First Evidence of life coming from space.
July 30, 2001 7:30 AM   Subscribe

First Evidence of life coming from space. One third a ton a day raining down, according to these researchers.
posted by stbalbach (18 comments total)
This so called extraterrestrial bacteria does not come from another planet or comet, it comes from Earth. They fill up satellites with genetically engineered bacteria that control our minds. They proceed to gradually release these bacteria so they can keep us docile. It's not an actual television satellite, the bacteria just make me think I'm getting another 500 channels.
posted by dave at 8:25 AM on July 30, 2001

Gold Bond Medicated Powder anyone? Them extraterrestrial bacterias be itchy.
posted by UncleFes at 8:31 AM on July 30, 2001

Panspermia. Don't forget the umbrella.
posted by pracowity at 8:44 AM on July 30, 2001

this reminds me of the chtorr books by David Gerrold...first it was the alien bacteria which killed about 2/3's of the earth's population, and then strange red-hued plants took over earth's ecology. and after all that....Giant Pink Worms came and started eating everyone!!!
posted by s.carrier at 8:44 AM on July 30, 2001

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. Their claim that this life comes from space is predicated on the assumption that bacteria at that altitude couldn't possibly have come from below by wind currents, but no evidence is presented for that fact and indeed that seems far more likely.

However, it can be proved conclusively if they can culture the bacteria and then do genetic analysis of it. If it uses the same transfer RNA as earth life then it's from here. If it is different, then it's from outside.

But simply finding bacteria in the upper atmosphere doesn't prove anything (except that there are bacteria in the upper atmosphere).
posted by Steven Den Beste at 8:51 AM on July 30, 2001

I agree Steven the article seems very optimistic about an extraordinary claim and it needs extraordinary proof. But couldnt finding the same RNA on Earth conversly prove life originated in space? If life is so ubiquitous we are likely to find the same things everywhere we look and it becomes yet again the chicken and egg. Perhaps if we find it being shed in comet tails that might be good proof.
posted by stbalbach at 9:45 AM on July 30, 2001

If you find that upper-air bacteria have the same transfer RNA as earth life, it proves that both forms of life came from the same source but doesn't prove that the source is space. Life had to develop somewhere so why not here? The steps involved in creation of life have not yet been fully worked out but many of them are now reasonably well understood and none of them appear to be inconsistent with the conditions though to have occurred on Earth.

Anyway, their whole theory is based on the unfounded claim that life from the lower atmosphere couldn't have been blown up to the upper atmosphere. At the very least that would have to be justified before these claims could be taken seriously at all.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 11:19 AM on July 30, 2001

Life had to develop somewhere so why not here?

No reason at all. But statistically it seems rather less likely, all else being equal...
posted by rushmc at 11:23 AM on July 30, 2001

Rush, that's not known. We don't know how common locations are where life can develop or thrive; all we know is that we have one. If only one planet in a hundred billion can do it (which may be the case) then it makes more sense that it should have happened on the one we know than that it happened somewhere else and came here.

I'm not saying that Panspermia is wrong. I'm saying that there is no convincing evidence for it.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 12:16 PM on July 30, 2001

If only one planet in a hundred billion can do it (which may be the case) then it makes more sense that it should have happened on the one we know than that it happened somewhere else and came here.

Possibly, but that would also depend upon the total population size of planets with sufficient characteristics (as well as other unknown factors, such as transmission vectors, etc.).

There is no convincing evidence either way, and in the absence of data, it is rather silly and futile to argue probability. That's all I'm saying.
posted by rushmc at 12:27 PM on July 30, 2001

as of the last attempted mars landing, nasa has finally included the methods of collecting samples to be examined by microbiologists. good. nasa has long overlooked this aspect, instead focusing on alien life simply coming up to their probes and saying howdy.

there have been some interesting theories about space debris seeding earth in its infancy, just as mars was turning inhabitable. sun expands, temperate zone shifts, new planet falls into ideal temperature. old planet heats, expels matter, both organic and inorganic, lucky earth catches some debris, and the seeds are planted.

even if these findings are incorrect, it should at least open the us governments eyes to the fact that this scenario could be possible, and perhaps deserves a better look than was previously given.
posted by mich9139 at 1:34 PM on July 30, 2001

That meme came from David Hume, a philosopher in the 18th century. However, here's a modern explanation of it.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 2:38 PM on July 30, 2001

Skallas, "extraordinary proof" is just a shorthand way of saying that if acceptance of a particular hypothesis under consideration would lead to a substantial modification of your worldview, that you should be darned well sure of it before you accept it.

For instance, if I am working in a lab and observe what I believe to be an instance of cold fusion, a phenomenon whose possibility the accumulated body of science would tend to strongly cast in doubt, it would prudent for me to reproduce the experiment several times, rule out possible errors and assemble a strong collection of evidence before allowing unfettered acceptance of this new "phenomenon" into my worldview and possibly contaminating the intuition of myself or others with falsehoods.

The evidence is all very much of the "ordinary" variety; the "extraordinary" part refers to how much evidence one is obliged to assemble, given the stakes.
posted by krebby at 2:44 PM on July 30, 2001

There is no consensus about life on other planets. About all you'd find as a consensus is that it's possible. But no-one has any credible and convincing estimate of how likely it is. It may happen in half the star systems or only once per galaxy. We simply don't know, and anyone who claims that they do is lying.

In actuality, it is not as bad as cold fusion simply because that was outright false. But that's not saying much, and it isn't a lot more credible than that right now. There's a lot of faith and belief but damned little actual evidence. All we know is that it's possible since we see it around us. We don't know how common it is.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 4:49 PM on July 30, 2001

Was this reported in any major newspaper? I checked the Washington Post and didn't see anything. It seems like pretty remarkable news to go unreported. If it's legit, I mean.

There was nothing on Yahoo, either, and that's where Unisci says it gets much of its news.
posted by anapestic at 4:55 PM on July 30, 2001

The simpler theory is often the best. It's more likely that the bacteria came from Earth than space, statistically or otherwise.

Wind may not be the mechanism but I'm sure there are others worth examining. Ones that spring to mind are volcanism or (earth) debris being thrown up from a comet or meteor impact (like as in the one the wiped the dinosaurs or the one that brought Martian "bacteria" to Earth).
posted by lagado at 8:37 PM on July 30, 2001

The point was that this is a third of a ton of organisms per day. That's a lot, and any other method of getting that many organisms up there regularly is just as extraordinary as them coming from space.
posted by Ptrin at 8:55 PM on July 30, 2001

No, I'm afraid not. That third of a ton figure is based on a whole lot of assumptions which may not be true, like the assumption that all of it is from space, and an assumption about the rate at which it then falls down out of the upper atmosphere and has to be replenished, not to mention extrapolations of densities of lifeforms in the entire upper atmosphere of the earth from a few tiny samples. That number is pure fiction.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 10:12 PM on July 30, 2001

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