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Scientists Offer 'Overwhelming' Evidence Terran Life Began in Space

Zonk posted more than 7 years ago | from the we-are-all-made-of-stardust dept.

Science 556

An anonymous reader writes "Using data from recent comet-probing space missions, British scientists are reporting today that the odds of life starting on Earth rather than inside a comet are one trillion trillion (10 to the power of 24) to one against. That is, we're not originally from around here. Radiation in comets could keep water in liquid form for millions of years, they say, which along with the clay and organic molecules found on-board would provide an ideal incubator. 'Professor Wickramasinghe said: "The findings of the comet missions, which surprised many, strengthen the argument for panspermia. We now have a mechanism for how it could have happened. All the necessary elements - clay, organic molecules and water - are there. The longer time scale and the greater mass of comets make it overwhelmingly more likely that life began in space than on earth."'" jamie points out that the author of this paper has many 'fringe' theories. Your mileage may vary.

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Of course it started in space (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20227651)

That's where God lives.

Panspermia (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20227983)

Panspermia: When God masturbates.

Re:Panspermia (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20228015)

+1, haha

Gah, slashdot. It all began with goat sex (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20228183)

Hey, I can troll just like the GGP, aye [goatse.cx] ?

Re:Of course it started in space (4, Funny)

Fozzyuw (950608) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227997)

Of course it started in space[...]That's where God lives.

Yes, Earth, one of the many planetary eggs fertilized by the big G's... er, comet. It's like pollination on a galactic scale.

Cheers,
Fozzy

Re:Of course it started in space (4, Interesting)

Darren Hiebert (626456) | more than 7 years ago | (#20228077)

...and have you noticed how much a comet resembles a really large sperm? Or how the earth resembles a really large egg? Which came first? It's the same problem all over again!

No kidding (5, Funny)

eln (21727) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227655)

The great anthropologist Dr. Douglas Adams already showed that we did not originate here. In fact, we were passengers on the 'B' Ark that crash-landed here. Our ancestors come from an ancient civilization called Golgafrinchans. It is a shame that Dr. Adams's work is so widely ridiculed as a "humorous" bit of "fiction" in wider scientific circles.

Re:No kidding (5, Funny)

MorderVonAllem (931645) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227745)

Well, if we take him serious then we might have to take hubbard serious.

Re:No kidding (4, Insightful)

Sunburnt (890890) | more than 7 years ago | (#20228075)

Hardly. Adams' writings are more consistent, structured, and believable than Hubbard's.

Also, it helps that Douglas Adams wasn't a complete batshit loon.

A holy book doesn't need to be literature. (1)

FatSean (18753) | more than 7 years ago | (#20228133)

In fact, most of the most popular books make for an awful reading experience. R.L. Stine could have come up with a more terrible vision of the 'stick' than a 'lake of fire'. Sheesh.

Comparing Adams to Hubbard is like (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20228173)

Comparing Al Gore to George W Bush.

Sorry.

Dread (-1, Troll)

TheMeuge (645043) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227747)

Counting down to creationists quoting these numbers to prove existence of god, fallacy of evolution, presence of soul in blastocysts, and inferiority of gays:

3...
2...
1...
Go!

Let the trolling across the internet begin anew!

Re:No kidding (1)

Fozzyuw (950608) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227929)

You know, I remember reading the book, but I don't remember the ending. However, I did finish the BBC series on this.

According to the BBC series, Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect where on the 'B' Arc that crashed on earth as well as there already having been 'cavemen' on earth at the time of the crash.

Thus, it's inconclusive that life came from the 'B' Arc. Bath anyone?

Re:No kidding (1)

dpilot (134227) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227987)

Now that you mention it, Arthur was able to query the 'cavemen' about the Super-Deep-Thought question. So it just might be apparent that the Golgrafinchians died out. (Couldn't figure out how to reproduce, perhaps.)

Re:No kidding (1)

mrchaotica (681592) | more than 7 years ago | (#20228169)

It wasn't "all life" that came from the B Ark, only humans. And it's been a while since I've read the Guide (forgive me...), but I think it was pretty clear that modern humans were the descendents of the B Ark people, not the cavemen.

Re:No kidding (1)

cbeley (1071560) | more than 7 years ago | (#20228131)

You didn't read Douglas Adam's last book, "Mostly Harmless" did you? Shame on you. Though the Hyperspace Bypass that would have existed in every dimension there is would have been nice...

Obligatory (5, Funny)

RealErmine (621439) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227659)

I for one welcome... uh, myself.

hm.. (5, Insightful)

UncleWilly (1128141) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227663)

In a manner of speaking, didn't everything start in space?

Re:hm.. (1)

edittard (805475) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227831)

Are you suggesting that we are stardust - interstellar carbon?

Re:hm.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20228061)

They are studying the origins of life, not linguistic semantics.

And Protoss life began on... (4, Funny)

BobPaul (710574) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227673)

In an ironic statement, they also claim Protoss life began on Earth...

Re:And Protoss life began on... (4, Funny)

kryogen1x (838672) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227699)

My life for Aiu- er... GAIA!

Re:And Protoss life began on... (4, Funny)

Sciros (986030) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227869)

I always thought it was "my wife for hire!" providing some insight into the Protoss social structure.

Oh, come on... (5, Funny)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227675)

There was never a better time to tag a story nevertellmetheodds!

Others? (2, Interesting)

Turn-X Alphonse (789240) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227677)

This makes me wonder if there are other mobile space entities smaller than planets which harbor our earlier form of life. It seems extremely unlikely it was just once and the random chance it hit Earth seems far far too unlikely. So should we be looking at things smaller than planets for life or keep searching how we are now?

Re:Others? (2, Interesting)

eln (21727) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227773)

I'm pretty sure we've already sent probes out to asteroids, but I don't know if they were capable of detecting organic compounds or if they were only looking for water.

For stuff outside of our own solar system, I think right now we're only just beginning to learn how to detect planets smaller than Jupiter, so finding an object smaller than a planet that far out is probably beyond our capabilities at the moment.

Even so, if you're looking for really complex life (such as intelligent life), you'd be better served to find planets that comets crashed into rather than the comets themselves.

Extrapolation of probability using two variables?? (5, Interesting)

rhombic (140326) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227681)

Soooooo, they used two numbers (mass of clay & # of comets) to generate a 1e24 to 1 odd against life having started here? Seems like they might have left one or two variables out of their equation. Hopefully this is just junk reporting rather than junk science.

Re:Extrapolation of probability using two variable (1)

jandrese (485) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227757)

Yeah, I'm curious how they came up with that number. Is that number of water bearing radioactive clay infused comets with enough mass to get early life down to an ocean they think are in our general area or something? I have to admit, both my Junk Science and Junk Reporting needles are hovering on the redzone right now.

Re:Extrapolation of probability using two variable (5, Insightful)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227811)

It's much worse than that. Like all panspermia advocates, and like a good many Creationists, they essentially crib the "odds" argument. This looks no different than any other pro-panspermia "study" in that it starts with a strawman of abiogenesis.

Re:Extrapolation of probability using two variable (1)

HappyEngineer (888000) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227927)

I don't understand. I just looked up abiogenesis and the word just means life from non-living matter. By definition doesn't that have to be the start of any theory of life evolving? I'm not sure why you called it a strawman.

Re:Extrapolation of probability using two variable (2, Interesting)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 7 years ago | (#20228067)

The strawman lies in the claim that current abiogenesis theories don't give enough time for the kind of organic chemical evolution that would lead to the earliest metabolizing self-replicating molecules.

Re:Extrapolation of probability using two variable (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20227841)

While I know little of these things, I've always felt that panspermia is the more likely hypothesis, by virtue of the number of different environments an old comet might encounter through out it's life. Heat and cold, primordial electron plasma, various kinds of radiation and so forth.

Re:Extrapolation of probability using two variable (5, Interesting)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 7 years ago | (#20228045)

What is an "old" comet? No comet we're going to encounter is going to be any older than the solar system itself. Most of these comets would, in fact, only be a few hundreds of millions of years older than the Earth itself, and quite likely would have spent a great deal of their time on the outer bounds of the solar system.

We know that life was here between 3.5 and 3.9 billion years ago, with some iffy evidence suggesting it was even older. That gives us a net time advantage for any given comet of no more than about 500 million years. That sounds like a lot, but in reality it really isn't that big a span. Beyond that, considering that our knowledge of cometary history is still rather sketchy, and that our sample size is exceedingly small, this is nothing more than a pretty substantial "what-if", itself based upon one particular abiogenesis theory, which has been somewhat supplanted in recent years.

If we're going to start talking about interstellar comets, to add more time to the equation, someone is going to have to a) provide evidence of such bodies and b) provide evidence that radioactive decay is going to produce heat long enough for liquid water within the body to act as an incubator for the VERRRY long stretches of time that some organisms or proto-organisms are going to survive.

Now, weight all of this against the fact that the early Earth had all the ingredients for life to develop; *plentiful* amounts of liquid water and lots and lots of energy (in the forms of solar radiation, atmospheric conditions like lightning and geothermal energy from oceanic vents and vulcanism). Can someone kindly explain to me how a comet, even with clays or clay-like crystaline minerals and some sort of low-level radioactive decay (it has to be pretty low-level too, because anything too energetic or in too high a quantity is more likely going to be delerious than helpful) is going to provide this more wonderful environment.

As with every generation of panspermia advocates, the underlying argument is essentially "We don't think there was enough time for life to develop on the early earth, so we've got to find a way to add more time." Even if we give them this part of the argument (and I frankly think even that is FAR too generous), they still have to explain how conditions elsewhere (comets, other planets orbiting other stars) are somehow more environmentally-friendly to abiogenesis than Earth was.

This is not to slight the largely unrelated idea that comets could have been the source of organic molecules that could have been some sort of organic "seeds" for early self-replicators to develop and to use as raw materials and energy.

Re:Extrapolation of probability using two variable (2, Funny)

tillerman35 (763054) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227849)

I think length of time was factored in somehow, the gist of it being that comets have been around a lot longer than the Earth and therefore more likely to have had the incubating effect.

That stated, it'll take more than a few numbers in a formula to convince me. I'm not going to believe this until a cometary probe comes back contaminated with an alien microbe that destroys all life on the planet. And even then, I'll be a little bit skeptical.

Re:Extrapolation of probability using two variable (4, Funny)

FuzzyDaddy (584528) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227855)

The odds are 1 in 10^24 if their assumptions are true... The odds of the assumptions being true is a different story.

When I was in grad school our group was trying to make a particular type of superconducting circuit. After many attempts we got one that worked, wrote it up, and presented it at a conference.

During the Q&A, someone asked my advisor what our yields were. "On a good day, 100%". The followup question was, "what's your yield on good days?"

Re:Extrapolation of probability using two variable (5, Insightful)

Phanatic1a (413374) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227859)

It's junk science. Wickramasinghe and Hoyle are the same two who concocted the absurd probabilistic "tornado in a junkyard" argument against evolution. Hell, during the SARS outbreak, Wickramasinghe suggested that SARS was an alien virus. Yep, it just happened to have a sequence remarkably similar to other earth-borne viruses, and just happened to fall to earth in a region where similar viruses infected wild animals. Yep, that's the ticket.

Hoyle at least used to be a real scientist. I'm not sure if Wickramasinghe ever was. He said "
"The chances that life just occurred are about as unlikely as a typhoon blowing through a junkyard and constructing a Boeing 747" in 1982, so he's been a crackpot for a long time. This guy's just one step less crazy than Behe and the other 'intelligent design' crackpots. The only difference is that the intelligent designer posited by Wickramasinghe and Hoyle is a natural one, not a supernatural one; all the other problems with their claims are the same.

Re:Extrapolation of probability using two variable (5, Interesting)

UdoKeir (239957) | more than 7 years ago | (#20228155)

I had Prof. Wickramasinghe was one of my Pure Maths lecturers during my first year at Cardiff. He was dreadfully hard to understand.

My flatmate, who was a paleobotany postgrad at the time, had some very disparaging things to say about him. He had co-authored a few papers claiming the Archaeopteryx was a hoax, based on his poor understanding of the subject matter.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archaeopteryx#Authent icity [wikipedia.org]

Re:Extrapolation of probability using two variable (3, Funny)

Mr. Underbridge (666784) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227957)

Soooooo, they used two numbers (mass of clay & # of comets) to generate a 1e24 to 1 odd against life having started here? Seems like they might have left one or two variables out of their equation. Hopefully this is just junk reporting rather than junk science.

I have a new meta-theory for these sorts of things: if your hypothesis sounds like the Chewbacca Defense, it's almost certainly bogus.

Re:Extrapolation of probability using two variable (3, Insightful)

SpinyNorman (33776) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227973)

Bear in mind that this self-validating conclusion comes from Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe who is intimately tied to the theory of panspermia. Let's wait for science to do it's thing and see if everyone else agrees with his conclusions and math (yeah, right)...

Gotta say that last time I checked the water is liquid right here on planet earth also.

They "could" keep water in liquid form? (1)

Shabbs (11692) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227687)

I have not RTFA but those are some humongous odds against based on the world "could". I guess I should RTFA then...

Re:They "could" keep water in liquid form? (2, Informative)

Shabbs (11692) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227783)

Well, after I RTFA, the article does not even use the word "could" in that reference. Bad summary. The relevant quote is here:

The Cardiff team suggests that radioactive elements can keep water in liquid form in comet interiors for millions of years, making them potentially ideal "incubators" for early life.
Cheers.

Obligatory II (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20227691)

Does this mean that we're our own inter-galactic overlords?

Re:Obligatory II (2)

Moderatbastard (808662) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227935)

No. That would imply that when we welcome them, we'd be welcoming ourselves. Since that would be self-inverse, it would violate the Soviet Russia principle and cause the universe to recurse until the stack overflowed.

No way... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20227701)

Not this life, pal. I was born in Santa Monica!

So they are saying... (1)

Chineseyes (691744) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227727)

So what they are saying we are the product of intergalactic sperm that fertilized this ovum we call earth. Maybe we aren't inside a giant snow globe but a giant uterus and when it contracts our universe will come to a sudden and brutal end.

Re:So they are saying... (1)

Ironchew (1069966) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227889)

Never too late to have an abortion. We have the technology.

Re:So they are saying... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20227905)

And be born into the next universe...

Re:So they are saying... (2, Funny)

superstick58 (809423) | more than 7 years ago | (#20228139)

No, our universe will not end. We are the embryonic stem cells of the earth embryo. However, we will soon be harvested by the universe entity to be used to find a cure for galactic cancer. Unless the multi-verse government can pass the cosmos-bill banning earth-embryonic stem cell research, we are all doomed.

Yeah right (5, Insightful)

bytesex (112972) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227737)

So the odds of a combination of clay + radiation was only to be found inside comets and the chances of that surviving a fiery impact at many kilometers per second are _higher_ than the same combination occurring naturally, peacefully, here on earth ? Somehow my bullshit meter goes all bananas.

Re:Yeah right (1)

HTH NE1 (675604) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227925)

I'd expect that the smaller you are (the lower your mass), the more likely you can survive such an impact.

Someone should conduct an experiment with a known quantity of live flies in a jar dropped from a skyscraper (first clearing the impact zone of bystanders) and count the number of survivors.

Back to the drawing board, I say (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20227975)

Now where did I put my patented super-battery designs...

Re:Yeah right (1)

in2mind (988476) | more than 7 years ago | (#20228001)

Yeah.Life inside a chunk of clay can survive entry to earth at 10000's of Kilometre's per hour.
Probably NASA needs to use Clay for its Space shuttles!

Re:Yeah right (1)

Duffy13 (1135411) | more than 7 years ago | (#20228007)

While I agree it sounds relatively preposterous, its always those dam 1 in a million possibilities that end up working out for some reason. Or at least winning me that amazing hand no one saw coming in pitch...

Overwhelmingly underwhelming (1)

paiute (550198) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227749)

So complex biomolecules wanted to self-organize and replicate bathed in the warm glow of cosmic rays and accelerated protons and electrons, cooled gently to 3 deg Kelvin on some comet rather than in a musty old pool of water covered with deadly oxygen and unbreathable nitrogen here on boring old Earth?

Re:Overwhelmingly underwhelming (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20227861)

Well, the point is that the radioactive elements could have kept the comet water in a liquid form -- much warmer than 3K to be sure. And the Earth's atmosphere had almost no oxygen before life started making it. And we never speak in "degrees" when using kelvins, but that's just nitpicking.

Math question (1)

He Who Waits (1102491) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227751)

So what are the odds this is bull? A million-billion-gazillion to one?

Even if it is true, we cant explain the origin of (5, Insightful)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227759)

Even if the claim is true, we are just transferring the problem from how life originated on Earth? to How life originated in the universe?.

Please before you mod me troll, listen. The Theory of evolution does not explain the origin of life, just the origin of species. Most folk who believe in things like ID (I= intelligent or idiotic depending on your perspective) confuse the issue and attack science. Let us not make the same mistake on the science side. Even the most ardent supporters of the Theory of evolution, like Dawkins, have only proposed very tentative speculation about the origin of life. They readily admit that right now science does not have any definitive theories about the Origin of Life.

This has nothing to do with evolution. Let us keep the discussions straight.

Re:Even if it is true, we cant explain the origin (1)

QuoteMstr (55051) | more than 7 years ago | (#20228101)

Evolution can act on any self-replicating structure, not just "life" as we know it. The origin of life surely had something to do with very simple molecules that were able to coerce molecules like themselves to form, and those simple molecules could have originated via random chemical processes. Indeed, life formed soon after the earth had any liquid water at all.

Re:Even if it is true, we cant explain the origin (1)

Darren Hiebert (626456) | more than 7 years ago | (#20228177)

It seems pretty odd to me to claim that the odds are "astronomical" against life starting here on a nice cozy planet with lots of liquid water, warm sunshine and a protective atmosphere, but much more probable on some frozen snowball bombarded by cosmic rays. Whooda thunk, huh?

Natives (1)

lonechicken (1046406) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227763)

See... further proof that nobody was living on the North American continent until someone(something) migrated here through the Bering Comet.

Ideal incubator (1)

Ironchew (1069966) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227799)

Radiation in comets could keep water in liquid form for millions of years, they say, which along with the clay and organic molecules found on-board would provide an ideal incubator.
Not as comfy as a Boeing 747 with hydrogen bombs onboard. L. Ron Hubbard knew the truth.

Huh? (5, Funny)

Otter (3800) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227807)

The Cardiff team suggests that radioactive elements can keep water in liquid form in comet interiors for millions of years...

Is there any evidence that comets have such isotopes at such concentrations? This sounds like the sort of thing Lex Luthor would be involved in.

Re:Huh? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20227933)

Is there any evidence that comets have such isotopes at such concentrations?

And what are the odds of those concentrations being high enough to keep things warm and toasty without being high enough to fry the potentially developing life?

Re:Huh? (1)

HTH NE1 (675604) | more than 7 years ago | (#20228059)

And what are the odds of those concentrations being high enough to keep things warm and toasty without being high enough to fry the potentially developing life?
I think it's safe to say the theory is we evolved from cometary extremophiles [wikipedia.org] that could adapt to less extreme environments.

We're not alone (3, Interesting)

Ckwop (707653) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227815)

British scientists are reporting today that the odds of life starting on Earth rather than inside a comet are one trillion trillion (10 to the power of 24) to one against.

It's probably also worth pointing out that this result has probably increased the chance of life existing elsewhere in the universe by a similar amount. There are far more commets than planet and they are a truly huge number of stars.

Moreover, it is more plausible that a comet could fertilize many star systems if it was knocked out of the orbit of various stars in its life-time. While this sort of event is in itself unlikely it is orders of magnitude more likely than life being liberated from a planet from a violent impact. The life would have to survive the fiery, high G, exit from whatever atmosphere there was surrounding the planet and would still have to have sufficient momentum to escape the star. These properties taken together pretty much eliminate any chance of that happening.

Compare this to the following comet hypothesis. Life gets started on a comet with a highly elliptical orbit billions of years ago. How this happens is open question but for the moment assume it does. As the star uses up its fuel it loses mass and the orbit slowly stretches. Eventually, the comet is able to free itself from the gravity of the parent star. Hundred of millions of years later, the star goes supernova. The blast wave from the supernova gently accelerates the comet into a planetary nebular. It just happens to be the one that our Earth was forged in. As the nebular condenses the life that started inside the comet transfers itself to the billions of water droplets and mineral material. You can guess what happens next.

I've always suspected we are not alone. It's just whether we're all too far away from each other for the knowledge to make any difference.

Simon

The answer is.... (1)

Mandovert (1140887) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227827)

42

The question is... (1)

Fozzyuw (950608) | more than 7 years ago | (#20228087)

What do you get if you multiply six by nine?

Curious but probably wrong (3, Insightful)

First Person (51018) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227863)

If I understand their argument correctly, the abundance of clay in certain comets provides the template for RNA formation and eventual RNA-based life (with DNA coming later). There may be other factors which are discussed in the actual paper. As such, consider these thoughts preliminary.

There are several factors that would seem to argue against life starting in comets. First of all, planets have a far greater volume than comets with larger and more diverse areas in which life might form. Comets must not only reach planets but deliver their biologics intact. These biologics must then be suitable for propagation in the environment in which they arrive.

That last point is quite important. If comets did provide a birthplace for life, it is quite likely that their cargo would be unable to survive such an abrupt transition. Far more likely is that the life started on the planet in the first place.

Re:Curious but probably wrong (1)

dpilot (134227) | more than 7 years ago | (#20228105)

His point is that while Earth may have more space, comets have more time. Plus once you consider the entire ancient cometary halo, they may have had more space, too. As for delivering their cargo, it doesn't need to make it down intact. Presumably a few fragments of self-organizing molecules would bootstrap things on Earth. Getting that initial self-organizing molecule is the tough part. We're not talking anything recognizable as life here, just a steppingstone on the way there.

Still maybe life did originate on Earth with no assistance from comets. But his idea seems plausible.

Re:Curious but probably wrong (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 7 years ago | (#20228149)

So in other words you are not overwhelmed?
Kind of like when I saw the local book store offering a talk by some man that claimed to have irrefutable proof of past lives.
At least this is an interesting theory with some basis in science.

Evolution (1)

lazydog (694263) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227865)

So where did our pointy ears go?

The odds (1)

do_kev (1086225) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227867)

It would be really nice to see where they came up with their statistic. I suspect that we might not agree with some of the assumptions and estimations they made to arrive at such an enormously improbable number of life originating on Earth.

Missing Ingredient (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20227881)

Wasn't lightning part of the whole genesis of life shindig? Or am I incorrect in my knowledge of how cells can form from organic molecules.

What good are galactic space odds... (1)

Applekid (993327) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227893)

... without a galactic space bookie? I'm feelin' lucky!

But.. (2, Interesting)

Mockylock (1087585) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227907)

Where did the space life come from? Are we not... in space?

these atheist scientists (5, Funny)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227911)

want to tell us that life was created by random comet falls?

i demand equal time for the godly and righteous theory of intelligent comet placing!

comets did not just fall randomly to earth and create life!

god himself intelligently directed comets to come to the early lifeless earth 6,000 years ago!

Re:these atheist scientists (0, Troll)

ProppaT (557551) | more than 7 years ago | (#20228011)

I thought this was sarcasm until I looked at your website..

6,000 years ago, eh? So I take it the dinosaurs came from a non-God directed commit. Heathen beasts!

Re:these atheist scientists (1)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 7 years ago | (#20228065)

You laugh. But the Intelligent Designers were telling us that there is no way life could have originated on Earth by chance. The odds were too great for it to be all chance, they argued. And many here laughed at that.

Yet some scientists argue the same thing and many here are eager to believe it.

You can come to your own conclusions on what this means.

Re:these atheist scientists (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 7 years ago | (#20228123)

My conclusion is that the IDers and the panspermiests are committing the same logical fallacy, and, from an logical and emperical point of view, are pretty much riding in the same boat. I'll guarantee you this, these guys overinflated claims will not impression the organic chemists and biochemists out there who are actually working on abiogenesis problem.

Sheesh (5, Insightful)

Reality Master 101 (179095) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227917)

British scientists are reporting today that the odds of life starting on Earth rather than inside a comet are one trillion trillion (10 to the power of 24) to one against.

That they can even presume to put a number on the probability of life is evidence enough that they have no idea what they're talking about.

Anyway, the odds of life are totally irrelevent to anything. See: anthropic principle.

Re:Sheesh (1)

Valar (167606) | more than 7 years ago | (#20228157)

I really wish they had chosen a better word than 'observer' when outlining quantum physics. It lends people to believe weird humanistic things about reality. Like that the universe was created just for us. I've also heard people talk about being able to harness our 'observer power' to gain superpowers and psychic abilities. The truth is, an observer as defined in quantum physics is essentially any system which extends beyond quantum scale. Rocks are observers. Water molecules are observers. So yes, I will accept that a necessary condition for the formation of a well ordered universe is a capability to form packets of mass at an atomic scale.

not surprising (1)

sammy baby (14909) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227947)

Is this surprising? I mean, in the seventies it was a popular theory that life here began out there [wikipedia.org] .

Re:not surprising (1)

Jugalator (259273) | more than 7 years ago | (#20228093)

Yes, and the idea had a renaissance in the 90's [wikipedia.org] ...

hmmm.. no, wait a minute!

Old News (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20227949)

Did these scientists just now get around to reading "Heart of the Comet" by David Brin and Gregory Benford from the 1980s?

space policies (1)

Ep0xi (1093943) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227955)

that's why is so much important the control of space limits. because life could take over the earth.
and we don't want life to take over, do we?

Logic? (1)

supersho (816055) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227959)

In summary: Most of the clay in the solar system is in comets. Therefore life evolved in comets.

Even assuming that life did indeed evolve in clay (a popular theory, but by no means the consensus), this argument doesn't convince me.

Controversial result? (4, Informative)

oskay (932940) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227963)

Also in the news this week is the opposite result: that life cannot [theage.com.au] exist in comets because of the radiation. So... it's not obvious (to me) that there is any scientific consensus on this topic.

Into and out of (1)

Helios1182 (629010) | more than 7 years ago | (#20227991)

So a comet brought us into existence, and it could take us out of existence. Seems fair to me.

Edumakation (2, Funny)

Shadow Wrought (586631) | more than 7 years ago | (#20228023)

If the Religious Right takes issue with Evolution, just wait they find out that little Bobby is going to be taught about Panspermia! In school! Next thing you know Health class will be teaching kids the proper way to masticate.

Not so surprising (1)

junglee_iitk (651040) | more than 7 years ago | (#20228043)

I never understood why life coming from outside is not widely accepted theory. There have been many [google.com] proofs [springerlink.com] in the past. It is highly probable if compared to life evolving from a giant organic soup. The only problem was how, and now that also seems to be satisfactorily answered,

There are those who believe... (1)

crankyspice (63953) | more than 7 years ago | (#20228047)

...That life here, began ... out there, far across the universe...

Department name is somewhat appropriate... (4, Interesting)

RyanFenton (230700) | more than 7 years ago | (#20228079)

we-are-all-made-of-stardust dept... close, but Sagan's line ended with 'star stuff', which is actually more appropriate here.

As to the relative plausibility of comet-seeded or locally-formed progenitors to life, given that reactions propagate, commonly leading to repeating and self-feeding cycles of reactions, the only argument for extra-solar is the added timescale and potential additional area for productive area for pre-life to evolve in.

Given that the universe is 13.7 billion years old, and the earth is 4.5 billion years old, and life on the earth is nearly that old, and that the universe has only been cool enough to support planets or life for much of that time, I don't believe panspermia buys us that many more orders of magnitude of time to work with.

So, it doesn't buy us time, how about area? Again, I can only guess using very rough psuedo-numbers here, but the matter we could get from previously existing worlds or small super-fertile comets has to come from somewhere previous. Given the expanding nature of the universe, we're generally only going to be getting a pie-slice of potential sources for any life-by-projectile, and each of these sources has to have been fed by enough nuclear sources to make the building blocks of simple pre-life. I can imagine a multiplication of potential sources this way, and even though it would only take one source to seed the whole set... just imagining the mass that actually makes it into out solar system, and then actually hits our earth... that likelihood doesn't seem much stronger than the numbers we think of with abiogenesis via selective pressures here on earth.

Ryan Fenton

Life started here on earth (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20228091)

'Then God said, "Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds." And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning--the third day.'

Genesis 1:11-13

Fully Vetted Probabilities? (1)

iso-cop (555637) | more than 7 years ago | (#20228107)

I did not see that the study included the probability of the random comet that originated life also impacting the earth. Nor is it obvious that it was considered that if the comet impacted earth that the life thereon survived. I would like to see a bit more before we declare ourselves progeny of a stud of a comet sowing his wild oats, so to speak.

Life is on earth (1)

adam.conf (893668) | more than 7 years ago | (#20228115)

From the overly brief article, it appears that the "overwhelming" probability is largely an artifact of the greater mass of clay on comments than on a young Earth. This is overly simplistic, and more bluntly, wrong, for four reasons. 1) Ultraviolet light; surface area to volume. While the mass of clay on comets may exceed that on a young Earth, since Earth is one giant sphere and not a bunch of clumps of dirt flying through space, more ultraviolet light will strike Earth-based than comet-borne clay. The surface area exposed to space will be greater on Earth. Furthermore, given the lesser gravity on a comet, liquid water will likely be on the interior of a comet, vs. the exterior of Earth, another factor reducing the UV rays striking the clay and water on comets. 2) Consistency of conditions. Earth's orbit is much less elliptical than the orbits' of most comets. This is vital to life. Even if (and this is a big if) liquid water can exist on a comet throughout its orbit, extreme variations in radiation or temperature would still significantly hinder the formation of life. 3) Weather. Earth has weather, and comets don't. Weather, and lightning in particular, is pivotal in most theories regarding the origin of life. The Urey-Miller experiment, for example, proved that dynamic weather conditions can be extremely conducive to the formation of the complex molecules, such as amino acids, necessary for life to exist. 4) Most importantly, life is on Earth. We need to consider not the mass of all comets in the Solar System, or even all those harboring liquid water, but rather, all those harboring liquid water which collided with Earth at the time that life first originated. Since life is on Earth, we know that only a comet which collided with Earth could have been responsible for life on Earth. The mass of these comets which collided with Earth is clearly much less than that of the Earth itself. Considering all of these factors, I think it is safe to say that in light of this research, life still likely originated on good old planet Earth.

Re:Life is on earth (2, Informative)

adam.conf (893668) | more than 7 years ago | (#20228165)

Whoops, formatting problems! Better repost.

From the overly brief article, it appears that the "overwhelming" probability is largely an artifact of the greater mass of clay on comments than on a young Earth. This is overly simplistic, and more bluntly, wrong, for four reasons.

1) Ultraviolet light; surface area to volume. While the mass of clay on comets may exceed that on a young Earth, since Earth is one giant sphere and not a bunch of clumps of dirt flying through space, more ultraviolet light will strike Earth-based than comet-borne clay. The surface area exposed to space will be greater on Earth. Furthermore, given the lesser gravity on a comet, liquid water will likely be on the interior of a comet, vs. the exterior of Earth, another factor reducing the UV rays striking the clay and water on comets.

2) Consistency of conditions. Earth's orbit is much less elliptical than the orbits' of most comets. This is vital to life. Even if (and this is a big if) liquid water can exist on a comet throughout its orbit, extreme variations in radiation or temperature would still significantly hinder the formation of life.

3) Weather. Earth has weather, and comets don't. Weather, and lightning in particular, is pivotal in most theories regarding the origin of life. The Urey-Miller experiment, for example, proved that dynamic weather conditions can be extremely conducive to the formation of the complex molecules, such as amino acids, necessary for life to exist.

4) Most importantly, life is on Earth. We need to consider not the mass of all comets in the Solar System, or even all those harboring liquid water, but rather, all those harboring liquid water which collided with Earth at the time that life first originated. Since life is on Earth, we know that only a comet which collided with Earth could have been responsible for life on Earth. The mass of these comets which collided with Earth is clearly much less than that of the Earth itself.

Considering all of these factors, I think it is safe to say that in light of this research, life still likely originated on good old planet Earth.

this is crazy with no consensus on life's origin (4, Insightful)

wisebabo (638845) | more than 7 years ago | (#20228167)

I can't believe that they really can begin to propose odds like that on life's origin. What if life didn't begin with clays acting as catalysts for chemical reactions but instead required a reducing atmosphere? (Current thinking is that life originally used hydrogen sulfide as an energy source, possibly from undersea "smokers"). Can the comets provide that kind of environment? What would happen when the few nascent life forms that survive the planetary bombardment that they are part of are dumped from their interplanetary cocoons into the tremendously different environment of the early earth? Don't you think that there is a good idea that the life forms that survived that environment were the ones that evolved there?

Add to that the fact that we really don't have a clue as to how life started here (or anywhere else for that matter) and you really begin to question the judgment of giving odds to this sort of thing.

I'm not saying they're wrong, I like panspermia theories as well. It's just for people to put some sort of numerical values on this kind of thing when we know so little is just well crazy. And what numerical values! Maybe after if we send out some cometary probes and find them teeming with primitive life could you claim such a thing. Even then do they use DNA or RNA? Any evidence of spectral emission lines of this from any of our flyby probes? (It would be even more earth-shaking if there was DIFFERENT life there!)

Still I enjoy reading ScienceDaily.com. (Daily in fact) It's a great site not like some pseudo New-Scien(tist) kind of site.

but... (1)

Bazman (4849) | more than 7 years ago | (#20228179)

The chances of anything coming from Mars, are a million to one they said.

I get all my science from 70's prog rock concept albums based on HG Wells novels...

Sure comets can create life, but (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20228181)

can they run Linux?
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