosophers and alchemists had puzzled about how the different chemical elements in the world came to be. The elements that all life depends on seemed to have an origin which eluded discovery until Hoyle led an investigation which unlocked this great mystery of the natural world.
By the 1940s, it was already known that the process by which energy is generated in stars involved nuclear fusion – the conversion at very high temperatures of the simplest element hydrogen to helium. But the precise link between such processes to the evolution of stars, and the formation of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and other elements was yet to be discovered.
Fred Hoyle began to link the evolution of stars to the origin of the chemical elements heavier than helium. As the hydrogen fuel in a star like the sun becomes exhausted, its central core contracts to become hotter and this permits the helium to be transformed into carbon, nitrogen and oxygen.
At this point in the chain of reasoning Fred made a profoundly important scientific discovery. Using the science of nuclear physics he calculated that in order for carbon to be produced in this way, the nucleus of carbon must possess an “excited state energy level” that was not known to exist at this time. Convinced that carbon in the cosmos had to be produced in this way, Hoyle thereupon approached Willy Fowler, Director of the Kellogg Radiation Laboratory at Caltech and asked him to use his laboratory to look for carbon. It was found to be present.
In the early 1950’s Fred Hoyle entered into his historic collaboration with Willy Fowler, and astronomers Geoff and Margaret Burbidge which culminated in a game-changing B2FH paper in Physical Reviews. In this paper Fred and his team showed convincingly how stars evolve over time and in the process synthesise all the known chemical elements through nuclear processes (first fusion, and later addition of neutrons). These chemical elements are eventually scattered back into interstellar space in exploding stars called supernovae, so producing the raw materials of life.
The reason that Hoyle was excluded from the Nobel Prize for this work remains a topic of speculation but was not one which he himself talked about much. Interestingly Willy Fowler had, in the months preceding the award, been asked by Hoyle’s granddaughter to write an article for her school magazine. In the article, Fowler had stated that Fred was the pioneer of the work and its main driving force.
Despite holding prestigious posts – Hoyle was Plumian Professor at Cambridge and founder and Director of the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge – he was often viewed as being anti-establishment. He did not allow himself to be confined to hypotheses which upheld the status quo of mainstream science, often looking for solutions in unsuspected places. Throughout our history all revolutionary advances in science have sprung from ideas that were outside the realm of conventional belief systems and, sadly, throughout our history the originators of these ideas have been viewed with suspicion.
Although Fred Hoyle’s contributions extend across most of astronomy, he is perhaps best known as the inventor of the Steady-State theory of the Universe. Edwin Hubble’s discovery of the expansion of the Universe in the 1930’s had led to a widespread belief in the so-called Big-Bang theory of the cosmos which was readily assimilated into the establishment, not least perhaps for its fit with religious views of creation.
During the 1950’s Hoyle and his collaborators began to challenge this theory. They postulated that despite the observed expansion of the Universe – galaxies getting further apart with time – the Universe could be in a steady state if new matter and new galaxies formed continuously in the space vacated by the expansion. The theory led to many definite predictions. Supporters of the Big-Bang theory (a term coined by Hoyle as a disparaging appellation) were quick to devise experiments that sought to disprove the predictions of steady state cosmology, and by the early 1960’s such predictions appeared to be going against the Steady-State theory.
The fate of the Steady-State theory appeared to be finally sealed by the discovery in 1965 of the Cosmic Microwave Background which was interpreted as the relic energy of the Big Bang, now thought to have occurred 13.8 billion years ago. But the last word may yet to be said in relation to how it all began. Multiverses, eternal inflation, oscillating universes alternating between expansion and contractions still remain in currency – and in some of these models the mathematics of the Steady State universe appears to persist.
Perhaps Fred Hoyle’s most daring scientific exploit relates to his 40-year long collaboration with my father Chandra Wickramasinghe on the cosmic origins of life. After identifying the great profusion of complex organic molecules – which are the building blocks of life itself – in interstellar dust in the 1970’s, Hoyle and Wickramasinghe became gradually convinced that life is a truly cosmic phenomenon. Their ideas were viewed as being heretical at the time but Hoyle was never frightened of finding solutions outside the realm of orthodoxy. He turned accepted precepts on their head, stating that the cosmic nature of biology will seem as obvious to future generations as the Sun being the centre of the Universe seems obvious to the present generation.
Up to the time of his death in 2001 evidence in support of this point of view has accumulated from fields as diverse as space science, microbiology, geology and genetics. The holy grail of biology that life began on Earth is now under serious threat, and science is slowly beginning to admit this in various ways. The discovery of planets similar to Earth in great profusion in the Milky Way (an estimate of 140 billion has recently been mentioned) adds to the possibility that we live in vast connected biospheres. These views are only gradually and somewhat reluctantly being conceded at the present time. But the trend is clear. A major paradigm shift is in sight, and Fred Hoyle’s contribution in this area of science will perhaps shine as a guiding star.
Dear Prof. Wickramasinghe,
Greetings from World Scientific!
Thank you for choosing to publish your book with us. Vindication of Cosmic Biology: Tribute to Sir Fred Hoyle (1915–2001) is officially published!
I would like to provide you with an update on several promotional activities for this book. We will feature it in our New and Forthcoming catalogue, annual catalogue and email promotions. Besides, we will write to periodicals reviewers as mentioned in your PQ to understand their interest to provide a review for your book.
Would you like to have some copies of the flyer to be distributed to your colleagues and participants of conferences that you will attend? We would appreciate if you could provide us with mailing lists which could be used to promote your book. It could be your personal, membership, business, websites, blogs and other lists.
You may recommend your peers and colleagues to purchase a copy of your book at : Vindication of Cosmic Biology: Tribute to Sir Fred Hoyle (1915–2001)
By quoting WSSPPS20 upon checking out their shopping cart, they will enjoy 20% discount. If you have a personal website/blog, do link the website with yours.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any queries. Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you.
World Scientific Publishing
DNA carries the blueprint of all life, and its survival during space travel is essential if life is to be regarded a cosmic phenomenon. DNA (plasmid DNA) mounted on the exterior of a TEXUS-49 rocket was launched from Kiruna in Northern Sweden in November 2011. On its 13 minute flight the external temperature peaked at 1000 degrees C, and to the surprise of the investigators the DNA was not denatured. Their biological function, which was to impart antibiotic resistance to a colony of bacteria, was shown to have remained intact. This shows that DNA (and viruses) can survive the rigours of space travel – escape at high speed through the atmosphere of one planet and land in tact on another. The result, if it is shown to hold also for chromosomal DNA, gives strong support for the Hoyle-Wickramasinghe Theory of Evolution from Space.
Along with the well-attested modern data on Horizontal Gene Transfer (viruses aiding evolution by transferring genes), and the presence of viral sequences in our own genes (Tokoro and Wickramasinghe, 2014) the new result extends the operation of the same processes across the boundaries of planets.
The work also lends very strong support to the theory of cometary panspermia.
The work also shows that incoming virions from space can change the virus population already on Earth and cause the flare-up of pandemic disease.
Timeline – 12 November 2014 – Today’s landing on a comet has been hailed as a one big step for civilisation. The importance of this epoch making achievement and its potential for unravelling our origins cannot be overstated. The scientific theory that comets are connected with the origins of life was first developed by the late Sir Fred Hoyle and the present writer from 1980 onwards, and evidence for this point of view has grown steadily over the years. Today it is widely accepted that at the very least the chemical building blocks of life were delivered to the Earth by comets, and this process effectively kick-started the evolution of life on our planet. At the time of the first space mission to a comet in 1986 – ESA’s Giotto Mission to Comet Halley – the prevailing point of view was that comets were lifeless inorganic snowballs. Weeks before the Giotto encounter on March 13, 1986 Fred Hoyle and I published a prediction that the surface of the comet would be “darker than coal” and this prediction was reported in the London Times of March 12 1986. On the night of March 13 it turned out that our prediction was startlingly verified when, to the dismay of everyone, the comet did indeed turn out to be so dark as to be virtually invisible to the heavily shuttered-down cameras that had expected to photograph a bright snowfield. Comet Halley was indeed blacker than the blackest coal; and the largely organic composition of comets have come to be steadily vindicated since this time. The dark surface of comet Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (Comet C-G for short) has already been established and no doubt will be confirmed in the weeks that lie ahead.
The lander Philae that arrived safely on Comet C-G carries a mobile laboratory that will hopefully give us a better understanding of how the solar system originated nearly 4500 million years ago. But what further evidence of our cosmic ancestry will be eventually unravelled by this mission is left to be seen. It is somewhat strange that references to life in comets appear to have been somewhat muted in the publicity covering today’s event. My prediction would be that the connection between life and comets would be the most exciting outcome that will emerge in due course.
2014-10-15 : Just 4 days to go to Mars Obiter MAVEN turning from MARS to observe Comet Siding Spring. A short summary video is well worth watching http://youtu.be/AwMjoy_02Ic
It should be noted that unlike short-period Comets Halley and 67P/G-C (Rosetta target) which are short period Comets (75 years and 7 years respectively), Comet Siding Spring is a long-period comet – just as was Comet ISON last year. Although it is generally accepted that these long-period comets have very long orbit periods (>100,000 years) and come in from the Oort Cloud, our hypothesis includes the proposition that many such comets are effectively parabolic and are “sling shot in” towards our solar system from nearby stars.
The Hoyle-Wickramasinghe Panspermia Model of the Panspermia Hypothesis predicts that the short period comets and even some asteroids orbiting the sun are carriers of “solar system life” including the RNA/DNA that we find in within living cells in every nook and cranny of earth, and that we are now finding in the stratosphere; inside meteorites; and even outside the windows of the International Space Station. With the overwhelming dominance of viruses in our terrestrial biosphere, viruses are also most likely included in the cosmic cargo being transported in these objects. Within just a few years we expect to confirm that microbial life across the solar system, from deep under the ice and rock of Mars, to under the ice of Europa and Enceladus is largely the same – with viruses, bacteria and archaea largely “similar” as solar system life has been homogenized over the last 4.5 billion years (4.5 bya).
But what about life in other solar systems and across the galaxy? We have recently published a paper at http://www.hypothesisjournal.org which calculates the time to seed the galaxy from a single point source which was likely NOT Earth. Included in this “thought experiment”, is the assumption that “the seeds of life”, are carried from star to star by the long-period comets like ISON and SIDING SPRING.
Many years ago I concluded that “Life is a Cosmic Phenomenon”, so I wait with baited breath the results of MAVEN’s observations this coming Saturday. I have written that the inside of long-period comets should be ideal places to incubate evolving viruses and bacteria. Then again it could simply house dormant viruses or DNA pieces or even prions with no associated cells (ie no bacteria or archaea) to cause activation. Now we have a chance to point sophisticated instruments at both Mars and at this long-period comet approaching the red planet. It is for me a breath-taking moment.
In 2001 Sir Arthur C. Clarke predicted “2061 Halley’s Comet returns – first landing by humans, And the sensational discovery of both dormant and active life forms vindicates Wickramasinghe and Hoyle’s century-old hypothesis that life exists through space.”
Well, little did Sir Arthur or any of us, know just 13 years ago, that on October 19th, 2014 we would have a long-period comet (way more significant than Halley’s Comet), Comet Siding Spring, pass close to Mars just when NASA had positioned an amazing set of scientific instruments in orbit around Mars (The MAVEN Mission). These instruments will point to Comet Siding Spring in just a few days. The same experiments planned to run on the upper atmosphere of Mars, by serendipity of timing, can now be pointed and run on a long-period comet.
As we conjecture what complex molecules MAVEN might discover in Comet Siding Spring, we should recall the recent discovery by ALMA scientists of the molecule i-propyl cyanide which has a branched backbone of carbon atoms. “There seems to be quite a lot of it, which would indicate that this more complex organic structure is possibly very common, maybe even the norm, when it comes to simple organic molecules in space. It’s a step closer to discovering molecules that can be regarded as the building blocks or the precursors… of amino acids.”
The hope is that amino acids will eventually be detected outside our Solar System. “That’s what everyone would like to see,” said Prof Griffin. “If amino acids are widespread throughout the galaxy, life may be also”.
“So far we do not have the sensitivity to detect the signals from [amino acids]… in the interstellar medium,” explained Dr Belloche. “The interstellar chemistry seems to be able to form these amino acids but at the moment we lack the evidence.
After years of using remote spectroscopy looking into the Inter-Stellar Medium (ISM) from earth 27,000 light years distance, we now have an amazing close-up opportunity to analyze a Comet. On Saturday Maven will be just 132,000 km away from the COMET Siding Spring.
Prof. Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN’s Principal Investigator of CU-Boulder, CO, told Universe Today in an exclusive interview “NASA’s MAVEN Mars Orbiter is “ideally” instrumented to uniquely “map the composition of Comet Siding Spring” in great detail when it streaks past the Red Planet during an extremely close flyby on Oct. 19, 2014 – thereby providing a totally “unexpected science opportunity … and a before and after look at Mars atmosphere”
The probes state-of-the-art ultraviolet spectrograph will be the key instrument making the one-of-a-kind compositional observations of this long period “Oort cloud comet“ making its first passage through the inner solar system on its millions year orbital journey. “MAVEN’s Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) is the ideal way to observe the comet coma and tail,” Jakosky explained. “The IUVS can do spectroscopy that will allow derivation of compositional information.” “It will do imaging of the entire coma and tail, allowing mapping of composition.”
Conservative statement we suggest.
We see this as a “historic moment” in space exploration and the “search for life”. Perhaps even an opportunity to test one of the main propositions of Panspermia. The Hoyle-Wickramasinghe Model of Panspermia hypothesized that long period Comets are the source of life in the solar system.
Maven’s observations of Comet Siding Spring could/should deliver the evidence consistent with this hypothesis. These would be momentus results in “NASA’s Difficult Endeavour of Seeking the Signs of Life”.
If long-period Comets are the source of the “seeds of life”, then this weekend NASA’s Maven spectroscopy should detect not just the molecule i-propyl cyanide but amino acids and the molecules of RNA/DNA
Guanine (G) : C5H5N5O
Adenine (A) : C5H5N5
Thymine (T) : C5H6N2O2
Cytosine (C) : C4H5N3O
COMET Siding Spring, whose source is at least as far as the very edge of our solar system, could be the first confirmation that Comets do indeed carry the “seeds of life”. It might be a long time before we are as close again as this to an Exocomet with such an array of powerful scientific capability pointing at the Comet.
Our best wishes go out to the NASA teams of ALMA, HiRise and MAVEN, as you follow the new NASA directive to “follow the difficult endeavour of seeking the signs of life” in Comet Siding Spring.