Panspermia: Seeds Everywhere
Biological life impregnates planets, where it gestates, until it returns to space symbiotic with its technologies…
by Star Larvae
The prospect of organic molecules from space having contributed to the origin of life on Earth becomes less controversial with each new research project in astrochemistry. Scientists keep finding more and more organic molecules in outer space, including DNA nucleobases and even vitamins. The abundance of organic molecules and macromolecules in space and proposed mechanisms to produce the abundance should open the skies to conjecturing about life itself originating in space.
But such thinking is hard to find. No matter the extent to which scientists will admit organic "building blocks" of extraterrestrial origin to the terrestrial "broth" from which life is assumed to have arisen, the broth remains unchallenged as the womb of the first Earthly cells. A nascent geocentrism lurks in the minds of men. The new research on protostellar chemistry challenges the need for a terrestrial broth to account for life on Earth. The job of championing the heresy of extraterrestrial biogenesis fell to the eminent British astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle.
During the last decades of his life, Hoyle argued that biology cannot be native to Earth, but must be of extraterrestrial origin. Hoyle did not originate the hypothesis, called panspermia, and he acknowledged its long history. But, with new research data in hand, Hoyle waved the dust off the old idea and, in collaboration with astrochemist Chandra Wickramasinghe, labored to bring it to public attention. Wickramasinghe and colleagues continue the project today.
Hoyle's campaign met with resistance from the scientific community generally, and to the extent that he was not overtly attacked or dismissed, he was ignored. But ongoing research continues to expand the catalog of organic molecules identified in interstellar space and in comets, a catalog that now includes everything from alcohols to amino acids (and HERE). And increasingly complex organics continue to be found. In 2011, Researcher Sun Kwok of the University of Hong Kong analyzed spectral data from the European Space Agency's Infrared Space Observatory and NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and found evidence of unsuspected organic complexity.
"We know that these organics are being made in the circumstellar environment," Kwok said. According to an article on physorg.com, "The team's discovery suggests that complex organic compounds can be synthesized in space even when no life forms are present." "Our work has shown that stars have no problem making complex organic compounds under near-vacuum conditions," says Kwok. "Theoretically, this is impossible, but observationally we can see it happening." Cosmic-scale organic chemistry was not predicted by any scientific theory. It was an empirical surprise.
It was an Empirical Surprise
Hoyle and Wickramasinghe insisted that the infalling organic material responsible for life on Earth was itself alive. They proposed that viable bacterial cells and viruses rained down on the early Earth and that biology took root from those extraterrestrial seeds. They insisted moreover that the rain continues and that some epidemic diseases are the result of "genetic storms"—of exceptionally active episodes of infall. The heresy went further. They argued that the evolution of complex life was itself largely the result of genetic infall from outer space.
This part of the argument has been bolstered by the growing body of evidence for horizontal gene transfer as a significant evolutionary mechanism. Researchers have demonstrated that when viruses insert their genes into their host organisms—the normal mode of infection—the viral genes can infect germ cells and appear in the next generation of hosts. In this way, the genome of a species can be augmented with new genes. Scientists increasingly invoke this process of gene transfer in their explanations of evolutionary change. But in whatever ways scientists might concede that genes get shuffled among organisms, few scientists look to outer space for novel genetic material.
"Thus in the controversy about the Plurality of worlds, it has been considered, on purely antecedent grounds, as far as I see, to be so necessary that the Creator should have filled with living beings the luminaries which we see in the sky, and the other cosmical bodies which we imagine there, that it almost amounts to a blasphemy to doubt it."
— Cardinal Newman
on the "Illative Sense" in the Grammar Of Assent, 1870
on the "Illative Sense" in the Grammar Of Assent, 1870
As for the means by which interstellar bacteria and viruses might make their way to planets, Hoyle identified comets as the likeliest vehicles. Comets originate in, and during their eccentric orbits travel through, interstellar clouds of organic dust and gas. Hoyle contended that organic material evaporates off of comets as they round their host stars, a well-documented phenomenon in the case of our own solar system, and that the freed material, including whole cells and viruses—the controversial part—makes its way through planetary atmospheres to the planets below.
In short, Hoyle proposed that comets harbor microscopic life and disperse it across the orbital paths of planets. Whether life "takes" or not on a particular planet will be influenced by various contingencies idiosyncratic to that planet. Such contingencies will include whether the planet is positioned within a "habitable zone" surrounding its star. The idea is that only planets at the proper distance from their stars will provide suitable conditions for complex ecosystems to evolve. Habitable zones have been proposed for entire galaxies, as well, being defined as the space at a given distance from galactic center that includes stars of certain types, namely those that form from "enriched" starter material, that which includes the assortment of elements produced by previous stars and that constitutes the necessary building material for making planets.
Hoyle's primary collaborator, Chandra Wickramasinghe, continues to pursue evidence of panspermia. A research team of which he was a member found evidence early in 2013 that a meteorite that broke up over Sri Lanka in December 2012 contained fossilized microbes. The evidence has been disputed, but earned coverage in MIT Technology Review's blog. The growing body of evidence for panspermia theory is archived and updated regularly by advocate Brig Klyce at www.panspermia.org.
The star larvae hypothesis extends the model of Hoyle/Wickramasinghe/Klyce by positioning evolution—phylogeny—in an overarching ontogeny and by doing so adding a teleological dimension to their (and the normal) account of evolution.
H/W/K incorporate mechanisms into normal evolution theory that extend the range of genetic variability and which thereby give natural selection more to work with. But this is all they do to extend the theory. The mechanisms they propose are (1) horizontal gene transfer from viruses and bacteria to unicellular eukaryotes and metazoans, a process itself given much to work with by (2) continuing infall of viruses and bacteria from space. Horizontal transfer is becoming less controversial as genetic sequencing data accumulate. Infall from space, however, remains outside the boundaries of normal science. Regardless, the H/W/K model retains science's bias against teleology.
Hoyle conceived of planets as being like petri dishes in which bacteria multiply, only to rejoin the life suspended in the interstellar medium when the planets they inhabit meet their ultimate fates. This aspect of his thinking seems to be Hoyle’s least satisfying conjecture. Panspermia is a one-way street in his model, with no apparent role for complex, multicellular life other than to host bacteria and viruses. As outside of mainstream thinking as Hoyle’s proposals were, and to a significant degree still are, they nonetheless were highly conventional in their nihilistic view of phylogenetic development. His is another theory of evolutionary purposelessness.
The star larvae hypothesis, in contrast, proposes that multicellular life plays an essential role in the natural evolution of the cosmos. The hypothesis incorporates panspermia, which it takes to be the critical process in the stellar life cycle that delivers biological building blocks—bacterial life—and genetic sorters—viruses—to planets. Beyond that it proposes that the natural cycle includes a "return trip," the graduation of biological life to the adulthood of extraterrestrial civilization and ultimately stardom.
That graduation is a complex process that bridges the divide separating the organic from the inorganic. It involves the metamorphosis of biological metabolism into nuclear metabolism. The technological dimension of the process culminates in a replenishing of the universe's essential building blocks, protons.
Tardigrades In Space
For more information about panspermia see http://nexusilluminati.blogspot.com/search/label/panspermia
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