Wednesday, May 17, 2006

It's Raining Aliens... again?

In the summer of 2001, in the state of Kerala in southern India, there were about 50 tons of mysterious red particles mixed in with the rain. After some scientific research, Godfrey Louis, a physicist from Mahatma Gandhi University, published a paper in the prestigious journal Astrophysics and Space Science, implying that these particles are actually microbes from space.

They reproduce, however they have no DNA – unlike other life on Earth. In fact, in the samples taken and analyzed, these microbes are able to reproduce in superheated water at temperatures over 600F. For Earth-based life forms, nothing can survive past about 250F. So these are hardy seeds indeed – as they would have to be to survive a space journey – given the radiation and heat and cold they would have been exposed to in space on their trip here.
It is speculated that they may have been riding onboard a comet or meteorite that exploded when it hit Earth’s atmosphere.

More researchers in the UK, are now studying the rainwater samples to corroborate or dispute the findings. Predictably, there are always naysayers to just about any theory. Some people will come up with the most protracted, unlikely theories to explain away anything that suggests that there might be life on other worlds besides this one. In one case, an Indian government scientist blamed it on algae. Another one says it is fungal spores. Another says it must be red dust swept up from the Arabian Desert, to drop on this one particlar spot of Kerala, India. And another one – this is my favorite – is that a meteorite hit a flock of bats veeeeeery high up – say 30,000 feet where the clouds are, and it’s tiny droplets of bat’s blood. No other parts of the bats. Just the blood. 50 tons of it. Mixed in the rain. Yep.

Well, for one thing, blood cells don’t replicate. And these cells are definitely replicating. In fact they have photographs showing cross-sections of the cells showing budding daughter-cells coming from within the parent cells. It also means they are not dust – Arabian or otherwise. For another thing – these cells HAVE NO DNA!!! That means they are not any kind of life from Earth, not bats, nor spores, nor anything else Earth-based, since all our life forms have DNA.

It amazes me that some people simply CANNOT accept that there are other forms of life elsewhere despite evidence or logical reasoning to the contrary. That’s like Christopher Columbus being determined to find no life forms in the Americas when he arrived here. As if Europe was the only land that could produce life. The arrogance of that type of thinking is simply staggering.

I have an older aunt who does not believe that it is possible to travel to the moon because it is only a light in the sky – it is not a real place. That is her belief. And she thinks it is laughable and preposterous to think otherwise. There are also those who firmly believe the Earth is flat. How crazy of the rest of us to suggest that it might be round.

So we have the contingent of people who believe that this cannot be from space or from another world because no lifeforms could possibly exist outside THIS one world - REGARDLESS of any evidence, facts or reasoning. Then, at the other end of the spectrum, there will no doubt be those who are thoroughly convinced that this is an alien plot. A spaceship dropped off a sample of alien lifeform by seeding it into our clouds so that it would come down in the rain, and then it grows and develops into a horrible disease that wipes out all life on this planet, clearing the way for the aliens to come and assume ownership of our world. There are all kinds of people…

Panspermia is the name of the theory proposed about 25 years ago that suggests that life here originally developed from a sample of similar simple lifeforms from space that arrived onboard another meteorite. Maybe this is an ongoing process. In fact, it would be illogical to assume otherwise.

* information for this article gathered from Popular Science, 2006

8 Comments:

At 5/18/2006 10:59 AM, Anonymous Igor said...

======(1)======

Well, upon reading this blog entry I raised my eyebrows and hurried to the Astrophysics and Space Science and what did I find ? As I expected - just another example of a blogger pushing what he wants to believe:

Astrophysics and Space Science:

... analysis ... shows that the conventional atmospheric ... processes like dust storms etc. cannot explain this phenomenon...

...fine cell structure indicating their biological cell like nature...

... possibility for the extraterrestrial origin of these particles from cometary fragments is discussed ...


This blog:

...[the] paper ... show[s] that these particles are actually microbes from space...

This is fine example of "creative editing".

http://arxiv.org/abs/astro-ph/0601022

======(2)======

Val says: "It AMAZES me that some people simply CANNOT accept that there are other forms of life elsewhere ... The arrogance of that type of thinking is simply staggering"

Val, that "type of thinking" is the scientific method, that, among other things, gave you electricity, computers, electric guitars, music recording equipment, internet and blogs - all of which you are happily using. Would you please pay some respect to the "thinking" that was behind all those things you use now?

As for the "accepting ... other forms of life", please don't worry, the science would accept them as soon as they are found.

And until that, the science has accepted the possibility of the other forms of life, no one argues that.

======(3)======

I'd say, the difference between musicians and scientists is that scientists are able to separate "what they see" from "what they want to see", while musicians are calling this separation "arrogance".

well, all people are different - some are logical and "scientific", like myself. Others are artistical and intuitive, like yourself, - should we fight each other? I have no such intention. Would you retract accusation of arrogance?

 
At 5/18/2006 11:53 AM, Blogger Val Serrie said...

Igor, I have to laugh. If you knew me, you might think differently about me.
Most people think I am far too logical and scientific.
You assume I am a musician. I wish it were possible to actually make a decent living doing music. But alas, music is a hobby for me.

That notwithstanding though, I must say, your assessment of musicians' inability to think reasonably or rationally is probably unfair. I think a person's mental powers of reasoning are independent of what they do for a living, and stereotyping a person based on their vocation is unfair and does not invite sympathy for your viewpoint.

For the record, my career is in computers and in business. Factual. Logical. Creative in my programming years, yes. but all pretty dull, I'm afraid.

First, the information for this little blog post comes from the latest issue of Popular Science. The article is called, "Is It Raining Aliens?"

My article was meant to be a slightly humorous slant on that.

As for the word "arrogance", please note that I am not calling anyone in particular that. I am merely pointing out that to simply assume that Earth is the ONLY source of life in the entire universe, and to reject any evidence or theories to the contrary, thus implying that we are somehow superior to every other planet everywhere - out of billions of planets - is an arrogant thought process.

If it is impossible to accept that other life CAN exist elsewhere, that is an arrogance. It is similar in some ways to assuming that, in a country of lesser education and lesser economic achievement, there can be NO ONE with equal intelligence to yourself, a product of a more developed country. (assumptions made there)

I am certainly NOT saying that scientists are arrogant or that the scientific method is arrogant. One of my best friends is a scientist. I use the scientific method all the time and I believe in it. Skepticism is healthy. But open-mindedness is also healthy.

I think the surprise and interest and awe that I was trying to represent in a slightly humorous way, you may have interpreted as pushing some agenda. I have no agenda. I am not trying to prove that aliens are trying to take over the Earth or anything.

Read the article in Popular Science. See what you think. I read it and thought - wow - how surprising. I should put something about this in my blog. There is no sinister agenda to undermine scientific integrity, scientific method, or scientists themselves.

 
At 5/18/2006 2:34 PM, Anonymous Igor said...

(1) apologies:

I had assumed that you made your post upon reading the original article in Astro...Journal, thus I blamed you of "editing" the article's nature into xfiles territory.

I am glad I was wrong about you, pls accept my apologies. On the other hand, you'd better always name your source.

Btw, I love both PopSci and PopMech (pity PopElectr is no longer with us...afaik) - for their brilliant popularisation of science and technology and for their unstoppable strirring of readers' imagination. Still, they are not to be a source of scientific information. Every tool has its purpose.

(2) then I don't understand exactly whom do you call "arrogant"? Who are those people who claim that life exists only on Earth? I know of no such people, except for real hardcore religious fanatics...

(3) even if you accept my apologies, I feel I must explain what triggered my anger:

I have a feeling that the legacy of enlightment is being robbed from us, especially with explosive grow of Internet - it's becoming difficult to separate science from fiction, and, sadly, less and less people are interested in this separation. The unreason is on the march. The people who have scientific (or even just reasonable) reservation about pop-knowledge (like "human induced global warming") are being labelled as "close-minded" - and they should feel lucky if mud throwing stops at that!

====================================
btw, the fact that you don't make living off music does NOT make you any less musician than, i dunno, John Lennon. As far as I am concerned.

 
At 5/18/2006 8:59 PM, Anonymous Igor said...

Ha, you got me started!

You say:
They reproduce, however they have no DNA – unlike other life on Earth. In fact, in the samples taken and analyzed, these microbes are able to reproduce in superheated water at temperatures over 600F. For Earth-based life forms, nothing can survive past about 250F

(1) I looked at the paper at Astro..., there is nothing there about replication! Where did you get it? I must say I cannot find that article at popsci.com....

(2) There is even an entry at wiki (pls look under "red rain"). Not a word about replication there as well.

(3) Why can't you accept (pun intended;-) spores as possible explanation as suggested by the Center for Earth Science Studies and the Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute of India?

(4) as for the limits of Earth-based life forms, have you heard about "black smokers" ? It's not 600F afaik, but still...

 
At 5/19/2006 8:32 AM, Blogger Val Serrie said...

Hi Igor,
To address your points:
1-1. Apology accepted. After your first note, I added the POPSci reference to the bottom of my post. Also, I softened the language in various places.

1-2. As I said before, I am not calling anyone arrogant. I am only calling a specific thought process arrogant. The specific thought of sticking to an idea of superiority regardless of any new information to the contrary. Not just about microbial life in the galaxy, but about anything. To argue a point without giving the other view it's due consideration is an arrogant behavior. But we must distinguish an arrogant behavior from an arrogant person. A person is arrogant only if that behavior is so common with them that it becomes their defining characteristic. We all have moments when we are angry, for example. But that doesn't make us an angry person - unless we are angry most of the time.

1-3. You bring up an interesting point - this age of unreason thing. That is too large an issue for this one answer. It deserves it's own topic and discussion, I think. Maybe I can write something on that separately for discussion. I agree with you to a point, but I think there is also the other side to it. There is the whole concept of "what do we absolutely know for sure, and what is really a matter of perspective". Also, there is the concept of finding a conclusion, but still leaving room for future discoveries and other analysis and ideas.

2-1. Replication, as the other points, all came from the POPSci article called "Is It Raining Aliens?" in the June issue of Popular Science. I didn't see it online either, but I have a subscription so I read it in the paper version. It's on page 31, in the "Headlines" section. There are a number of other articles in the paper version as well that don't show up on the website. I assume that is to encourage people to buy the magazine.

2-2. See above.

2-3. Spores, as terrestrial lifeforms, have a cellular DNA, correct? In the article, it states that this stuff has no identifiable DNA present.

2-4. Chemoautotrophs are organisms that live near the openings of black smokers on the ocean floor. The temperature of the surrounding water is about 2C. The temperature within the actual jet of water can be as high as 350C, but in the water surrounding the immediate vicinity of the smoker, where these creatures actually survive, the water temperature is only 17C. That is considered 'hot' by comparison to the 2C normally found on the ocean floor.
But that is not close to the 600F that this new red stuff is reportedly reproducing at.
Here is an article on that subject:
http://www.oceansonline.com/hydrothe.htm

 
At 5/19/2006 10:53 AM, Anonymous Igor said...

the "unreason" thing - that's not my idea, I borrowed it from:

Dick Taverne "The March of Unreason"

here: http://www.oup.co.uk/isbn/0-19-280485-5?view=get

 
At 5/31/2006 11:16 PM, Anonymous RobertG said...

Those who would claim that science is based on pure reason should read some of Stephen Jay Gould's writings. He clearly shows that what is considered good science has varied over time based on our all-too-human prejudice and misconceptions.

 
At 8/28/2006 9:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the possible explanations for the red rain that hasn't received much publicity is incomplete incineration of chemical waste at the Eloor industrial zone. Microparticles of fly-ash or clay coalesced around an aerosol of partly burnt organics as the incinerator plume cooled.

To test this hypothesis: Check the prevailing winds. Check the chemical composition given by Louis with that of burnt organic waste plus clay. Check whether particles falling from the upper atmosphere would stay over the same place as Louis's hypothesis requires. Check whether there were any problems with chemical waste disposal at Eloor; and note the scale of manufacture of insectivides and pesticides there. And look up references to Jack Szostak at Harvard. His work in on the process of simple physical replication of cells made from organic chemicals in the prescence of montmorillonite clay.

The idea of alien spores is exciting and possibly frightening, but it's staggering that no one seems to mention even the possibility of relatively massive industrial pollution. It equally staggering that there seem to have been no reports of tests such as gas chromatogram mass spectrometry to discover what sorts of organic compounds were actually in the particles. There doesn't even seem to be any direct mention of their relative density.

Oh, by the way, several of the people involved with the 'spores from space' will be at a conference in Cardiff in September 2006. In 2003 they suggested, in a letter to the Lancet, that SARS was caused by spores from space. Any bets about the possibility of an announcement regarding the source of bird flu?

 

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