Cosmic life

Print edition : October 19, 2012

THE theory of panspermia (the hypothesis that life exists throughout the universe, distributed by comets, meteorites, asteroids and planetoids) has found fresh support from the results of a new research reported at the ongoing European Planetary Science Congress in Madrid. Panspermia was originally proposed and argued by the British astronomer Fred Hoyle and his collaborators, the Sri Lankan physicist N.C. Wickramasinghe of Cardiff University and the Indian physicist Jayant Narlikar. A multi-institution balloon experiment in 1999, conducted by the Indian Space Research Organisation and coordinated by Wickramasinghe and Narlikar, did find some positive signatures for panspermia (Frontline, December 22, 2000).

In the present work, mathematicians Edward Belbruno of Princeton University and Amaya Moro-Mortin of Centro de Astrobiologia, Madrid, have provided the strongest support yet for lithopanspermia, a version of panspermia. The hypothesis of lithopanspermia, also called interstellar panspermia, is that rocks expelled from a planets surface by collision impacts serve as transfer vehicles for spreading biological material from one solar system to another. Microorganism-carrying planetary fragments thrown into space by planetary volcanic eruptions or collisions with objects such as asteroids get trapped by the gravity of other planetary systems, thereby transferring biological material. Through mathematical modelling, the work has shown that contrary to what was believed earlier, under certain conditions there is a high probability that basic life forms came to earth, or spread from earth to other planets, during the solar systems infancy when the earth and its planetary neighbours orbiting other stars would have been close enough to each other to exchange lots of solid material.

Stories by R. Ramachandran
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