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#16346 - 11/15/06 04:53 AM Searching for 'our alien origins'
DA Morgan Offline
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Registered: 10/17/04
Posts: 4136
Loc: Seattle, WA
In July 2001, a mysterious red rain started falling over a large area of southern India.

Locals believed that it foretold the end of the world, though the official explanation was that it was desert dust that had blown over from Arabia.

But one scientist in the area, Dr Godfrey Louis, was convinced there was something much more unusual going on.

Not only did Dr Louis discover that there were tiny biological cells present, but because they did not appear to contain DNA, the essential component of all life on Earth, he reasoned they must be alien lifeforms.

"This staggering claim is that this is possibly extraterrestrial. That is a big claim I know, but all the experiments are supporting this claim," said Dr Louis.

For the full news story:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/6146292.stm

This story is an interesting one as it merges astronomy and biology. I decided to post it here in the hope that the forum title would keep away the trolls.

About 35 years ago there were a series of books by a Dr. Immanuel Velikovsky making similar claims. He and his books were not taken seriously, in part, because his area of expertise was psychiatry.

Here are a couple of links about Velikovsky:
http://www.unmuseum.org/velikov.htm
http://www.pibburns.com/smtrerng.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manna

If the red raid proves to be extraterrestrial, quite a leap from what we know so far, we may need to reopen the Velikovsky affair.
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#16347 - 11/15/06 06:35 PM Re: Searching for 'our alien origins'
dr_rocket Offline
Member

Registered: 12/06/06
Posts: 196
Loc: Palo Alto, CA, USA
Hi DA,

This is something that begs the question. Could organic material come from space and land on the earth intact? (Intact as opposed to meteoric vaporization.) The answer is almost certainly yes. There are vast clouds of organic material floating about in interstellar space. Is this what we have here? Its not impossible, but I doubt it. There is a clear gap between organic molecules and living organisms.

Another question that comes to mind is, what is a "biological cell" that does "not appear to contain DNA". What makes it biological? I'm not a biologist, but I know about eukaryotic and prokaryotic cells and I have heard of organisms classed as archaea and even chimeras. Within this context I wonder what Dr. Louis is talking about with his little red space aliens.

If he had come up with "life" with a non-terrestrial structure we would have something. By life I mean that it shows functions like movement, reproduction, etc. The usual list characteristics.

Even a bunch of dead cells would have expired at different phase of their cycle so biological activity might be detectable. This is like stellar life cycles. It is impossible, for us, to observe the complete life-cycle of a star. We can, however, compare different stars at various parts of the their lives and pull together a complete picture.

The idea that this is dessert sand carried in the wind is a simple explanation that doesn't get you in the news! It doesn't grab the attention nor does it sell soap or whatever. I suspect that what we have here is another example of bad science reporting.

Dr. R.

PS: I had almost forgotten about Velikofski. If memory serves, that was in the 60s. I was very gung-ho about classical mechanics back then and his ideas struck me as almost painfully stupid. I have since learned of Julius R. von Mayer (1814-1848). This was the first man to write down the principle of the conservation of energy. He was a medical man and expressed himself in school-boy latin. (Medical people still do this.) This got him lots of nasty criticism from the physics people. I still think Velikofski is an idiot, but the Mayer fiasco makes me think first and throw stones later.

Doc

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#16348 - 11/16/06 12:06 AM Re: Searching for 'our alien origins'
DA Morgan Offline
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Registered: 10/17/04
Posts: 4136
Loc: Seattle, WA
Dr. R asks:
"Could organic material come from space and land on the earth intact? (Intact as opposed to meteoric vaporization.)"

Actually yes. In fact it is far more likely that organic material would land intact than that it would survive intact in space. I doesn't matter how hard a bacteria falls through the atmosphere ... it isn't going to be hurt by the impact. Surviving the UV of sunlight, of course, is quite another matter.

"What makes it biological?"

I think this statement is where real science meets the science writer. I suspect biological means organic as in composted of carbohydrates ... and oh how I'd like to know whether it also contained proteins.

I find it quite reasonable that there are huge amounts of organic material floating around in space. That is both proven and no big surprise. And panspermia to me is a joke in that it had to start somewhere so why not here and the simple fact is that our planet is rather ordinary. The only people not willing to acknowledge that is us.

I think Velikovsky not an idiot but certainly not someone who applied the scientific method with rigor. Some of what he wrote may be correct. Much of what he wrote obviously is not. One part of his writing I am quite willing to believe, which may surprise many, is that I don't find Venus straying from its orbit that hard to comprehend ... though I highly doubt it was Venus that did it.

I am not that impressed with contemporary mankind so am an very unwilling to say that our ancestors were complete knumbskulls. The origin of Venus and Mars as gods with their associated mythology may not be just chance. After all ... how is it that Jupiter ended up as the King of the gods when there is no "possible" way any ancient could have known its size. Coincidence? Hmmmmm.
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#16349 - 11/16/06 08:01 PM Re: Searching for 'our alien origins'
dr_rocket Offline
Member

Registered: 12/06/06
Posts: 196
Loc: Palo Alto, CA, USA
Greetings DA,

I wasn't thinking that impact would destroy the incoming organic materials. I was thinking more along the lines of heat as a meteoric carrier passes through the atmosphere. But that is moot in any case, since this organic stuff can simply "drift" down through the air. I would not expect it to come down in obvious clouds or "rain", since it was pretty thin stuff when in space.

The problem with the panspermia, as I see it, is how can you tell. Would there be some way to distinguish home-grown life from the not-invented-here kind? As a scientific problem this one seems to be a real poser. What if both happened? As I have said, I am not a bio-scientist. I have no idea how to go about answering such question, where an actual expert might see how.

I haven't thought about Velikofski (spelling?) in years. If memory serves, his idea was that Venus was spat out by Jupiter and that this is what caused the the Great Red Spot to form. Then Venus went flying around the system causing all sorts of changes before settling in its current orbit. This is the kind of stuff that would make Laplace spin in his grave. Doesn't it just seem more reasonable that Venus was formed with the rest of the solar system?

Perhaps Velikofski had some good ideas to get across, but its hard to tell. I try to keep an open mind, because there have been many examples of good scientific ideas that were unfairly ridiculed. There are cases where not speaking the "lingo" has gotten in the way. That's what my remark about Mayer is all about. The conservation of energy is central in the physical sciences. Mayer had actually thought it through and got it right, from the modern perspective. Joule also figured out the same principle. He took the time to express himself clearly and got listened to. In fact, Thompson initially thought it was wrong, but eventually came to see the truth in it. This is why I don't reject things out of hand.

I agree with you that our ancestors were not numbskulls - well not ALL of them! (LOL)

Dr. R.

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#16350 - 11/16/06 11:05 PM Re: Searching for 'our alien origins'
jjw Offline
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Registered: 09/07/05
Posts: 636
Loc: USA
DA and I had a brief exchange earlier this year about Dr. Immanuel Velikovsky.

I obtained and read his stuff, mainly "Worlds in Collision", most books of his out of print.
All should be able to agree that his world wide research of catastrophic remains was excellent. His various interpretations may be debatable.
jjw

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#16351 - 11/19/06 06:41 AM Re: Searching for 'our alien origins'
DA Morgan Offline
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Registered: 10/17/04
Posts: 4136
Loc: Seattle, WA
Dr.R. wrote:
"he problem with the panspermia, as I see it, is how can you tell. Would there be some way to distinguish home-grown life from the not-invented-here kind?"

Well presumably there are clouds of organic material drifting throughout the galaxy and we, from time-to-time run into one. Thus it would hit our atmosphere just as billions of tons of dust do, and slowly accumulate on the surface, or in the oceans.

How would we distinguish it? Unknown since we are far short of an inventory of what is already here. I guess my first thought would be to start taking swabs from the space station. <g>
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#16352 - 11/20/06 11:12 PM Re: Searching for 'our alien origins'
dr_rocket Offline
Member

Registered: 12/06/06
Posts: 196
Loc: Palo Alto, CA, USA
Hi Again DA,

Taking swabs from the space station might not have the level of control that one might desire. The problem is that it is too close to the atmosphere. I would expect contamination. However, the idea of "sample retrieval" actually has some merit.

The case for the terrestrial development of life is not without merit. Again the question is where to look for evidence. Have a look at this:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/11/061120060331.htm

These guys still have lots of work to do, but it is kind of neat.

Dr. R.

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#16353 - 11/21/06 12:54 AM Re: Searching for 'our alien origins'
DA Morgan Offline
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Registered: 10/17/04
Posts: 4136
Loc: Seattle, WA
I saw that this morning: Nice work.

What I'd really like to see is a major effort put into mining Mars, Titan, and Europa for life.

As far as I am concerned all of the so-called "efforts" to find life on Mars have been pathetic and half-hearted.

If you want to find life somewhere, unambiguously, you send up some liquid water, some nutrients, and a microscope. That test works quite well here on earth no matter where the test is run.
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#16354 - 11/21/06 06:04 PM Re: Searching for 'our alien origins'
dr_rocket Offline
Member

Registered: 12/06/06
Posts: 196
Loc: Palo Alto, CA, USA
Hi DA,

A concerted and well targeted search for life in the solar system is not only "do-able", but also very important. The philosophical consequences of extraterrestrial life are vast of significance. The two possibilities, finding it or not finding it, would have different, but equally powerful effects.

Another thought that occurs has to do with contamination. Of course any probe would have to be completely sanitized. This is very very difficult. Many years ago I worked for a company that made some parts for the Appolo program. At first sterilization was a high priority. Later it was relaxed to simple cleanliness. Some years after that, at Lockheed, I had a chance to participate in the launch preparations for the Hubble Space Telescope. In spite of air showers and bunny suits I could not vouch for its cleanliness. The hi-bay was not really antiseptic. Eyelashes and droplets of sputum kept showing up. Some say that cleanliness is next to Godliness. My experience shows that cleanliness is next to impossible. So along the lines of turning a difficulty into an asset ...

Here's the question: could earth life, bacteria or other microorganisms, make a niche for itself on Mars, Titan or anywhere off the earth?

The hypothesis is: if earthly life forms, of any kind, can adapt to the conditions on another celestial body, then life must be adaptable enough to be common in the universe.

This is a hypothesis so the next question is can we test/falsify it?

Dr. R.

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#16355 - 11/21/06 06:49 PM Re: Searching for 'our alien origins'
DA Morgan Offline
Megastar

Registered: 10/17/04
Posts: 4136
Loc: Seattle, WA
We know for a fact that meteorites on earth have originated on Mars. Theoretical calculations show the trip in the other direction, while less common, would happen. So cross-pollination is possible.

The mistake I see in what you mention about sterilization is that sterilization is not required.
What is required is that they be different. So, for example, we might put 12 sealed containers on a satellite. Open three on mars to culture leaving the other 6 sealed. Then, after some reasonable period of time ... compare their contents.

If the six that were opened contain some life form not present in the six that were not opened ... you have strong and convincing evidence that what is growing in them is living on Mars.

I think we can test/falsify the proposition with relative ease. I suspect the real question is one of political will. Because, as you state, the implications are enormous. Where, for example, would the earth's religions be if we actually met little green men and they laughed at our quaint stories about Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed.
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#16356 - 11/22/06 01:20 AM Re: Searching for 'our alien origins'
terrytnewzealand Offline
Megastar

Registered: 08/02/06
Posts: 1031
Loc: Whangarei New Zealand
dr-rocket wrote:

"Here's the question: could earth life, bacteria or other microorganisms, make a niche for itself on Mars, Titan or anywhere off the earth?"

Now that is an interesting situation. Maybe in three or four billion years creatures on Mars will be debating, "Was life created or has it evolved?"

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#16357 - 11/22/06 03:49 PM Re: Searching for 'our alien origins'
dr_rocket Offline
Member

Registered: 12/06/06
Posts: 196
Loc: Palo Alto, CA, USA
Hi DA,

There are two possibilities for "other" life. One is that life has similar structure everywhere and the other is the it is very different from place to place. Panspermia fits the first view, while the other is aligned with independent evolution. Of course, the situation might be a mix or life may be vanishingly rare.

Your suggestion would settle the initial part of the hypothesis. Sterilization is not an issue with the way I have phrased it. The hypothesis that I have offered is not about the presence of life on other celestial bodies. Rather it is about determining if earth life can adapt to another world. It seems to me that if terrestrial life can adapt then this would lend support to the panspermia idea. This is the conclusion of the hypothesis. The question is if the conditional part of the hypothesis supports the conclusion part.

"Political will" is always a problem, but we can't seem to get away from it.


Hi terry,

Yes, it is ironic!

Dr. R.

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