Category Archives: Chandra Wickramasinghe’s BLOG

Chandra Wickramasinghe’s BLOG entries

2018-7-26: LIFE IS A COSMIC PHENOMENON: AN IMMINENT PARADIGM SHIFT OF MOMENTOUS SIGNIFICANCE

The first proposal of life being a cosmic phenomenon was made nearly 4 decades ago by myself, Chandra Wickramasinghe, and the late Sir Fred Hoyle.

As might have been expected the idea was controversial and bitterly contested at the time. However, in the intervening years a raft of evidence from astronomy, biology, and geology have all converged to support the Hoyle-Wickramasinghe (H-W) thesis of Cometary (Cosmic) Biology and cometary panspermia.

Comets are the carriers and distributors of life in the cosmos and life on Earth arose and developed as a result of cometary inputs. Much of the physical and biological evidence for this point of view is multifactorial, and despite a continuing controversy, the trend of the data has been to consistently support the H-W thesis. In contrast, despite much effort and expense, little or no evidence has been discovered to support the standard theory that life originated in a purely Earth-based primordial soup.

A comprehensive review paper by over 30 international scientists, including Chandra Wickramasinghe and Edward Steele, now published in Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology, presents the strongest evidence to date to support the case that life on Earth has cosmic origins.

One particular focus of the new paper is on the recent studies which date the emergence of the complex “retroviruses of vertebrate lines” at or just before the Cambrian Explosion of ~ 500 Ma. Such viruses are known to be plausibly associated with major evolutionary genomic processes.

The many scientists authoring the paper believe this coincidence is not fortuitous but is consistent with a key prediction of H-W theory whereby major extinction-diversification evolutionary boundaries coincide with virus-bearing cometary-bolide bombardment events. A second focus is the remarkable evolution of intelligent complexity (Cephalopods) culminating in the emergence of the Octopus. A third focus concerns the microorganism fossil evidence contained within meteorites as well as the detection in the upper atmosphere of apparent incoming life-bearing particles from space, most recently from a height of 400km. The conclusion is that the totality of available data,combined with critical analyses assembled by Fred Hoyle, Chandra Wickramasinghe and their many colleagues since the 1960s, leads to a very plausible and unique conclusion –life was seeded on Earth by life-bearing comets as soon as conditions on Earth allowed it to flourish (about or just before 4.1 Billion years ago); and living organisms such as space-resistant and space-hardy bacteria, viruses, more complex eukaryotic cells, fertilised ova and seeds have been continuously delivered ever since to Earth so being one important driver of further terrestrial evolution which has resulted in considerable genetic diversity and which has led to the emergence of mankind.

Some biologists, who do not like this trend,have argued that the case for cosmic life in their view is still not compelling enough to abandon the standard Earth-centred theories. The authors of the new review paper reply with the following statement:“Within an individual scientist a paradigm shift occurs in two stages:

(1). An instant personal decision to embrace the new global way of understanding reality. This happens within a blink of an eye, as in a Gestalt shift made famous by Thomas Kuhn. The individual confronting the data compares the available evidence for and against -a piece of evidence clicks into place which only makes sense under the new alternative paradigm, and is quite nonsensical under the old way of understanding the world.

(2). This personal decision can then move into the public domain but there are many inhibitory processes as the scholar and scientist has to weigh up the socio-political costs, such as:

  • How will this affect my relationships with colleagues?
  • How will this affect my prospects for promotion?
  • How will this affect my future prospects for research funding? etc.

The more fundamental the shift the deeper is the problem for successfully moving to stage (2). However these shifts do happen regularly in Science and are largely accrued community decisions over time.The authors conclude with the assertion that the battle between rival paradigms on the origin and further evolution of life on Earth is underway and they look forward to more scientists engaging in it. The intellectual shift in the population of scientists to the cosmic perspective will, of course, be protracted particularly in the messy final stages – for example as occurred in the first Copernican revolution – which are likely to continue for some time. Thus to directly quote Kuhn: ……The state of Ptolemaic (Earth-centred) astronomy was a scandal before Copernicus’ announcement. Given a particular discrepancy, astronomers were invariably able to eliminate it by making some particular adjustment in Ptolemy’s system of compounded circles. But as time went on, a man looking at the net result of the normal research effort of many astronomers could observe that astronomy’s complexity was increasing far more rapidly than its accuracy and that a discrepancy corrected in one place was likely to show up in another(Kuhn 1969).

The paper by Steele et al is linked to here.

2017-11-22: Are We the Aliens We Seek?

“Aliens have reached Earth, say researchers from the University of Edinburgh’s School of Physics and Astronomy, basing their dramatic findings on a new study of fast-moving extraterrestrial dust that constantly rains down on our atmosphere. These particles serve as tiny ‘spaceships’ for microorganisms from alien worlds that traverse the vastness of interstellar space for eons before reaching Earth. This dusty downpour could also collide with biological particles in Earth’s atmosphere with enough energy to send them careening into space, and conceivably onwards to other planets in other solar systems.

Astrobiologists earlier found evidence of microorganisms reaching the planet in air samples taken at extreme altitudes, and from the discovery in 1984 of fossilised worms in a meteorite from Mars. Exciting data from the 1976 Viking space probes, which actually confirmed the presence of Martian microorganisms but were overlooked for 25 years by careless scientists, back these findings. In 2006, researchers from Columbia University discovered traces of amino acids – the building blocks of life – on meteorites that landed in Australia and the US less than a hundred years ago.

Some scientists argue that these extraterrestrial amino acids mixed with moisture in Earth’s ancient atmosphere to produce an acidic “soup” that then nourished the planet’s first organisms. This ties in with the panspermia theory, which says that outer space seeded Earth with comet-borne primitive life forms over four billion years ago. Panspermia never found favour with modern-day scientists till the 1970s, when the late Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramesinghe came across “traces of life” in interstellar dust. When cultured, two species of bacteria and a microfungus found in space rocks turned out to be similar to terrestrial organisms – just as panspermia had predicted. Hoyle and Wickramasinghe believed that a torrent of such “life-altering stuff from space” reaches Earth in cycles related to solar activity and has affected the evolution of terrestrial life. If this is indeed the reality, the ‘miracle’ of life could happen anywhere, and our microbial ancestors, or more evolved cousins, are scattered like chaff throughout the universe” , by   ON 

 

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2017-8-7 : A Community Grows around the Geysering World of Enceladus

“As Cassini’s extraordinary 13 years of exploration concludes, enjoy this up-to-the-minute, far-reaching, wide-ranging look at that little moon Enceladus, at Saturn with the big possibilities”,  Carolyn C. Porco, University of California, Berkeley, California.  Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colorado.

“The four following papers in this collection address, in one form or another, the anticipated bioloads at Enceladus, and the detectable biosignatures that might be present in its plume. Steel et al. (2017) construct a thermal model that assumes 10% of the geothermal heat emerging from the moon’s core drives hot (90°C) hydrothermal fluid flow, which results, through water/rock interactions, in the production of H2. In their work, 100% of the molecular hydrogen thus produced is subsequently consumed by methanogens to produce biomass. They thus estimate, at the vents, 90 μM of biologically produced amino acids, and microbial concentrations as high as 109 cells/mL; 10% of the latter rise in the thermal plumes that originate at the vents and eventually reach the base of the ice shell. If these authors are correct, and Enceladus approaches this high-efficiency scenario, especially if the process of bubble-scrubbing (see below) is at work, then the search for biosignatures, even microbes, in the samples collected from Enceladus’ plume could be easily accomplished.”

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Chandra Wickramasinghe

PS “Convergence to Panspermia”?

Enhanced interplanetary panspermia in the TRAPPIST-1 system

Delighted to read this May 2017 paper by  Manasvi Lingam and Abraham Loeb

Significance

The search for extraterrestrial life is one of the most exciting frontiers in present-day astronomy. Recently, the TRAPPIST-1 star was discovered to host seven rocky planets with masses and radii similar to those of the Earth, of which at least three of them may be capable of supporting life. Our paper addresses the possibility that life on one of these planets can spread to others through the transfer of rocky material. We conclude that this process has a high probability of being operational, implying that this planetary system may possess multiple life-bearing planets. Thus, our work has profound theoretical and observational consequences for future studies of the TRAPPIST-1 system and the likelihood of life in our galaxy.

http://www.pnas.org/content/114/26/6689.abstract

2017-7-1 : Did Life on Earth Come From Outer Space?

I thought my readers might enjoy this article :

A look at the scientific evidence for panspermia.

“The strongest evidence to support a cosmic origin of life and panspermia is the mind-boggling complexity of life.”

My colleague Sir Fred Hoyle famously commented :

In the 16 years since Fred passed,  we have discovered so much more about the complexity of “life” at the nano-scale. The more we learn about viruses and their contribution to our “human” biosystem, the more we become aware of just how intuitively right Fred was.

I thought I would finish this post with a reference to Wikipedia. With all its flaws it does attempt to be a source for the latest thinking even if you need to check what has been recently deleted to see the best latest and best hypotheses.

Here is a clip from Wikipedia on July 1 , 2017 :

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life

“Life is a characteristic distinguishing physical entities having biological processes, such as signaling and self-sustaining processes, from those that do not, either because such functions have ceased, or because they never had such functions and are classified as inanimate. Various forms of life exist, such as plants, animals, fungi, protists, archaea, and bacteria. The criteria can at times be ambiguous and may or may not define viruses, viroids, or potential artificial life as “living”. Biology is the primary science concerned with the study of life, although many other sciences are involved.

The definition of life is controversial. The current definition is that organisms maintain homeostasis, are composed of cells, undergo metabolism, can grow, adapt to their environment, respond to stimuli, and reproduce. However, many other biological definitions have been proposed, and there are some borderline cases of life, such as viruses. Throughout history, there have been many attempts to define what is meant by “life” and many theories on the properties and emergence of living things, such as materialism, the belief that everything is made out of matter and that life is merely a complex form of it; hylomorphism, the belief that all things are a combination of matter and form, and the form of a living thing is its soul; spontaneous generation, the belief that life repeatedly emerges from non-life; and vitalism, a now largely discredited hypothesis that living organisms possess a “life force” or “vital spark”. Modern definitions are more complex, with input from a diversity of scientific disciplines. Biophysicists have proposed many definitions based on chemical systems; there are also some living systems theories, such as the Gaia hypothesis, the idea that the Earth itself is alive. Another theory is that life is the property of ecological systems, and yet another is elaborated in complex systems biology, a branch or subfield of mathematical biology. Abiogenesis describes the natural process of life arising from non-living matter, such as simple organic compounds. Properties common to all organisms include the need for certain core chemical elements to sustain biochemical functions.

Life on Earth first appeared as early as 4.28 billion years ago, soon after ocean formation 4.41 billion years ago, and not long after the formation of the Earth 4.54 billion years ago.[1][2][3][4] Earth’s current life may have descended from an RNA world, although RNA-based life may not have been the first. The mechanism by which life began on Earth is unknown, though many hypotheses have been formulated and are often based on the Miller–Urey experiment. The earliest known life forms are microfossils of bacteria. In July 2016, scientists reported identifying a set of 355 genes believed to be present in the last universal common ancestor (LUCA) of all living organisms.[5]

I think Fred would concur with me that although this is an acceptable public representation of life, this misses the profound discovery that all visible life forms are not a simple single “entity” but a complex biosystem of interacting clouds of viruses, bacteria and as yet undiscovered nano-life forms.

I always smile when I think of this as it reminds me of just how great Fred’s  visionary novel was – the Black Cloud.

2017-7-1 : Sky At Night Asks “Did Life Come From Space” – Again after 40 years

It was 11 October 1978, 40 years ago next year, that Patrick Moore interviewed Sir Fred Hoyle and Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe on the  hypothesis that “Life is a Cosmic Phenomenon”.

Since that time experiment after experiment, have accumulated evidence consistent with the hypothesis;  and today in 2017, Panspermia remains the “best” model for life in space.

Truly mainstream science is on a 40 year scientific journey – a  “Convergence to Panspermia” .

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2017-6-24 : To Confirm “Life on MARS” Do We Need to Put Men On Mars?

O’ the irony!

Having already spread billions of dessicated viruses and bacteria on the surface of Mars and most other local bodies, over so many missions, we now announced that:

“We may need to put men on Mars before we can really rule out life on the Red Planet once and for all”.

So man arrives on the surface of a planet or moon not as a single human entity – but as a biosystem of billions of cells, the majority of which are not human BUT viruses and bacteria.

But we will have little idea which are ours and so came with us versus which were already on Mars or Europa. Quite a quandary.

In 2017, we have only identified 10,000 viruses against millions of virus types that might exist even on earth.  Everywhere we apply the latest virus detection hardware and software we discover breakthrough virus types.

We need to accept that “Life IS a Cosmic Phenomenon”.

Once we accept microbes are everywhere,  on every body in the solar system (and maybe galaxy) we can openly start looking for more intelligent beings.  More intelligent than we humans that is.

 

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2017-5-31 : Wickramasinghe – Hoyle theories vindicated – By: Piyavi Wijewardene

Wickramasinghe – Hoyle theories vindicated – By: Piyavi Wijewardene

Prof. Wickramasinghe told me: “…This new discovery combined with very many others that have come to light over the past two decades establishes beyond doubt that life on Earth came from space and still continues to do so. We are well and truly creatures of the cosmos. A major paradigm shift that has been resisted for too long must finally be conceded…”

If the claim that bacteria are constantly falling to Earth from space holds up, this will be an enormous scientific advance that will revolutionise our entire view of life and the universe. Only time will tell.

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PS In May 2016, the Rosetta Mission team reported the presence of glycine, methylamine and ethylamine in the coma of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. This, plus the detection of phosphorus, is consistent with the hypothesis that comets played a crucial role in the emergence of life on Earth. 

It is also consistent with the Theory of Cometary Panspermia that life came to Earth inside watery comets. 

 – Piyavi Wijewardene, Researcher – Academy For Global Business Advancement.