Category Archives: Chandra Wickramasinghe’s BLOG

Chandra Wickramasinghe’s BLOG entries

2017-2-27 : Life’s Beginnings

Letter to the Editor of The Times

LONDON, 27 February 2017 .

Sir, The recent report of Winston Churchill’s unpublished essay News, Feb 16. 2017), in which he argues that planets outside the solar system are likely to be inhabited, came days before Nasa’s announcement of the discovery of seven Earth-like planets
39 light years away orbiting the star Trappist-l (News, Feb 23).

The two announcements have a rare consonance. If life does indeed
exist on a multiplicity of planets, it would mean either that life starts
everywhere de novo with ease or it spreads from a single unknown
starting point. In view of the continued failure of science to demonstrate that life can start spontaneously in a planetary
environment, the more likely option is the latter — one proposed and developed by the late Sir Fred Hoyle and myself over the past four decades.

Microbial life from which all other life derives is transported with
comparative ease and spreads across the galaxy like an infection.

Churchill’s conjecture would then be verified.


Director, Buckingham Centre for Astrobiology,

University of Buckingham


2016-10-26 : MUMBAI hosts astrobiology conference on life in space

India’s first Astrobiology Conference Life in Space – was organised in the city of MUMBAI by the Indian Astrobiology Research Centre and IARC Centre for United Nations in collaboration with Nehru Science Centre.

The conference was a huge success attended by Astrobiology students from across India. 

Prof. Chandra Wickramasinghe from Churchill College, Cambridge University, UK delivered the first Arthur C Clarke memorial lecture, based on his four decades long quest for extraterrestrial life.

In particular his lecture reviewed his lifelong efforts to test the Panspermia Theory. In 2016 this remains the most likely hypothesis for the spreading of life across the galaxy.

As humans review the wonderful data from the recent ESA visit to Comet 67P, and as we prepare to visit Mars and moons of Jupiter and Saturn, evidence converges to Panspermia as still the most likely explanation on the spread of viruses, bacteria, algae etc across the Milky Way.

Sir Arthur C. Clarke entertains Chandra at his home in Sri Lanka.
Sir Arthur C. Clarke entertains Chandra at his home in Sri Lanka.


Sir Arthur C. Clarke bronze at the historic Galle Face Hotel in Colombo where CW stayed en route to Mumbai. ACC wrote most of the novel 2001 A Space Odyssey whilst he stayed at this same hotel!

The theory of panspermia hypothesizes that life did not originate on Earth but was delivered to Earth from some other part of the galaxy or even from another part of the universe.

On this occasion, a new fund called, “Chandra Wickramasinghe Fund for Panspermia Research” was announced. This fund will encourage astrobiology research amongst students in India.



Report by Chandra Wickramasinghe

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.

The Hoyle-Wickramasinghe Model of Panspermia is now globally acknowledged as the most likely hypothesis of how life spread throughout our Solar System, Galaxy and even Universe.

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.

2014-10-15 : MARS MAVEN MISSION turns its powerful instruments towards COMET Siding Spring this weekend

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

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 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.

The catalog of discoveries of complex molecules is well maintained in Wikipedia at :

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”.

NASA Search for Life
NASA Search for 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.

This could well be the paradigm changing moment.


Fingers crossed!

Prof. Chandra Wickramasinghe
Director, Buckingham Centre for Astrobiology and Honorary Professor, University of Buckingham, UK
Visiting Professor University of Peradeniya, Peradeniya, Sri Lanka

Member of the Board of Trustees and Director of Research of the Institute for the Study of Panspermia and Astroeconomics, Gifu, Japan


William E. Smith, Director of CardioCommSolutions Inc. and Student of Prof. Chandra Wickramasinghe

Associate of the University of Peradeniya, Peradeniya, Sri Lanka