Category Archives: History

2018-6-4 : Cosmic Biology in Perspective

Abstract
A series of astronomical observations obtained over the period 1986 to 2018 supports the idea that life is a cosmic rather than a purely terrestrial or planetary phenomenon. These include (1) the detection of biologically relevant molecules in interstellar clouds and in comets, (2) mid-infrared spectra of inter-stellar grains and the dust from comets, (3) a diverse set of data from comets including the Rosetta mission showing consistency with biology and (4) the frequency of Earth-like or habitable planets in the Galaxy. We argue that the conjunction of all the available data suggests the operation of cometary biology and interstellar panspermia rather than the much weaker hypothesis of comets being only the source of the chemical building blocks of life. We conclude with specific  predictions on the properties expected of extra-terrestrial life if it is discovered on Enceladus, Europa or beyond. A radically different
biochemistry elsewhere can be considered as a falsification of the theory of interstellar panspermia.

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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.

2017-9-27 : Ada Derana Sri Lankan of the Year 2017

Ada Derana Sri Lankan of the Year 2017, felicitating outstanding individuals and groups of the island nation, was held for the second consecutive year at the Hilton Hotel in Colombo on Wednesday September 27, 2017. 

Fourteen awards in total were presented to a range of individuals from a range of fields and professions. 

2017 Winners:

Sports – Mr Dinesh Priyantha Herath
Entertainer Classical Category – Mr Ravibandu Vidyapathi
Entertainment Distinguished Achievement – Kala Keerthi Irangani Serasinghe
Entrepreneur – Aban Pestonjee
Global Businessman – Mahesh Amalean
Global Scientist – Prof. Chandra Wickramasinghe
Global Entertainer – Mr Rohan de Silva
Global Professional – Mr Cecil Balmond
Popular Category – Mr Chamara Weerasinghe
Public Service – Mr Gamini Wijesinghe
Unsung Hero – Mrs Lily Violet & Ms. Thilini Nadeeka Shalwin
Bravery Award – Mr Naveen Danushka & Nihal Sarath Kumara & Mr. Eranga Wikumsiri
Lifetime Achievement – Sri Lankaabhimanya Lester James Peiris
ICON of the Year – Mr Muttiah Muralitharan

The Ada Derana ‘Sri Lankan of the Year’ is designed as an exhaustive, rigorous and credible platform to nominate and select Sri Lankans whose dedication and commitment in their chosen fields have inspired pride and patriotism.

In recognising such achievement, it is hoped that fellow Sri Lankans, especially the younger generations, will be inspired to emulate the hard work, passion, and vision of their idols.

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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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