March 12, 2013
Algae From Outer Space? It’s Probably Just Bad Science
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Instead of being hailed as the definitive proof of extraterrestrial life in the form of space algae, a new report from the Journal of Cosmology claiming drawing howls and catcalls from around the scientific community.
The report is based on supposed meteorite fragments taken from a fireball that appeared in the evening sky over northern Sri Lanka on Dec. 29, 2012. An analysis of the fragments was performed by Chandra Wickramasinghe, one of the chief proponents of the theory known as panspermia which suggest that life on Earth may have been ℠seeded´ by biological organisms present in the dust on asteroids and meteors.
In the report, Wickramasinghe claims to have found “fossilized biological structures” of extraterrestrial diatoms, which bear a striking resemblance to an extinct species of freshwater algae. The authors of the paper assert that these algae are extra terrestrial in origin and therefore evidence that life originated in outer space.
“This provides clear and convincing“¯evidence that these obviously ancient remains of extinct“¯marine algae found embedded in the Polonnaruwa“¯meteorite are indigenous to the stones and not the result of“¯post-arrival microbial contaminants,” they wrote.
According to the paper, Wickramasinghe and his team from Cardiff University received 628 stone fragments that were collected from Sri Lankan rice fields. The team said they were only able to positively identify three as extraterrestrial.
The most astounding, and controversial, claims in the report are based on electron microscope images of the structures found within the stones. According to the authors, one image shows a microfossil about 100 micrometers across that resembles ancient algae, but with a structure that could only have developed under non-Earth gravity and conditions.
The events surrounding the fireball as reported by the authors have raised more than a few skeptical eyebrows about the entire ℠discovery.´
“Police records indicate reports of low level burn injuries from immediate contact with the fallen stones and subsequent reports of a strong aroma,” the authors write. “One woman was reported to have lost consciousness and was transported to the hospital after inhaling fumes from one of the stones.”
Critics of the paper have pointed out that meteorite fragments are typically not hot, but cool when they reach the ground. While a meteor is heated during its trip through the atmosphere, the temperatures generated by the entry friction are not enough to significantly heat a lump of rock that has been at near absolute zero while traveling through deep space.“¯In addition to being super cold before hitting the Earth´s atmosphere, meteorites are relatively poor conductors of heat, so any heating that does occur will only make the outside hot while leaving the inside cold. As the meteor breaks up, the hot exterior is typically cooled as the space rock´s fragments fall to the ground.
This confluence of factors makes it difficult to believe that anyone could have sustained burn injuries as a result of falling meteor fragments.
Critics have also pointed out that the “strong aroma” and “fumes” that allegedly came from the meteor are difficult to explain outside the confines of an X-Files rerun.
For these reason (and a number of others), many in the scientific community are calling the report nothing more than ℠tabloid science.´