Archive for the ‘ET Life’ Category
The news of the recent experiment by Prof. Milton Wainwright of the University of Sheffield has been making news of late. In case you haven’t read about it, here’s a synopsis of the experiment (from the provided link) and why it has garnered interest:
British astrobiologists are claiming to have found alien life form in the Earth’s stratosphere. They collected a small diatom frustule that could have come from space after sending a balloon to 27 km into the stratosphere during the recent Perseid meteor shower.
“Most people will assume that these biological particles must have just drifted up to the stratosphere from Earth, but it is generally accepted that a particle of the size found cannot be lifted from Earth to heights of, for example, 27 km. The only known exception is by a violent volcanic eruption, none of which occurred within three years of the sampling trip,” explained Prof Milton Wainwright from the University of Sheffield, who is a lead author of a paper reporting the discovery in the Journal of Cosmology (full paper).
|The above-mentioned “diatom frustule”|
I will assume the comment about the volcanism is true, but other articles have mentioned at least one red flag:
The group’s findings were published in the Journal of Cosmology. We should point out, the credibility of the journal has been called into question before. Time magazine in 2011 pointed outthis scientist’s words:
Blogger and biologist P.Z. Myers puts it a little more pithily: the journal is, he writes, “the ginned-up website of a small group of crank academics.” Some of the articles that have appeared do nothing to dispel this idea include “The Origin of Eternal Life in the Multiverse” and “Sex on Mars: Pregnancy, Fetal Development, and Sex in Outer Space.”
The I’ve been on that journal’s website before, and the titles above aren’t made up. The other problem with the journal is that it doesn’t produce articles by blind peer review. Rather, authors of submitted papers themselves submit a list of people whom they presume are qualified to review the paper. It isn’t hard to see the problem with that (“I want my paper published, can I think of five friends with PhDs that like me and my ideas and who will almost certainly approve my paper”). Ouch. That’s really a problem. It tells me that the journal’s creators feared that some papers they’d want to put before the public eye in a presumably academic context might not make it. That isn’t the goal of scholarship (or shouldn’t be).1
From a layman’s perspective, one obvious problem (that may or may not be a real problem – hope someone in the science community asks) with the study is: “How does Wainwright know that his balloon didn’t pick up an organism within earth’s atmosphere on the way up to the 27 km mark?” What I mean here is that, while such particles are “generally accepted” as being incapable of floating up to that height, how do we know it couldn’t have been picked up at a lower height and brought along for the ride? (Or, for that matter, on the way down when the balloon landed). Were there foolproof safeguards against those possibilities?
It’s encouraging that they will seek to repeat the experiment in October to “coincide with the upcoming Haley’s Comet-associated meteorite shower when there will be large amounts of cosmic dust.” Hopefully that will provide the kind of data needed to rule out this layman’s concerns and the concerns of other specialists. Ideally, it would be prudent for them to publish those results under blind peer review.
Finally, note once again how far this is from certainty with respect to panspermia. If you’re finding an organism that isn’t found on earth, how could it have contributed to evolution? Answer: it couldn’t have. But the reasoning extends that other such particles that are traceable to earth by some means came here. In other words, it’s not evidence of panspermia, but it would add coherence to the extrapolation.
Exposing PseudoAstronomy is a podcast hosted by Stuart Robbins. (Stuart is a postdoctoral researcher in astronomy whose focus is on planetary geophysics). I highly recommend it. He just posted the latest episode:
It’s not hard to believe there will be other parts. Here’s the blurb on the podcast episode page:
The purpose of this episode is to provide a background into how Sereda went from a UFOlogist to a more generic new-ager with a few specific claims of his own. I then go into two of his main claims (of MANY that I’ll go more into next time) and wrap up with when giving your professional background becomes an argument from authority logical fallacy. Actually, almost everything that Sereda says is a “Name that Logical Fallacy” exercise.
This episode “required” me listening to approximately 40 hours of Coast to Coast AM. I took nearly 10,000 words of notes. I think I may take up drinking …
Wow – that’s a lot of effort to put into a podcast series. I’ve long felt the same way about Sereda’s ideas, having read enough new age cosmology and metaphysics to see that David’s physics are hard to distinguish from that stuff (which is inherently religious). But since I lack a background in the hard sciences, I’m dependent on folks like Stuart who care enough to spend serious time hearing Sereda out (among others) and subjecting their thinking to relevant scientific data. I’m guessing lots of readers out there are like me in that regard.
The Templeton foundation has awarded $200,000 to astronomer Geoff Marcy (UC-Berkeley) to see if he can detect alien spacecraft passing in front of distant stars. Before you laugh, Marcy is easily the most famous astronomer among those detecting extra-solar planets. He’s credited with discovering nearly 3/4 of the 100 or so found so far.
I really have to learn how to apply for grants.
This notion has been around for a long time. I remember hearing Richard Hoagland say it many times on Coast to Coast AM. But now we have “science” (goofy face here) intervening. It was also a sub-plotline in The Facade.
The Mysterious Universe blog recently posted an essay entitled, “Mars Could be the Father of Life on Mother Earth.” To quote the essay, there has been a recent interest in:
Clay extracted from a meteorite of martian origin collected in Antarctica has proven to contain high concentrations of boron. Oxidized boron, or borates, are thought to be among the stuff that led to the formation of RNA.
Let’s think about this a little. Boron is found naturally on earth in trace quantities. Statistically….
Abundance earth’s crust: 10 parts per million by weight, 1 part per million by moles
Abundance solar system: 2 parts per billion by weight, 0.2 parts per billion by moles
Boron does not occur naturally in “pure, elemental form” but must be isolated and extracted. The news of the martian meteorite is the high concentration.
Just in case a reader of the Mysterious Universe piece might be thinking that this discovery in Antarctica means earth’s boron came from Mars, and therefore life on earth came from Mars, we get this penetrating analysis point:
While this doesn’t necessarily mean martian meteorites provided the borate which led to the rise of RNA on Earth, it doesn’t rule it out either.
Wow. Thanks, Einstein. “Just because we can’t prove our theory doesn’t mean you can disprove it.” Brilliant. Now it’s up to people to disprove something that isn’t proven. That used to be called the fallacy of trying to prove a negative. I guess it’s scientific thinking in this case. So then why make a news story? I’m guessing many readers will know the answer to that.
While we’re on logic, can anyone spot a logical leap in the idea? (I should give awards or something for stuff like this). If Boron is already on earth in trace amounts (in lots of places), then why are we asking whether Mars is the source of the boron that led to life on earth? How about another one. Is it possible that many or all of the planets in our solar system have boron? Now, if only Mars and Earth did, that would make for a good chicken or egg question, but until we know they are the only two contenders, it’s quite possible that the planets in our solar system have boron from a common source out there somewhere. That would mean there was actually no direct panspermic (I think I just made up a word) causation from Mars to Earth — the “seeding” idea would be much grander, especially in the context of a big bang (which, for you militant atheists out there, isn’t a theological problem for lots of Jews, Christians, and Muslims).
It’s just panspermia folks; nothing new here.
Thanks go to Cris Putnam for sending this link my way today. It’s from the Stanford Daily . . . as in Stanford University . . . as in that place that employs Dr. Garry Nolan, the guy who did the DNA analysis of the Atacama “alien”.
The story once again has both Dr. Nolan and Dr. Ralph Lachman, a specialist in dwarfism affirming that the specimen is human. What’s different this time is that Lachman offers some hypotheses for the size and apparent age incongruence. For me the take-away portion is as follows:
Lachman subsequently investigated several similar cases of dwarfism throughout history and found several, including a 19th century “circus freak” named Tom Thumb and an Italian woman who was six inches when she was born and 19 inches when she died at age eight or nine.
According to Lachman, another possible explanation for the skeleton’s small size and advanced calcification is natural mummification, a process that would have made the skeleton appear older than it is.
I’ve been saying this since the beginning — that mummification might be throwing the results in terms of the “age discrepancy.” Given the Chilean context and the fact that this area in Chile has yielded mummies in the past, I thought it reasonable to presume that mummification might be a useful trajectory. As time goes on (presuming scientists don’t lose interest), I’m hoping this suggestion, now made by Dr. Lachman, will yield a concrete answer.
But as far as what is concrete (the DNA) the news is the same: it’s human. And an anomalous human specimen is still human. So, to this point, the scientists who have examined the specimen most closely, using the tools of modern science, don’t have it as alien or an alien-human hybrid. I don’t know how much clearer they can be.