All posts by Chandra Wickramasinghe

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.

2014-8-19: ISS discover plankton and other bacteria on outside windows

The Daily Mail today reported : “….that traces of plankton and other microorganisms have been found living on the exterior of the International Space Station (ISS), according to Russian space officials.  They claim the plankton were not carried there at launch – but are thought to have been blown there by air currents on Earth. Incredibly, the tiny organisms were found to be able to survive in the vacuum of space despite the freezing temperatures, lack of oxygen and cosmic radiation“.

I think a quick review of this discovery is in order.

First of all let’s review the height of the ISS.  The International Space Station, with ESA’s Columbus laboratory flies 400 km high at speeds that defy gravity – literally.

This is 8 times higher than the very TOP of the stratosphere. or 40 times higher than the top of Mount Everest.  I believe there is no known process where any viruses, bacteria, archaea or even eukarya have been proven to have been raised to anything like that heightAtm_Structure – even considering volcanos.

Explosive eruption plumes such as those generated at volcanoes like Mt. St. Helens or Pinatubo can reach high into the atmosphere. The highest Mt. St. Helens plume on May 18, 1980 reached about 31 km (101,700 feet), and the highest Pinatubo plume got as far as 45 km (147,600 feet). But we know the ISS is at 400 km.

We do know that rare cloud types have occurred in the mesosphere. But that’s about the highest we are aware of. And they are very, very rare.

Atm_Structure

The fact is, no matter how we all try to play it down, this is a stunning discovery. And it is consistent with the Panspemia Hypothesis. Certainly this is evidence that will challenge mainstream science as it continues “the difficult endeavor of seeking the signs of life”.

NASA Search for Life
NASA Search for Life

The way these microbes have survived against extreme cold, cosmic rays, and lack of oxygen is very surprising even for myself. I must admit I am glad it is the Russian Scientists doing this analysis.

Is this the result of contamination from countless EVA’s and over 80 ISS flights each one delivering people and equipment with the people being the biggest source of viruses and bacteria given our (now much better understood) symbiotic relationship with these microbes.  It is almost certain that the level of contamination man has caused in  the ISS and space is much greater than science is prepared to acknowledge.

But perhaps it is too early to say this is the very first discovery of ET life. But it will be very interesting to see the RNA/DNA analysis.

I will be toasting Sir Fred Hoyle this evening. Those of us who have calculated that “Life must be a cosmic phenomenon” know this brings us ever closer to the day when science lays to bed the theory that life is unique to the Earth.

This is almost as exciting as the  recent discovery of bacteria which live deep below the earth and feed directly on electrons. More on that next week.

 

Chandra W.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2728979/Never-mind-alien-life-SEA-PLANKTON-space-Creatures-living-surface-ISS-officials-say.html#ixzz3AtCtzyRJ 

Atm_Structure

stratosphere sizeofparticles whatisLife

lifeonEarthwhatisLife

 

 

2014-7-18 : Life and the Rosetta Mission (on 67P)

About the double nature of the comet as recently discovered.  It is anybody’s guess what the surface will reveal.

In spite of the uncertainties inherent in the present calculation, it is possible to interpret the surprisingly large outflow of water observed from the Comet 67P/C-G (Churyumov-Gerasimenko) on June 6, 2014, when the comet was between Jupiter and Mars, as being indicative of biology. Although microorganisms in comets are likely to be in a frozen dormant state at aphelion, a sporadic resumption of metabolism will occur near perihelion if subsurface melting can take place. Metabolism builds up subsurface gas pressures of thousands of atmospheres, which is enough to cause cracks in the surface crust releasing gas and dust. Such melting could occur due to increased solar radiation or, on occasion when impacts of smaller bodies transfer kinetic energy that can be converted to heat.  Comet Hale-Bopp showed sporadic activity when it was outside the orbit of Jupiter.  We can argue that this activity in Comet Hale-Bopp, as well as the new evidence from Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko, point to the resumption of bacterial activity (8).

As we await the descent of the Philae lander onto Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko with bated breath, there would inevitably be many surprises in store.  The recent discovery that the comet has a “double” structure and is probably a contact binary may be the first of many to come.  It is to be hoped that more indirect evidence of biology will be forthcoming as the ROSETTA mission draws to a conclusion this year.

 

Best

C

2014-8-12 : Is Rosetta about to Re-Contaminate Comet 67P? Which by the way already contains microbes.

Dirk Schulze-Makuch : The cyanobacteria, diatoms etc you analyzed in the meteorites are ideally adapted to life on Earth, to life on a planetary surface. So, assuming you are correct and they indeed come from space, where is the source? An origin of these organisms in a comet would make no sense for me from an evolutionary biology standpoint as life thrives always to be ideally adapted to its environment.

Richard Hoover :  There are skeptics who claim that even though many of the remains I have found in these meteorites are recognizable as heterocystous cyanobacteria, diatoms, acritarchs, hystrichospheres and other known extant or extinct life forms, they must be modern bio-contaminants. This argument conveniently neglects the fact that the EDAX data consistently show the remains have nitrogen levels below the instrument detection limit and hence died millions of years ago-long before these meteorites were observed to fall to Earth.

Chandra Wickramasinghe : The reason why fossil microbes and diatoms are similar to their modern terrestrial counterparts is that they all came from space in the first place, and continue to do so.  Life on Earth is an expression on the Earth of a Darwinian evolutionary scheme that has taken place over a vast cosmological scale.  Not so long ago it would have been thought impossible to find the same species in opposite hemispheres of the Earth.  The connected biosphere of the Earth has now to be considered connected to a vast cosmological biosphere within which frequent exchanges of genes have established a unity of all life in the cosmos.

Dirk Schulze-Makuch :  I find it very strange that extraterrestrial life would look so similar, or should I say identical to cyanobacteria, diatoms etc as Richard claims. This does not make any sense to me and is in my view so implausible that any contamination such as pointed by John is much more likely. I just discussed this matter with Alberto Fairen and he thinks alike but thought about another possibility: Could Richard’s bugs be terrestrial life that has been for billions of years away from Earth because it was ejected in primitive impacts?

William E. (Bill) Smith : Today the Rosetta Mission approaches  COMET 67P now just 100 km away. 67P’s orbit is in the plane of the galaxy and is “part of our solar system” (ie it is a Kuiper belt “comet” ) with an orbit of just  6 years.  Contrast this with COMET ISON, which unlike 67P (Rosetta), was a parabolic comet. I.E. ISON’s orbit period is unknown (> 100,000 years). It entered the plane of the galaxy at a steep inclination FYI – approximately the same as the angle of the solar system (the ecliptic) to the galaxy’s plane. It is now accepted mainstream science that the solar system is part of the Sagittarius Dwarf galaxy which is colliding with the Milky Way. I believe (educated by conversations with Chandra ) that “long period” comets like ISON are the REAL  source of original life in our Solar System. Ie  ISON was “sling shot” in towards the SUN from an adjacent star. Short period comets which includes both Halley’s Comet with its 80 year orbit and Rosetta (67P/C-G) with its 7 year orbit, might well (and likely do) contain dormant viruses, bacteria and even diatoms (as found by Richard Hoover). These “seeds of life” were catapulted into local inner space from major collisions like the asteroid (or comet) which caused the end of the dinosaur era.

But I believe it is the long period comets like ISON which carry the real interesting and original “seeds of life” from other solar systems across what Chandra Wickramasinghe calls the “vast cosmological biosphere”.

And at this moment in time in August 2014, I wonder how rigorous was our sterilizing of the Rosetta Mission back in 2004. The Philae Lander will arrive on Comet 67P/C-G this November (2014) carrying untold numbers of dormant viruses and bacteria from earth, just waiting to be reactivated by the water that is already proven to be on the comet – proven using the remote spectroscopy by the ALMA telescope in Chile.

Chandra Wickramasinghe : Bill – although you may well be right, it is not a time for negative thoughts. NASA ask us to emphasize that the “search for life is a difficult endeavour”. To that we all agree. BUT what we are now expecting to find (on 67P, MARS, Titan and Enceladus) is that life is found “everywhere”. Do we really care “where it came from originally” or even if we inadvertently delivered it.

Time to agree that “Life is indeed a Cosmic Phenomenon”.

 

2014-8-10 : LIFE AS A COSMIC PHENOMENON: THE SOCIO-ECONOMIC CONTROL OF A SCIENTIFIC PARADIGM

I have collaborated with Gensuke Tokoro of the Institute for the Study of Panspermia and Astroeconomics, Gifu, Japan to produce this paper.

A major paradigm shift with potentially profound implications has been taking place over the past 3 decades at a rapidly accelerating pace. The Copernican revolution of half a millennium ago is now being extended to place humanity on the Earth in its correct cosmic perspective – an assembly of cosmically derived viral genes, no more, no less, pieced together over 4 billion years of geological history against the processes of Darwinian natural selection. The evidence for our cosmic ancestry has now grown to the point that to deny it is a process fraught with imminent danger. We discuss the weight of modern scientific evidence from diverse sources, the history of development of the relevant ideas, and the socio-economic and historical forces that are responsible for dictating the pace of change.

Please feel free to access the full paper through this URL.

In summary we conclude : A paradigm shift of the kind we have discussed in this article may be stalled for seemingly rational reasons based on either prudence or pragmatism:

  1. The proposed paradigm shift from Earth-centred life to cosmic-centred life might be perceived as a threat to national security. People may become so scared and emotionally unsettled that even the enforcement of law and order might pose a problem.
  2. To admit that we have supported a wrong paradigm may have economic repercussions in regard to the many large funding commitments already in place for exploring ideas based on a wrong premise.
  3. An inevitable demand that would follow for re-orientation of existing space programmes would have serious fiscal implications that would need to be kept in mind.
  4. It would have to be deemed prudent to monitor the stratosphere for potentially lethal incoming pathogens, and such a world-wide programme would require large budgets as well as new strategies in world health economics.

I am planning a BLOG post in the fall which offers a positive vision for the way forward.

2014-8-8 : My Letter to the UK National Newspaper – The Independent – Rosetta hints at life on comets

(This letter appeared today in the Friday 8th August issue of The Independent, UK).

The encounter of the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko has generated a wave of media excitement that is surely well justified.

However, science reporters and commentators who have described the comet as a “hurtling lump of dust and ice” have unwittingly downgraded the importance of the mission. They take no account of discoveries spanning more than three decades, indicating a large carbonaceous content of comets that gives rise to their dark, coal-like surfaces. Consistent with the theories of the late Sir Fred Hoyle and the present writer, the connection between comets, life and evolution has developed to the point that a life-detection experiment on the Rosetta lander would have been amply justified.

However, for mainly cultural reasons, such an experiment was not included in the mission, and in the event only indirect support of a comet-life connection can be expected from this mission.

The rendezvous with the comet that was achieved on 7 August 2014 has led to stunning close-up images of its surface. Rough terrain of low reflectivity appears to be interspersed with smoother areas that could represent recently exposed subsurface lakes that were laden with microbial life.

The high rate of outgasing that has been observed from early June points to the action of microbial life within such sub-surface lakes.

More evidence – albeit indirect evidence – pointing to our cosmic cometary ancestry is likely to be unravelled from experiments to be conducted in the Rosetta mission in the months that lie ahead.

Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe

University of Buckingham

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/letters/letters-rosetta-hints-at-life-on-comets-9655339.html#commentReference

2014-7-14 : Rosetta Mission Approaches COMET 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (67P/C-G

July 2014 : I am sure you already know that Rosetta will be the first mission in history to rendezvous with a comet – with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (67P/C-G). I risk the ire of other astronomers by referring to the COMET as COMET ROSETTA only because the latest name 67P/C-G just does not capture my imagination. I think CNN and BBC need an easier name.

In July 2014, the Rosetta Mission is already approaching the Comet as it orbits the Sun. With what promises to be a stunning implementation of ESA’s daring vision, in November 2014, the mission will actually deploy a landing vehicle onto the crusted surface of the COMET.

Last year, in 2013, the whole world watched another COMET, COMET ISON. We were spell-bound as the Comet headed in towards the SUN. Through coverage by CNN and the BBC (and eventually all the world’s media) the event attracted global attention. We all recall that ISON, in the end, failed to amaze, as it was destroyed by the gravity of the Sun on Thanksgiving evening 2013.

But this time, the almost certain landing promises to deliver wonderful TV footage that the world’s media is expected to cover for many hours if not days or weeks. Rosetta will arrive at the comet in August 2014. The Philae lander itself will be finally be deployed in November 2014.

Humans have always marvelled at landings on other bodies. First there was the wonder of landing on the MOON ; then there was the thrill of MARS CURIOSITY landing on Mars. But the concept of landing on a Comet is beyond most people’s imagination. I believe it will be breathtaking television. The movie “Gravity” educated every girl and boy on the planet about the International Space Station and the challenges of orbiting the Earth

But now childrens’ minds will be expanded as they experience landing on a body which is orbiting the Sun. I promise you the build up on TV will be amazing, as first Rosetta comes very close to the comet in just a matter of weeks. We will then share the thrill of flying alongside the comet. This will continue from August until November. And then the “reality show” culminates with this most amazing landing which I predict will happen in “prime time” in the USA.

ROSETTA’s route to the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenkohas (C-G) has been a long 10 year journey. I was fortunate to be one of the original principal investigators. But I admit to great disappointment when I realized that Rosetta was not going to carry “life detection and verification” equipment. If truth be told, in those days we did not really understand the extraordinary role of viruses in the evolution of life on Earth. Symbiogenesis has revolutionized our understanding of life and it makes me even more confident that the original theories of my now passed collaborator Sir Fred Hoyle, and myself, will eventually be confirmed. Just as 2013 was the year Panspermia became mainstream science, so 2014/2015 could well be the time that we finally discover undebateable evidence that “Life is a Cosmic Phenomenon”.

So now in 2014, as the Rosetta space craft approaches the Comet 67P/CG (Churyumov-Gerasimenko), our knowledge of viruses and bacteria and especially symbiotic life, has grown substantially. We also recognize that NASA has refocused from “the search for water” to “the difficult endeavor of searching for the signs of life”. The ESA/NASA Rosetta team are guaranteed to be employing all the very latest tools we have at our disposal using remote spectroscopy by the wonderful Chile-based ALMA telescope. Will we be able to detect life or even the signs of life?

I am pleased to share my predictions with you, and have written a short paper for your enjoyment and understanding.  The paper is adapted from a review invited by the open access journal The Journal of Astrobiology and Outreach (JAO).

May your life too be a Cosmic Phenomenon

Prof. Chandra Wickramasinghe
http://sci.esa.int/rosetta/

 

PS Assisted by my colleagues Brig Klyce and Bill Smith, this BLOG and our associated newsletter is designed to be a convenient way for the avid science reader to keep up to date with the growing evidence that “Life is a Cosmic Phenomenon”. Panspermia has entered mainstream science. Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe.

2014-7-14 : This New Quarterly Email Newsletter

I am delighted to launch our new quarterly email newsletter. It is aimed at the general public with an interest in science and especially in my life-time passion – everything related to the sometimes contentious concept that LIFE IS A COSMIC PHENOMENON. 

Last year we created a base paper summarizing the Panspemia Hypothesis in 2013.

This newsletter will build upon this foundation, exploring increasing evidence for Panspermia as astrobiology starts to play a dominant role in most experiments underway and planned by NASA, the ESA, and by the Space Programs of China, India and Japan. 

Feedback is appreciated. Please feel free to contact me : 

Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe
Director of the Buckingham Centre for Astrobiology, 
University of Buckingham, 
Buckingham, UK
http://www.profchandra.org

We ask you to go to my website and opt-in to our subscriber database : you will see the “subscribe” menu item at http://profchandra.org/subscribe-newsletter/

POLONNARUWA METEORITE AS PROOF OF EXTRATERRESTRIAL LIFE GETS SUPPORT AT PRESIDENTIAL LEVEL IN SRI LANKA

I delivered a lecture entitled “New evidence for life as a cosmic phenomenon” at the Astronomical Society of Oman in Muscat on 15th January 2014, at the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka on 23rd January.  The audience at Peradeniya included Professor Rohana Chandrajith, Professor of Geology, who had been reported as being antagonistic to the idea that the Polonnaruwa (Aralaganwila) stones that fell on 29th December 2012 were indeed meteorites1.  In a discussion that followed the lecture Professor Chandrajith agreed that the Polonnaruwa stones in question did not resemble any that can be found anywhere locally.  He further confirmed that his earlier reservations were based on the fact that these stones were different structurally and compositionally from any of the known and documented classes of meteorites.  He alo agreed that there is no possibility that these could be fragments of industrial slag as was proposed by some critics.

The most recent studies of the Aralaganwila stones by Jamie Wallis et al2,3 that show oxygen isotope compositions inconsistent with Earth material, as well as extraordinarily high amounts of the terrestrially rare chemical element iridium strengthens the case for the Polonnaruwa stones being meteorites, and if so they contain unequivocal evidence of the existence of extraterrestrial microbial life.  This discovery would then transform the way we think about the Earth and of life upon it as radically and profoundly as did the Copernican revolution some 500 years ago.

The view that the Polonnaruwa meteorites represent fragments of loosely held siliceous grain material within a cometary bolide from which water and volatiles were boiled off upon entry, thus leaving a highly porous structure, remains the most plausible explanation of all the available facts.  A provisional identification with meteoroids in the annual Taurid meteor stream4 which we originally made is interesting particularly in view of the fact that the large bolide which led to the Tunguska event of 1908 did not lead to the recovery of any large meteorite fragments.

On 24th January 2014 I had an audience with His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapakse, President of the Democratic Republic of Sri Lanka.  I appraised the President of the latest findings regarding the Aralaganwila meteorite and urged His Excellency to declare the location of the 29th December 2012 meteorite fall as a site of national scientific heritage.  In the fullness of time the events of this day that took place in Sri Lanka would be regarded as having established beyond doubt that life is a truly cosmic phenomenon.  President Rajapakse gave assent to this proposal without reservation and immediately set in train the protocol that would ensure its implementation