Panspermia: Hoax or Hope?
☼ Fire in the Sky: On December 29, 2012 a fireball exploded in the skies above Sri Lanka, followed by a meteorite that fell near the ancient city of Polonnaruwa. A sample was sent to the Buckingham Institute of Astrobiology and Cardiff University. Researchers now report in the Journal of Cosmology of finding fossils of diatoms enmeshed within the meteorite. Because of the way the microfossils were distributed within the rock, they rule out surface contamination.
☼ Panspermia (from the Greek “all” and “sperm”) is the idea that life exists throughout the Universe, distributed by meteoroids, asteroids and planetoids. So, is this compelling evidence of Panspermia or life in outer space?
☼ Red Rain: The researchers claim that the mysterious red rain that fell in the area within days of the meteorite, reported by our own Siromi Samarasinghe (http://goo.gl/dq7Jq), was seeded from the meteorite. Reports of red rain were first made in Homer’s Iliad and may simply be from airborne algal spores. Is this red rain a red herring?
☼ Earthly Origin? Could it be that this rock was initially blasted off from earth, by the Mesozoic-ending impact on the Yucatan Peninsula, and is now falling back to earth after a grand journey? The article does mention that similar fossils have been found that date back to the time of the dinosaurs.
☼ Hasty Science? The meteorite only just landed, less than 3 weeks ago! How much of a review did this paper get? The authors make the grand statement that “identification of fossilised diatoms in the Polonnaruwa meteorite is firmly established and unimpeachable” and with several self-citations, that “the idea of microbial life carried within comets and the theory of cometary panspermia is thus vindicated”. Their final sentence is a WIN, in my opinion: The universe, not humans, must have the final say to declare what the world is really like. What do you think?
Reference (with pictures!): http://www.buckingham.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Polonnaruwa-meteorite.pdf
Amazing photo – would be hard to fake so it is quite a mystery.
I agree, there are several such photos in their paper. This is almost too good to be true 🙂
Reminds me of Aida Hazlan post about diatoms.
Mike Clancy , how come my papers are not reviewed that quickly/ 😉
Wow, what a mystery…curious to see where this goes.
I suspect you wrote this because it gave you the opportunity to say sperm multiple times.
If this turns out to be legitimate, it will completely up-end a lot of belief systems.
Jaz Emminger :O
Christopher Woo , because life on earth is not unique, right? Interestingly, even if this meteorite of earthly origin, it shows that panspermia is possible and that rocks can carry fossils or spores across space.
Here’s Aida’s post: http://goo.gl/fpZNt
Just check and Wiki notes these were the same folks responsible for publishing the 2007 “life from meterorites” story. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Journal_of_Cosmology)
Correct. Also it will blow the minds of everyone who thinks we are alone in this universe/galaxy/cosmos.
Nice story — thanks, Rajini Rao .
Always need a curve ball somewhere in there (although I agree it’s way too early for conclusions).
I thought it had already been established that microbes could survive/migrate in the vacuum of space?
Nick Lane postulated that its very probable that unicelular life exists everywhere, but that complex life was probably an accident. due to the very complex nature of mitochondria merge.
Since diatoms are unicelular, it seems he was on to something.
Earth origin seems most likely to me. If it were a fossil of a group of creatures unknown to earth’s history it might tip things more toward the panspermia idea
Matthew Strain , so I’ve heard that the Journal of Cosmology is not the most reputable. The author also keeps pushing such reports, on the other hand, that is his area of specialization so perhaps that’s not a fair accusation?
Thanks for the link, Chad Haney . More beautiful pix of diatoms and photonic crystals: http://goo.gl/x2HJa
Thanks for your link Rajini. I think my pops was visiting around that time. I missed it.
Rajini Rao, super easy to figure it out – have someone else look at the samples and compare the mineral composition to known samples from other bodies.
Also, I distrust a “journal” that cannot keep their “hit count” straight between the main page and the page where you pay to submit your paper for ‘processing.
Matthew Strain , crappy journal aside, is the key question whether the meteorite is from earth or from a comet? The authors are arguing the latter, so what would it take to show that this rock originated from a comet visiting us from another part of the universe?
Oh hey, the author is also an editor of the journal that he published in 😉 So that accounts for the speedy publication. Although, that does not discredit the work scientifically….
Reminds me of the Iron Meteorite Buddha statue. http://goo.gl/RrfsB
Wow, a blast from the past indeed, Chad Haney . A rare meteorite carved into an artifact, that was a cool read thanks.
Rajini Rao believe you would need to look for non-standard chemical mixtures for known samples. If it differs from the chemical composition of bodies (including asteroids) found formed from this star, then it could have been ejected from another star’s solar system. Requires more knowledge related to the chemical makeup of minerals than I have I fear!
FYI, Journal of Cosmology is not a real journal, from a cosmologist.
Although it does have Roger Penrose listed as a guest editor, Ethan Siegel . As you say, the consensus is that the journal is not reputable and that would explain the quick track of the paper. What do you think of their data, though?
Hoax is Hope,Hope is Hoax…..just keep going.
The only way to know for sure and to settle it, we’d have to subject the author to a polygraph test.
LOL, Jaz Emminger . We can pelt him with meteorites if he lies.
Rajini Rao I think with such an extraordinary claim like this, we need independent verification of the sample from a few other labs before we jump to any conclusions…
Rajini Rao putting Penrose’s name on there very likely means he got an email, responded in the affirmative, and has nothing to do with the “journal” since.
As far as the data, the only thing it indicates — if the graph is to be believed — is that the thing they identify as a fossil is made out of the same minerals as the surrounding rock. My first guess is this is a fraud, my second guess (if it isn’t fraud) is that it’s spectacularly bad, contaminated science.
I agree, Tommy Leung . It’s easy enough to send fragments out to other labs and the next few months should clarify this. I think contamination or hoax is unlikely, Ethan Siegel (see their paper). It’s more likely that the meteorite originated on earth and has returned here after a long journey. Which would be interesting by itself.
I don’t know; I read the paper and the only quantitative analysis they presented was one single graph; no tables of elemental composition, no quantitative comparison with other asteroids or chondrites… at best this is a hugely flawed paper.
Even if the rock is originally Terran it provides support for the panspermia hypothesis by proving that living things can indeed leave the atmosphere inadvertently.
But I think the science is hasty and the language in the conclusions overly grandiose. I don’t read many scientific papers, but I would generally expect them to be more sober and less speculative than that. The facts can speak for themselves and people who let their opinions rule them are far more likely to make serious errors.
I doubt the red rain has anything to do with the meteorite. But if anybody can show a more definitive link, I would gladly abandon that hypothesis.
Rajini Rao considering what happened in the wake of the last time that “journal” published something claiming to have found microbial life in meteorite, things are going to get seriously… weird … in the next few days as a follow-up to this…
Ethan Siegel , hmmm..good point. I guess he couldn’t get all that done in his rush to publish 😉
Uh oh, apparently the author once claimed that the SARS virus came from outer space #nomorecredibility .
You got the place hopping Rajini Rao ….Hee Hee
Those were entertaining reads, Tommy Leung . I wonder what the blogosphere will say about this one?
Eric Hopper , that’s was my point too..I’m hoping at the very least this is an earthly rock come back to roost.
You’re on a
rock androll, Fazal Miles . There’s a punderstorm falling from the sky 🙂
My hope is that the Blogosphere remains unmoved to write on it; there’s nothing that kills the crackpot so quickly as the weapon of utter silence.
LOL! It should be refuted scientifically. The arsenic story was treated seriously and it had as much data as this one. Even if it was published in Science (or was it Nature?).
You need a real scientist to look at it before it should be refuted scientifically. Otherwise, it has as much credibility as… http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2012-10/andrea-rossis-black-box or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Aliens or http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/2009/05/27/tunguska-101-years-and-1-idiot/
Well, we need scientists with the right expertise. Not a lot of us on G+, is there? We are spread out too thinly in the various disciplines.
You’d need an astrobiologist with access to both the meteorites and the lab equipment to properly analyze them. Maybe Caleb Scharf at Columbia, if he’s interested?
Thanks, Ethan. I hope some experts stop by.
I try very hard to get my colleagues on to social media. We even had an article sent out to all members of the American Society for Biochem. & Molecular Biol. (ASBMB) talking about the merits of G+. We need more scientists talking to real people on here.
Looks like ‘hasty science’ to me. A local newspapers has reported it as the ‘most important find in 500 years’
if so why not publish the results in ‘Nature’ or ‘Science’!
It’s an excellent exercise in understanding how science works, Siromi Samarasinghe . I would hope that the response from the scientific community helps us understand the flaws, assuming that they are there?
Wouldn’t panspermia require the spread of viable specimen? Unless this fossilized diatom starts reproducing, I don’t see how this vindicates the theory.
I’m also wondering about how close the fossil looks to the modern equivalent. Is it plausible that the species remained basically unchanged for the millions or billions of years between when it left its home planet until it landed under the microscope?
Here’s more about the home diatom equivalent, Sellaphora blackfordensis
I don’t care who claims what and where. The main question is whether or not the claims are genuine. That means independent and openly documented analysis.
Interesting. I’d have to ask: What is the likelihood of something escaping Earth’s atmosphere and, likely, its area of gravitational influence and suddenly coming back down to Earth 65 million years later? Or are you stating that this little rock was orbiting Earth for 65 million years without burning up in its atmosphere? Both seem quite unlikely.
As for the red rain, that is interesting. Perhaps, as indicated, algae got kicked up by the impact and fell back as rain.
What part of this are they stating is a possible hoax?
Daniel Estrada , re. your panspermia question, that’s where the red rain comes in. There are pictures in the linked pdf article which show spores (?) of something like what was seen with the red rain. That’s what the authors claim in the beginning of the article.
Definitely, if the fossils yield DNA evidence or at least some morphological evidence, they could be traced back to a particular era. I think the authors do claim that the diatom fossils came from the mesozoic era. If so, then the contamination theory would be incorrect, since contamination would have to be by more recent specimen, I’m guessing?
Richard Healy , agree completely. With any report, there has to be independent confirmation that follows. This paper just came out. The question I cannot answer is whether this is too far out to the left field to be worthy of further study.
All good questions, David Lazarus . Except that I’m not stating or claiming anything -just trying to analyze a paper 🙂 Who’s the “they” re. the hoax question? Comments on this thread? No one has specified which part could be a hoax.
I want someone to verify that the rock is actually a meteorite, and that the rock that is a meteorite is the same one that contains the fossils. The paper’s author is too interested in promoting his theories and not enough interested in the actual truth of things for me to trust what his paper says.
I want someone else to study it, someone who would actually prefer the rock not be a meteorite, or if it was, prefer that it not contain any sign of fossilized life. But someone who has a strong history of intellectual honesty.
Wouldn’t it be great if all the breathless reports in the news media (particularly those relating to health) were dissected like this? I see something blown out of proportion and hyped in the science/medical news everyday.
Rajini Rao – It would be. I wish science reporters were a lot more demanding and researched their articles more. sigh
That’s one criticism. But it would be hard for a journalist to be an expert on every topic that comes along. They’d have to have excellent expert sources for each one.
The other option is that ordinary scientists, working in the field relating to the news report, should broadcast their opinion and discuss the topic where people can access them…whether on a blog, or via public talks or forums.
Rajini Rao you are a nice person. Every time I met a journalist and tried to present some new stuff I went ballistic. BTW the journal of Cosmology is here http://journalofcosmology.com/
a bit weird …
Rajini Rao even if this rock had extraterrestrial origins, it would not confirm panspermia unless something in it were viable. Of course evidence of extraterrestrial life not of earth origin would be more important than evidence of panspermia, IMO 🙂
Madjid Boukri , that’s a funny story. It’s like those photos of labs with scientists holding tubes of water colored blue or red 🙂
Re. the journal, I also noticed that the author of this study is himself an executive editor. Perhaps we should start our own journals ..hmm.
Hudson Ansley , good point..the diatoms apparently are fossilized. That’s why the authors bring up the red rain issue…
Rajini Rao – I guess I misinterpreted. Perhaps the “they” should be “you”. It doesn’t have to be a hoax though. A hoax implies intentional misdirection. Perhaps it’s accidental.
I have not read this as yet. But, I did not know that articles get published so quickly in journals. Are journals like magazines now?
Trying something different today, Bobby Shaftoe . Crowd-sourcing scientific critique 🙂
If anyone is interested in reading my “ancient alien theory” perspective on the topic, take a look at my re-share of this post.
Bobby Shaftoe – Though not by profession, I’m both a scientist and a philosopher. After reading my post and my comment below it, you’ll see that I take both sides of the story into account.
Who was it that said: “If it looks too good to be true, it is.”?
My understanding is that a simple analysis would determine the objects origin, since each planet exhibits a unique carbon signature. That’s how we can determine that a meteorite came from Mars or the Moon.
Eliminating the ability to make that determination,If it is diatomaceous, then I think all that could be said is that it is a fossil fragment of a biosphere.
Given the Earth is by far the nearest source, it would seem reasonable to me the idea of a fragment from a terrestrial impact reentering would be plausible.
As someone who deals with evidence procedures from time to time, I would find a lot more credibility to their process if they had published some photos and a timeline showing acquisition, appropriate handling in a sterile environment, and all that.
I’m still more than ready to believe in panspermia. I suspect samples will be found in space more readily than down here where we have had billions of years of different processes to change the rocks.
David Andrews – But reentering 65 million years later? That is tough for me to accept as plausible.
This is possibly one of the greatest discussions I’ve read tonight. Thank you (each of you).
I appreciate it because as a non-scientist I understood every word. The great divide between science and the public. It’s related to another article posted by aimee whitcroft https://plus.google.com/u/0/102216170061098164827/posts/WtDxerbBEQm
As a person of the public (ie not a scientist but loving of science and all it’s amazing stuffs) also someone who works in a university with faculty and familiar with the hurdles of being ‘published’.
One of the greatest fears I think in open discussion like this is that ‘publishing too early’ and they will be ‘debunked’ or of course the more common ‘credit sourcing’ . It’s one of the greatest shows of strength for any researcher… but it’s possibly the biggest fence between them and the public.
It just makes me sad.
The other is the use of academic terminology vs a journalists need to ‘translate’ for the public. Researchers feel they have to ‘dumb it down’ and if they don’t readers not in that sphere just feel dumbed down. Yeah… that can be an intimidating giant wall for some of us.
Rajini Rao you are in a circle of mine for your posts which are always fascinating and consistently accessible. Thanks.
Now, my thoughts on this? Scepticism is all well and good.. important and vital always – but never ever should it be aimed toward a dead end. My initial response is: more More MORE!
I’d do it myself but I’m booked solid till the thursday next.
Oooooh, looking at your post, it sounds like the PR department got ahold of it. Which can often cause drama (remember the arsenic thing?)
Bill Collins , there are tons of scanning electron micrograph images in their pdf (linked in my post), but only one spectral analysis of the composition (very little in the legend, so I could not interpret it). Virtually no methods section.
That doesn’t show origin site and removal, but okay I’ll take a look!
aimee whitcroft , the authors do an excellent job of PR in their own paper 🙂
This paper bothered me. Okay, they said someone sent it to them. Fine, I’ll give them that. No photos of the site.
First, no color photographs of the meteorite with measurements. Second, no photos of the color, streak, hardness, density, cleavage, specific gravity, yadda yadda yadda other geology tests that are quite important. Third, where’s the slice of the meteorite under the microscope? Fourth, given the scanning microscope with resolutions taken at multiple different magnifications, where are those images in sequence?
Now, the diatom in the first image does look imbedded in the rock. So this could be incredibly sloppy scholarship, rush to publish, etc. However, I must say I definitely question the rock’s provenance as given.
Bill Collins – I like your analysis.
J. Elliott-Smith – My re-share does not concern this particular rock so much as the idea that some of the fireballs witnessed during those 10 days actually made impact. Then, I proceed with the possibility that it could be an alien attack. However, in a comment below my post, I also state that this scenario is highly unlikely. And the conversation continues . . . . I’m in the middle of typing another comment now.
Apparently, this meteorite fell in a village with lots of witnesses, so I’m guessing that part is real. I would have expected plenty more analysis of the minerals, dating, etc. Oh well.
Read the paper, searched up some Red Rain papers and refreshed myself on when diatoms started hanging around on earth.
My consensus: A fun read but not much there and they kill themselves by hooking the paper up with Red Rain which is an obvious local spore origin. The Red Rain cells on the meteorite show viability and motility? Red Flags! Red Flags! If that were the case then the diatoms would likely be “viable” too? But no, the scan with EDX showing identical scans for diatom and surrounding meteorite is the same so a fossil. And this is the evidence they hang everything on that the diatoms are true fossils from outerspace!
Lots of BS alarm bells going off might have to wait to see this in Science or Nature next month. Not holding my breath. Maybe a conspiracy of the nonpanspermia scientists will skuttle the boat by then. 😉
The biggest red flag is the time to publication. In that amount of time they could only find what they wanted to find. That’s not good science. Not many examples in the paper trying to prove themselves wrong and failing. Sequence the genome of the viable red cells. There are kits likely with primers set up for resequencing known tags. It would have to be de novo sequencing if it were really exoplanet. (Can’t believe I just wrote that.)
Haha, wonderful commentary Dr. Morrison! I was rather proud of my “red rain is a red herring” comment, if I say so myself 😉
rains of fish!!! wait, didn’t the bible have something about that? or was it terry pratchett?
I so wanted to use red herring and not red flag but you had already scooped that one.
That’s the advantage of being executive editor of one’s one page (like the lead author of this paper) and rushing to press.
I’ve always thought this was a solid theory. We may never know for sure.
how can one think something is a valid hypothesis (not theory) if it’s not possible, ever, to know for sure? hypotheses should be testable, if nothing else 🙂
Wake me up when another non-associated, reputable lab is able to replicate/verify the results. Until then, I don’t think it’s science, just one person’s observations (and that person’s previous claims make me inherently skeptical of anything).
David Lazarus The possibility of rock from earth falling back into the atmosphere after 65 million years more or less seems quite likely to me. No doubt a lot of the rock that was ejected during the Jurassic meteor would remain in the orbital path of the earth and as the earth sweeps that path, it could well encounter that rock. It is astounding but true that over 250 tons of meteor falls to earth each day (!) so it does not seem unlikely at all to me that some of this was once ejected from earth long ago.
It’s very difficult to comment on these things.Rajini Jee explain it.
250 tons a day! I’m going to be looking skyward when I leave home tomorrow 🙂 Hudson Ansley , wasn’t there a similar story to this about a meteorite from Mars that had so-called bacterial impressions etched on it? That’s been discredited now. I believe this is it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allan_Hills_84001
It’s explained in the post, Tanveer Iqbal .
It occurs to me that this is exactly the kind of image I want to see Curiosity sending back from Mars! But I really want evidence of independently evolved life… The biggest question on astrobiology is “is life easy or very hard” So far we have no idea…
Hudson Ansley – You have a good point. However, I think that it is at least just as likely that the said debris escaped Earth’s gravitational influence and is either floating somewhere in the solar system, made impact with another planet, or got sucked up by the sun.
250 tons per day? How would our man made satellites stand a chance at surviving for several years with that much debris burning up in our atmosphere or making impact? Where did you get that information?
estimates are between 37 and 78 thousand tons per year. Split that down the middle and divided by 365 and you get more than 250 tons per day on average. Much of it is in the form of dust particles, however…
Also, I’m not trying to detract from this discussion as I am enjoying it as well. However, I would love to have more input from others in my alternate discussion which has taken on a completely different course.
I posted the link here once. So, just go to my profile if you can’t find it. Thanks!
David Lazarus The earth is very large remember… 😉
Here is one source:
but none other than Neil deGrasse Tyson recently mentioned a similar figure on his Star Talk Radio show…
J. Elliott-Smith – How credible is a story that only gives things from one side of the fence. I didn’t intentionally wait until the comments to say that. I just got to focused on one side and neglected the other. So, I fixed it. I and others I’m sure would appreciate you continuing this line of thought under my post so as no to further derail this discussion.
“The universe, not humans, must have the final say to declare what the world is really like. What do you think?” I agree! What happened to the scientists that carefully measured their statements instead of creating unnecessary hype?
But Neil deGrasse Tyson also believes the Big Bang Theory; which makes me cringe. Unfortunately, so does Brain Greene. I believe that it is infinite in both time and space. I also believe that fractal geometry can be used to help prove that theory.
J. Elliott-Smith – I just added you to my circles. Try it again.
Whew! Whoever wrote that is not a geologist or…I don’t know what they are. Olivine got me interested at first but after the red rain and some other obvious bs. I had to quit.
No doubt…that’s as bogus as it gets.
You could say I was not as “shocked” as I could be with those grains.
But as far as the could it happen question? Oh yes, even older than that…diatoms are old but they’re not as old as the Earth by any means. There was a lot going on during the late bombardment and far older rocks could have been ejected. Those even older than the rocks we have now on Earth to study.
Space jizz, who knew?
imho, it’s a hoax…
It’s an hoax. The journal of cosmology is all but serious.
Red rain are caused by dust. It has been proved that 60% of dust in the atmosphere is coming from Sahara and more specifically from a particular region in northern Chad (which won’t be a surprise when you have visited N’Djamena, the most dusty town I know).
Once when I was student in Lille, north of France , a reddish rain fell on the town and left a red cover on cars. We sampled the dust and made some analysis. It was a mixture of things sand /silt quartz particles, iron oxydes and clay. One particular clay attracted our attention, which is typical from Sahara, especially around Chad lake. We had our possible location!
J. Elliott-Smith – Why did you delete your comment about my re-share of this post from this one?
For those interesting in reading what he said and my response to it, see my re-share of this post.
Once again? Where did you say it the first time?
You initially put the comment under this post. So, obviously you wanted people to read it. You only deleted it after I quoted it under my post. IMO, that’s a sign of cowardice. I think it’s a worthy read. As is my reply to it.
If you look carefully at my profile, I do include my educational background. And I have not made any recent edits to the written content. So, what you see there has been their for over a year.
I never asked about the type of psychology program you’re pursuing. I never even asked about your field of study. That did not matter in this post nor in my re-share of it.
J. Elliott-Smith, I’m not trying to alienate you. Given time, I think you’ll find my input valuable on various topics; whether scientific or not. So, let’s just allow the dominoes to fall as they may and take things from there. Despite my brutal honesty, being offensive is not the purpose of this comment.
And with that, I must say good night for real this time.
It’s amazing to see how God did it.
I’m going with hasty/incomplete (possibly sketchy) science on this one.
As you said so well “The universe, not humans, must have the final say to declare what the world is really like” I can only add that it’s a truth we have to concede we possibly will never really know.
I just had to explain to my kid that I went through school believing atoms were the basic building blocks. Even when you “know” something you don’t really know it.
new beginning is nice some more waiting to come
it means that the things we never knew before now being happened…or else its just a product of the master of illusions.
I’m asking myself why this is any less sensational or significant than photographing tiny green people walking around on mars. But Neutrinogate has taught one to be skeptical. 🙂
Question: Did anyone say if the diatom embedded in the rock is a known, extant species?
the creatures in deep sea could be all from outer space 😉
i wouldn´t say it in this way …
Miodrag Milić “Complex life was an accident”? How ridiculous 🙂 not you, the person who believes this is. Look at life in the world around us… I don’t see accidents, I see masterful creation from a powerful and loving God, Creator of all things.
….past life from outer space?….
this is not a real journal and has been discredited many times as a forum where a few individuals insist on trying to find positive evidence for their own obsessions. s
Chris jW , here’s a link to their web site. It’s a Center, not an Institute, I should correct the text. http://www.buckingham.ac.uk/research/bcab
Farhan Khan I see the masterful creation from 2 powerful gods and a loving demigod plus 7 angels and Dumbledor.
The text in the photo should really be “Fossil Diatom?”
I want to pinch that thing with my pen and watch it burst out with green blood or something weird like that 😀
The red rain of Kerala was true but no conclusive study was made to show that it was an extra terrestrial origin. Now the Sri Lankan meteorite with the red rain accompanying. Needs elaborate studies coupling the two together. And thanks Rajani.
Thanks for the comment, mohan varughese . There is a Wikipedia article that sums up the red rain phenomena quite well. It appears to be caused by algal spores: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_rain_in_Kerala
Jon Giuliani very funny 🙂 comedian.
Its not ridiculous, inform yourself first, judge later.
And please spare as from divine intervention. I dont go around claiming robots from the future created us.
Wait a sec, let me ask a super-elementary question:
People see a fireball in the sky and apparently stuff falling to earth. They run to what they believe to be the site of impact. If an impact did actually occur, impacting material will have disturbed the site so it will be scattered with lots of debris, terrestrial and non-terrestrial; there will be pieces of meteorite and pieces of earth and rock all mixed together. How does one distinguish meteorite pieces from plain old rocks?
The paper only says, ” a large meteorite disintegrated and fell in the village of Araganwila, which is located a few miles away from the historic ancient city of Polonnaruwa. Fig 1a shows the location of the fall. Fig 1b shows a photograph of a small piece of the
OK, back to science! Sum an asked a good question: Did anyone say if the diatom embedded in the rock is a known, extant species? In their paper (pdf link in post), the authors compare one of their structures to a common current diatom, Sellaphora blackfordensis. The show the images side by side in Figure 7. They also say that their diatoms are fossils. So, it’s not clear what they are trying to convey. Tagging Dan Bowden for any insights into fossilized specimen of diatoms.
Matt Kuenzel , identification of a meteorite is a common procedure. I found any number of websites describing characteristic features, how to distinguish them from ordinary rocks, etc. The Meteoritical Society even has a form that can be submitted for evaluation. Some of the characteristics are the presence of a fusion crust (glass like coating), unoxidized iron, and magnetic properties. Here’s one helpful site: http://www.meteoritemarket.com/metid8.htm
I’m going to have to give the authors enough credibility to at least distinguish a meteorite from a rock since this is so well studied. Hope I’m not wrong in doing that 🙂
The simple answer is theres life all throughout the galaxy! When you think about it, it would be stranger if there was nothing.
That’s logical, Dave Ellison . But we’d like proof of that 🙂
Rajini Rao I think Matt Kuenzel actually makes a really good point which is symptomatic of the problem associated with the entire paper in general. If they did identify the rock as a meteorite, they gave no details of what were the indicator that led them to that conclusion – if it is supposed to be a scientific paper, we can’t simply take the authors’ word for it that they have “enough credibility to at least distinguish a meteorite from a rock” without them demonstrating that credibility in some way.
Everything associated with the paper is sparse, sparse, sparse – most papers with far more mundane finding and ordinary claims go into a lot more details regarding methodology and results than what have presented here.
P.S. And of course, Journal of Cosmology itself is a big red flag to start with anyway…
There’s a consensus on the journal and the sparseness of the information, we all agree Tommy Leung .
I thought Matt’s question was simply, how does one distinguish a meteorite from an ordinary rock. Given that there is an entire field devoted to the study of meteorites, it seems likely that there is a systematic process of identification although we (the commentators) are not experts.
Sure, we can write off the whole thing as a hoax or discredit the work because of the journal (again, there was early consensus on this) but it’s worth noting that some of elite journals have more than their fair share of debunked science and retractions. So it’s a better exercise to evaluate what little info they have provided, with the caveat of the journal’s reputation firmly in our minds.
A couple of points to sum up:
1) We’ve moved well beyond the analysis of the paper and the journal although if new comments continue to make the same points, that’s okay since I don’t expect people to read over a hundred comments 🙂
The consensus is clear and this was a great example of quick and effective crowd critiquing. Thanks to everyone.
2) We should be equally critical of work that appears in more creditable journals, particularly in not accepting the breathless reports in the press that hype the findings. While I cannot offer particular expertise on meteorites, there are enough of us here on G+ who can evaluate articles on health, medicine and biology. I recall trying to point out what was wrong with the overly dramatic articles on “Single gene responsible for leap of intelligence” which was going viral on G+ some time back.
3) It’s been fun learning about red rain.
A very interesting post. Thanks Rajini Rao .
I share this sentiment – Their final sentence is a WIN, in my opinion: The universe, not humans, must have the final say to declare what the world is really like.
We should be equally critical of work that appears in more creditable journals
We should be equally critical of work that appears in more creditable journals cuz of Semmelweis syndrome… there are 2 sides always.
In the midst of my reading and pondering about abiogenesis, I also read about the possibility of life being carried into earth by water bearing meteorites, and was stuck for a while. But Stanley Miller’s explanation seemed more plausible. If there was any other place in space (closer to earth), which is conducive for formation and sustenance of life, we wouldn’t have been searching for life in space till now.
I know I’m coming in late, but the extremely defensive tone of the authors, the lack of any sort of methods section, and large number of unsubstantiated, un-cited sentences make this paper a little hard to take seriously.
Very plausible! Francis Crick said that DNA is so complex that its origin must have been extraterrestrial.
J. Elliott-Smith – I seem to detect either embarrassment or remorse on your part. I could be wrong. I think your comment is a good read either way. A little condescending perhaps, but informative and good advice for those wishing to prove something scientifically.
You state that science has intrinsic permanence. That’s not exactly true. Accepted scientific fact as well as theories have been proven wrong time and again throughout history. The more we learn, the less we know. Our understanding of the universe is miniscule at best. While we’ve made leaps and bounds as a species, we live on an insignificant blue dot that is about the size of an electron, maybe smaller, on a universal scale.
I think that, compared to a panel of scientists, you’ll find G+ very forgiving. So, editing your work, with the exception of grammar and spelling correction, isn’t a necessity. Besides, it gives context to my reply. If it makes you feel any better, I promise not to quote you under a different post in the future without your consent.
I’ll fix the privacy settings pronto so more people can see the information.
Great article on this from Philip Plait http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2013/01/15/life_in_a_meteorite_claims_by_n_c_wickramasinghe_of_diatoms_in_a_meteorite.html
David Nicholl thank you for the link! Phil Plait is an entertaining blogger 🙂 What I learned from that blog that has not been covered already here is that a diatom expert thinks that the images of the diatoms in the paper are real but not fossilized. In other words, they look too similar to modern day diatoms so they may well be from fresh water deposits of an ordinary rock or contamination of the meteorite. We had been wondering about that, thanks!
Thanks for stopping by, Dan Bowden . The paper is a quick read, and has lots of images of diatoms. I’m curious if you think they represent a modern species instead of fossil forms.
Note to Matt Kuenzel – in the paper they said that they were “sent” the meteorite sample. This goes to my question about the documentary evidence.
Thanks for your analysis, Dan Bowden . The scarcity of data presented is a huge problem.
The hurdle that Carl Sagan set up, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” does not seemed to be cleared with this paper. The authors might think they are on the medals podium but are instead nursing a bump on their forehead before the first turn.
Originally from Marcello Truzzi: “An extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof.” But indeed, Sagan popularized his version far beyond Truzzi…
Thank you for pointint that out Hudson Ansley. I jumped to wikipedia to correct it but they are way ahead of us. In fact wiki hands the earliest quote to Laplace in the 19th century:
Sagan is also widely regarded as a freethinker or skeptic; one of his most famous quotations, in Cosmos, was, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” (called the “Sagan Standard” by some). This was based on a nearly identical statement by fellow founder of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, Marcello Truzzi, “An extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof.” This idea originated with Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749–1827), a French mathematician and astronomer who said, “The weight of evidence for an extraordinary claim must be proportioned to its strangeness.”
Nice, I like the Laplace version! Probably sounds even better in French…
“Macavity, the Mystery cat
“Macavity’s a mystery cat; he’s called the Hidden Paw
He’s the master criminal who can defy the law.
He’s the bafflement of Scotland Yard: the Flying Squad’s despair: for when they reach the scene of the crime – Macavity’s not there.”
T S Eliot OLD POSSUM’S BOOK OF PRACTICAL CATS
No way,J E-S, but as T S Eliot didn’t say: If the cat fits, wear it, which brings me to
“Murder in the Cathedral”. and “The Waste Land”- were both addressed to me.
As far as I know, nobody ever got my ‘shocking’ pun. You guys just talked too much to ever listen.
alas, a bad pun is a terrible thing to waste
The controversy regarding red rain and the meteorite is very much in the news in Sri Lanka. Here is the latest as reported in the Sunday Times. http://goo.gl/F5xWI
Siromi Samarasinghe , thanks for the link. That was an excellent read. It’s good to see quotes from Peradeniya and Colombo University researchers pushing back against the hype.
As Sri Lankan scientists, we have to defend ourselves!
Too good to be true…. And life forms as seen on Earth (diatoms) coming from another planet??? If true, what does it indicate?? What about the chemical composition of the meteorite? Does it have some extraterrestrial elements?
All good questions, Prince George ! The consensus is that the author’s have over-reached their claims without documenting evidence adequately.
And here’s an article that mentions real diatoms retrieved from below Antarctica. Can’t wait for photos. 😀 http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/crux/?p=2680#.UQWnUaWmDFJ
hi very good
a long & strong belief of mine, nice to see real evidance to back it up, now if we can just get the majority to stop supporting war & trade off to space exploration the human race mite be saved , we are running out of time & ww3 is looming , we need more proof before its too late !
Excellent analysis in that article Steve Wilde ! And yes, the focus on where’s the evidence is a really key part.
Thanks for the update, Steve Wilde !
My favorite post of 2013.
Thank you all!