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Home | Lifestyle | Amy’s Everyday Astronomy: Astrobiologist Claims to Have Found Microbial Life from Beyond

Amy’s Everyday Astronomy: Astrobiologist Claims to Have Found Microbial Life from Beyond

Panspermia. No, it’s not a dirty word that should be spoken of out of the ear-shot of young children. It’s the idea that life on one planet was actually seeded from meteors that came from another planet that already had life developing on it.

Gaining in popularity among some scientists, it’s thought that this is possibly how life on Earth began.

One such scientist is Dr. Milton Wainwright, a noted British astrobiologist who not only believes in panspermia but says he can prove that space is teeming with microbial life that still makes it way to Earth every day.

Dr. Wainwright made international headlines back in the fall of 2013 when he found microorganisms in the stratosphere. Collected at an altitude of roughly 16 miles, these microscopic organisms are believed to come from a class of algae called diatoms.

Wainwright claims these came from space and that organisms like these have been raining down on Earth for millennia.

Because life cannot naturally exist at these altitudes, and jets don’t fly that high, the only way for Earth organisms to reach those heights would be if a major volcanic eruption were to have taken place recently. That’s why Dr. Wainwright is careful to conduct his experiments when there has been no volcanic activity.

In an interview with Jason Koebler of Motherboard, Dr. Wainwright stated, “These organisms are biological, have a definite structure, and are not related to organisms on Earth. There are impact events on the sampler.

They make craters on the sampler—if they come up from Earth, they would be coming against gravity. For these reasons, we think they are coming from space.”

So how does he gather his samples?

Using a weather balloon, he attaches a small box that can soar high up into suborbital position, between 16 and 20 miles above the Earth’s surface. Once the balloon reaches optimum height, the box opens, exposing sticky pads (similar in design to fly paper).

Great care is taken to insure the pads are sterile and not exposed to any terrestrial microbes prior to launch.

The apparatus remains open for about a minute, then closes again, securing the sample for return to Earth. As the balloon continues its ascent, the helium freezes, causing the balloon to pop. The box floats safely back down to the ground via parachute and is tracked by GPS.

Once retrieved, it’s taken to a lab where it is opened in a clean-room. The sticky pads are then examined under an electron microscope.

And while the science behind his theories is sound, not everyone in the science community agrees. In trying to find the reasoning behind why many scientists are still skeptical, all my research turned up was that his claims that the microorganisms are tiny ETs is premature.

In fact, the consensus seems to be that much more study needs to be done before claims can be made that these microbes are extraterrestrial.

One of his biggest critics is Astrobiologist, Dirk Schulze-Makuch, who told Space.com, “I would expect an extraterrestrial organism or even remnant of an organism to be quite different from what we see on Earth in some significant ways (as the environment around it, it’s ‘habitat,’ will affect the form and function of the organism), and certainly not be linked to some kind of diatom species on Earth.”

Still, given the theory behind panspermia, one would expect some similarities to life already on Earth with the main differences being in the amino acids and DNA. And, indeed, Dr. Wainwright is hoping to conduct DNA studies on his samples in the future. He’s hopeful that this will be the rock-solid evidence the rest of the scientific community will need to verify his findings.

In the meantime, Wainwright is not the only one conducting this type of experiment. NASA actually has a nascent balloon science division that is doing stratosphere experiments. The scientist working on this project have reported finding organisms in the stratosphere.

So, what’s your opinion? Did life on Earth come from beyond or did it develop right in that primordial pond, millions of years ago?

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For a daily dose of Everyday Astronomy with Amy, like and follow her Facebook Page; to read previous articles, click here.

About Amy Cooley

A native El Pasoan, Amy Cooley attended Parkland High School before beginning her studies in physics at EPCC. With her love of dark skies increasing, she transferred to New Mexico Tech University where she earned her degree in Astronomy. Moving back to El Paso in 2008, she now wants to share her love of the cosmos with the city she calls home.

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