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September 20, 2013 10:25 AM   Subscribe

The truth IS out there: British scientists claim to have found proof of alien life
A team of British scientists is convinced it has found proof of alien life, after it harvested strange particles from the edge of space. The scientists sent a balloon 27km into the stratosphere, which came back carrying small biological organisms which they believe can only have originated from space.

'Alien Life' Claim Far From Convincing, Astronomy Experts Say
Isolation of A Diatom Frustule Fragment from the Lower Stratosphere (22-27Km) - Evidence for a Cosmic Origin
posted by andoatnp (64 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is nonsense. The earth origin of the fragments they found has nowhere near been ruled out. It's very much an assertion without a firm grounding.
posted by Thing at 10:29 AM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


Excuse me, I have to head down to the store in Piedmont to pickup some Sterno.
posted by smoothvirus at 10:30 AM on September 20, 2013 [20 favorites]


I've seen this movie. Someone get the red key and disarm the thermonuclear self-destruct right away; an atomic blast will only provide a fantastically rich growth medium.
posted by radwolf76 at 10:31 AM on September 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


I should have expected someone named smoothvirus to snipe me on that reference.
posted by radwolf76 at 10:32 AM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


Ah, Michael Crichton. The author who has gained the most from the existence of Orson Scott Card.
posted by Naberius at 10:34 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


As always, Phil Plait is The Man to go to for this sort of claim.
posted by bondcliff at 10:36 AM on September 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


For reference, the "Journal of Cosmology" is not a real journal.
posted by kiltedtaco at 10:37 AM on September 20, 2013 [11 favorites]


There is a reason this is published in the predatory Journal of Cosmology
posted by Blasdelb at 10:38 AM on September 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


Reminds me of the theory that comets may have seeded life on earth.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:38 AM on September 20, 2013


"Predatory" is a nice way to put it. They're scum.
posted by aramaic at 10:41 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, was gonna say. Incredible findings published in a sketchy-ass journal? Breathless quotes direct from the scientists themselves in the mainstream media? A fantastic conclusion that seems to ignore a blindingly obvious and much more likely alternative hypothesis?

My crank meter just pegged the stop. This is ridiculous pseudoscience.
posted by Scientist at 10:41 AM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


For reference, the "Journal of Cosmology" is not a real journal.

At first, I thought it was the more reliable Journal of Cosmetology, then I realized it was these guys.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:42 AM on September 20, 2013 [18 favorites]


Wait a minute, I thought predatory-reviewed science was real science!
posted by KokuRyu at 10:43 AM on September 20, 2013


They don't talk about why they think diatoms can't end up at 22026m, but the fact that they can plausibly end up there is clearly demonstrated by another very famous paper (previously on metafilter) that is also totally bullshit in a way both metafilter and the internet as a whole has totally missed.
Microbiome of the upper troposphere: Species composition and prevalence, effects of tropical storms, and atmospheric implications PNAS
The composition and prevalence of microorganisms in the middle-to-upper troposphere (8–15 km altitude) and their role in aerosol-cloud-precipitation interactions represent important, unresolved questions for biological and atmospheric science. In particular, airborne microorganisms above the oceans remain essentially uncharacterized, as most work to date is restricted to samples taken near the Earth’s surface. Here we report on the microbiome of low- and high-altitude air masses sampled onboard the National Aeronautics and Space Administration DC-8 platform during the 2010 Genesis and Rapid Intensification Processes campaign in the Caribbean Sea. The samples were collected in cloudy and cloud-free air masses before, during, and after two major tropical hurricanes, Earl and Karl. Quantitative PCR and microscopy revealed that viable bacterial cells represented on average around 20% of the total particles in the 0.25- to 1-μm diameter range and were at least an order of magnitude more abundant than fungal cells, suggesting that bacteria represent an important and underestimated fraction of micrometer-sized atmospheric aerosols. The samples from the two hurricanes were characterized by significantly different bacterial communities, revealing that hurricanes aerosolize a large amount of new cells. Nonetheless, 17 bacterial taxa, including taxa that are known to use C1–C4 carbon compounds present in the atmosphere, were found in all samples, indicating that these organisms possess traits that allow survival in the troposphere. The findings presented here suggest that the microbiome is a dynamic and underappreciated aspect of the upper troposphere with potentially important impacts on the hydrological cycle, clouds, and climate.
It Rains Bullshit After Hurricanes
posted by Blasdelb at 10:45 AM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Dr. Milton Wainwright, astrobiology professor at the university

"And as you can see, this proof of life provides a fantastic reason for our university to have a professor of astrobiology, since that's what such a professor would study, is space life, and that's what I found, is space life, and i am the space life professor, and at the very least this finding should be reason enough to upgrade me to a better printer than the shit Epson model I have, perhaps a printer more befitting a high-profile space life professor like myself"
posted by Greg Nog at 10:47 AM on September 20, 2013 [26 favorites]


"There is no known mechanism by which these life forms can achieve that height. As far as we can tell from known physics, they must be incoming."

Clearly none of them have seen Mrs. Fish sneeze.
posted by jimmythefish at 10:47 AM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Weird lifeforms hitching a ride to Earth on British balloons meant to study strange particles from outer space? I've seen this episode of Doctor Who! And it was an anniversary special! (Coincidence?--Maybe!)
posted by RonButNotStupid at 10:50 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


The fact that the entire paper misspells the word 'drawer' is... interesting.
posted by sweet mister at 10:50 AM on September 20, 2013


From the newspaper article, this sentence:

"The organisms are probably not alive, but, excitingly, probably do contain DNA."

I didn't realise it was possible to sigh several times while reading one short sentence. But it is.
posted by Wordshore at 10:51 AM on September 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


Looks like they've proven the existence of strange globules of hard candy that my grandma used to keep in a bowl in her living room.
posted by not_on_display at 11:02 AM on September 20, 2013


The Journal of COSMOlogy targets contemporary astrobiology professors, featuring beauty, fashion, career and sex advice.

Featured this month: "50 Out-of-the-World Techniques Guaranteed to Send Him/Her/It/Them to the Stratosphere - and Back Again!"
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:04 AM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


*grabs shotgun*
*reads article*
*puts shotgun back in rack*

False alarm.
posted by zarq at 11:04 AM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


He scotched the theory that...

Is that usage really THAT popular? Or can we scotch that usage?
posted by blue_beetle at 11:04 AM on September 20, 2013


Greg Nog: "Dr. Milton Wainwright, astrobiology professor at the university

"And as you can see, this proof of life provides a fantastic reason for our university to have a professor of astrobiology, since that's what such a professor would study, is space life, and that's what I found, is space life, and i am the space life professor, and at the very least this finding should be reason enough to upgrade me to a better printer than the shit Epson model I have, perhaps a printer more befitting a high-profile space life professor like myself"
"

And I want a Mac or one of those touchscreen PCs, since a space life professor like me needs more sciency gear. Besides, if I have a Mac, I can hack the alien's mainframe. We need to be prepared!
posted by Samizdata at 11:06 AM on September 20, 2013


It's Raining Florence Henderson: "The Journal of COSMOlogy targets contemporary astrobiology professors, featuring beauty, fashion, career and sex advice.

Featured this month: "50 Out-of-the-World Techniques Guaranteed to Send Him/Her/It/Them to the Stratosphere - and Back Again!"
"

I liked their series "Strange Tricks That Drive NASA Nuts..."
posted by Samizdata at 11:07 AM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


I prefer the Jounal of Cosmonautautology. It's about russian astronauts because the astronauts are russian.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:09 AM on September 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


These are also the same people who somehow managed to convince the Lancet to publish their idea that SARS came from space
posted by Blasdelb at 11:12 AM on September 20, 2013


One weird trick to pick up alien life forms
posted by exogenous at 11:13 AM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


As usual, there are no ailens, don't get your hopes up, life is prosaic and boring and that will never change. Woo. Sigh.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:13 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


As soon as I hovered over the pdf URL I knew exactly how bullshit this would be.
posted by kmz at 11:17 AM on September 20, 2013


"These organisms we found in Earth's atmosphere are totally not from Earth they're from space."
posted by Nelson at 11:17 AM on September 20, 2013


Knock knock!
Who's there?
ALIENS!
ALIENS! Who?
Uhh, umm, uhhh comet aliens...
posted by Mister_A at 11:23 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Did Ctrl-F for "Wickramasinghe," was not disappointed.
posted by BrashTech at 11:24 AM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


andoatnp: "Frustule"

Is that the smallest indivisible unit of frustration?
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:40 AM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


No, that's a "Fruton." Not to be mistaken for a "Futon," though they're often related.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:42 AM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


blue_beetle: " Is that usage really THAT popular? Or can we scotch that usage?"

The more reputable journals offer bourbon.
posted by zarq at 11:43 AM on September 20, 2013


So this gonna be like that alien red rain that turned out to be algae?
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:46 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Dr. Milton Wainwright, astrobiology professor at the university

Get me Professor Quatermass or GTFO.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:01 PM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


So this gonna be like that alien red rain that turned out to be algae?

Checking Wikipedia it appears to be the guy who said the red rain was just algae.
posted by Artw at 12:08 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


At first, I thought it was the more reliable Journal of Cosmetology.

Their last article on eyebrow threading was groundbreaking but remains controversial.
posted by emjaybee at 12:10 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Actually looking again he seems to be in the "it could be alien" camp, so, yeah, red rain 2.
posted by Artw at 12:10 PM on September 20, 2013


Journal of Cosmology: Enquiring minds wanna know!
posted by michellenoel at 12:26 PM on September 20, 2013


Despite these fantastical claims, the Journal of Cosmology has had its reputation called into question more than once by other members of the scientific community.

That's a weird-ass way to end an article. Is there a page two I'm not seeing?
posted by ook at 12:31 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Nope. The Independent spends a whole article telling us about this amazing scientific find, then in the last sentence mentions that other scientists don't trust this bunch.

It's like writing an article about the amazing new technology of dowsing, then saying at the end that scientists don't think dowsing works.
posted by Kevin Street at 12:36 PM on September 20, 2013


There is no known mechanism by which these life forms can achieve that height. As far as we can tell from known physics, they must be incoming.

So this "scientist" has never heard of a volcano, or an airplane, or a balloon, or an asteroid strike or...
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:52 PM on September 20, 2013


If, as the about page says, only a minority of articles are accepted for publication, one does start to wonder about the content of some of those rejected.
posted by Wordshore at 12:53 PM on September 20, 2013


Wordshore: "If, as the about page says, only a minority of articles are accepted for publication, one does start to wonder about the content of some of those rejected"

it's random.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 12:56 PM on September 20, 2013


So this "scientist" has never heard of a volcano, or an airplane, or a balloon, or an asteroid strike or...

Volcanos are mentioned and dismissed on the grounds that there haven't been any recent big ones.
posted by Artw at 12:57 PM on September 20, 2013


If I may be forgiven for quoting my own comment in the reddit thread about this article:

... convinced ... believe ... "95 per cent convinced" ... must ... credence ... very, very confident ... probably ... probably ... probably ... hint ... probably ... Statistically ... almost too amazing to believe ... hoping ... fantastical ...
posted by The Tensor at 1:12 PM on September 20, 2013


Volcanos are mentioned and dismissed on the grounds that there haven't been any recent big ones.

But it dosn't take a big one and most particles have dropped out by 3 years, not all.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:15 PM on September 20, 2013


Panspermia is a really annoying concept to me because all it does is outsource the creation of life to some other hypothetical life-bearing planetoid located who knows where. It brings us no closer to understanding the origins of life, other than saying "Mars did it."
posted by Apocryphon at 1:18 PM on September 20, 2013


True, but panspermia would make life much more common and harder to wipe out. (Like in this solar system if Mars evolved life, then cooled down and lost its atmosphere, but the life migrated to Earth.) Once one of your planets develops self-replicating organic molecules you'll never get rid of them, no matter how hard or how long you scrub.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:11 PM on September 20, 2013


That's why we developed new Panspermicidal JellyTM.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:38 PM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


The findings presented here suggest that the microbiome is a dynamic and underappreciated aspect of the upper troposphere with potentially important impacts on the hydrological cycle, clouds, and climate.

This reminds me of an Arthur C. Clark short story, where a scientist is transformed into a cyborg so he can explore the Jovian atmosphere, and encounters intelligent clouds.

Man, those were the good ol' days of science fiction.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:02 PM on September 20, 2013


Panspermia would also mean that the aliens could be similar to earth-based life. If we find right-handed DNA with the same four nucleotides we use, it's more likely aliens will look like puppies and kittens than twelve-legged neon crystals. I really want a space puppy.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 3:59 PM on September 20, 2013


No you don't. The light of our yellow sun gives them super poop.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:34 PM on September 20, 2013


The idea of panspermia via diatoms doesn't make any sense from an evolutionary perspective. Diatoms seem primitive on the surface because they're single-celled, but they're fairly complex photosynthetic eukaryotes. We have pretty good evidence via numerous methods that prokaryotic life forms pre-date eukaryotic ones, probably by billions of years, and in particular diatoms fossilize really well (because of their silica shells), so we know they're not as old as the oldest prokaryotic life forms. In fact, molecular evidence (via DNA, endosymbiotic theory, and other methods) is quite clear that diatoms evolved from those prokaryotic life forms. So it really doesn't make any sense for them to be the progenitor of life on Earth.

I suppose you could argue that the diatoms are only evidence of life in space and not the specific life forms that seeded the Earth, but then you have a convergent evolution issue to work out.
posted by Mitrovarr at 6:28 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I suppose you could argue that the diatoms are only evidence of life in space and not the specific life forms that seeded the Earth, but then you have a convergent evolution issue to work out.

Or they are evidence that there are bed bug infestations on UFOs now.
posted by y2karl at 6:37 PM on September 20, 2013


Serves 'em right if there are, too. Mutilate our cows, will ya....
posted by y2karl at 6:38 PM on September 20, 2013


But since no such mechanism has been discovered, they said, the next likely explanation is that the "diatoms" come from space.
cf.
But since no such mechanism has been discovered, they said, the next likely explanation is that an "intelligent designer" created speciation.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:07 PM on September 20, 2013


Also, the absence of high probability is not proof of absence.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:08 PM on September 20, 2013


I really enjoy the journal of cosmology. It represents viewpoints that are pretty fringe, but somehow some decent articles make it through the process.

I wouldn't cite it, but it is worth it just to get familiar with the ideas. Panspermia, biology developing in the nebulas...

This particular article is probably worth a skip though.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 2:08 AM on September 21, 2013


I've read the journal article twice now, and nowhere does it explain how these organisms built the pyramids.
posted by spectrevsrector at 5:54 AM on September 21, 2013


How would silicic acids, iron, carbon, nitrate, and phosphorous manage to stick around in the atmosphere at any reasonable concentrations to where they could support diatom growth? How would photoinhibition not be an issue for these diatoms? Why wouldn't they measure these things on follow up flights? Why wouldn't they sequence the genes of the recovered sample? Why did I read about Occam's razor in the methods section?

I think they glued diatomaceous earth to a balloon, and wrote a paper about it.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:37 AM on September 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


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