Monday, March 14, 2011

Why am I skeptical about that microbe in a meteorite being an alien species?

It appears that people are making a buzz with this new publication by Dr. Richard Hoover, a scientist at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. Though you may think it would be pretty cool if this is all true, and hence an indicator that life came from space, which I here don't deny nor do I support. I am open to the possibility of it though. I would like to clarify that my piece refers to this particular fragment of a meteorite containing 'life' and this form of life being assumed to be from outside planet earth, why so?

Many scientists have been invited to give their opinions. I will like to contribute my 2 cents here based in my knowledge as ecologist, microbial scientist, and earth link.

1. The scientists argue that this form of life has not been described before. Lets us do not forget that only 1-2% of the potential microbial species has been described. This particular form may have been in that 98% of undiscovered or non-described species. A set of microbes have been assigned codes because their dnr/rna has been recorded but we still don't know much about them. I also doubt we have been at this point able to put all existing records together.
2. Planet earth has the conditions for like-species so what makes this particular taxa unique and potentially non-terrestrial? Is there any evidence that this piece of asteroid was never in contact with air particles, dust, water or soil from our planet?
3. Several missions from planet earth have visited the space so do we have any idea about the possibility of terrestrial forms being dispersed on the space-- and remaining there as dormant? If planets such as Jupiter and some moons or goldilocks planets (have similarities with the earth) could provide clues for life in the space, why would not we look there instead of at a random piece or fragment of meteorite, which initial conditions we don not know at all.
4.Just for a moment turning science fiction into reality and considering the possibility of space crafts from other planets or universes visiting us, what would they have brought? What would they have taken?
5.Do we really know what other forms of 'living things are we looking for? What if the other forms could not be defined in terms of the same structures of the earth.
6.Physicists said that of most the elements that are present in our planet are present elsewhere. Would that means that we are looking for alike organisms in all places bacterias adapted to rich iron for Mars or the predominant conditions on other planets. This bring me back to the point, why do we care about this meteorite?

I do think there is very likely life somewhere else. Would not it be nice if we were so unique here on planet earth? Would it being unique will help us to appreciate our planet much more said physicist Brian Cox during a recent visit to Madison, WI. Yet, I imagine that Dr. Cox like many other scientists, and the rest of humanity hope for life somewhere else.

Astrobiology is indeed a very exciting field. It can provide many clues about the evolution of life on our own system...and it may also provide the ultimate hope of finding other places where our species would potentially thrive. If there is life in other planets or meteorites that would give us some hints about possibilities for our own species. It will help us to understand a lot of things.

I am highly enthusiastic about Astrobiology as a human endeavour I am still not convinced by this particular fragment providing the clues that we need. I am not unique in this view.In an article that was published by the Washington Post other scientist point out some of the weakness of the study--which in part have to do with not following the ways any biological study with perform a test for species identity. Further than that, the scientists who promote the study argue that they publish such
inconclusive and highly publicized results just to stir up the discussion (Scientist skeptical of meteorite alien life.) I suppose to bring about the old question, is there life outside planet earth. Does good science needs to surrender to the media? Isn't the old science ways good enough? Lets do good science and if there are noteworthy results those shall be announced to the press. Instead they lifted a veil and stirred the emotions of the public that for so long has hopes about the ultimate answer science could provide about such fundamental and even philosophical questions of whether or not we are alone as a 'thinking species' in the Universe.
Is there life somewhere else, perhaps there life in this fragment? I don't know. I remain skeptical. They need more research and they need some convincing ways to prove us that other possibilities of that life being from planet earth could be safely discarded. I am waiting. The "what if" will remain open until we get more news.

Synopsis and Official Statement as published in:
Journal of Cosmology, 2011, Vol 13, March, 2011

Fossils of Cyanobacteria in CI1 Carbonaceous Meteorites
Richard B. Hoover, Ph.D. NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center
Dr. Hoover has discovered evidence of microfossils similar to Cyanobacteria, in freshly fractured slices of the interior surfaces of the Alais, Ivuna, and Orgueil CI1 carbonaceous meteorites. Based on Field Emission Scanning Electron Microscopy (FESEM) and other measures, Dr. Hoover has concluded they are indigenous to these meteors and are similar to trichomic cyanobacteria and other trichomic prokaryotes such as filamentous sulfur bacteria. He concludes these fossilized bacteria are not Earthly contaminants but are the fossilized remains of living organisms which lived in the parent bodies of these meteors, e.g. comets, moons, and other astral bodies. The implications are that life is everywhere, and that life on Earth may have come from other planets.
Members of the Scientific community were invited to analyze the results and to write critical commentaries or to speculate about the implications. These commentaries will be published on March 7 through March 10, 2011.

Official Statement from Dr. Rudy Schild,
Center for Astrophysics, Harvard-Smithsonian,
Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Cosmology.
Dr. Richard Hoover is a highly respected scientist and astrobiologist with a prestigious record of accomplishment at NASA. Given the controversial nature of his discovery, we have invited 100 experts and have issued a general invitation to over 5000 scientists from the scientific community to review the paper and to offer their critical analysis. Our intention is to publish the commentaries, both pro and con, alongside Dr. Hoover's paper. In this way, the paper will have received a thorough vetting, and all points of view can be presented. No other paper in the history of science has undergone such a thorough analysis, and no other scientific journal in the history of science has made such a profoundly important paper available to the scientific community, for comment, before it is published. We believe the best way to advance science, is to promote debate and discussion.

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