August 15, 2007


Did Life Begin In Space? New Evidence From Comets (Science Daily, 8/14/07)

Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe and colleagues at the University's Centre for Astrobiology have long argued the case for panspermia - the theory that life began inside comets and then spread to habitable planets across the galaxy. A recent BBC Horizon documentary traced the development of the theory.

Now the team claims that findings from space probes sent to investigate passing comets reveal how the first organisms could have formed.

The 2005 Deep Impact mission to Comet Tempel 1 discovered a mixture of organic and clay particles inside the comet. One theory for the origins of life proposes that clay particles acted as a catalyst, converting simple organic molecules into more complex structures. The 2004 Stardust Mission to Comet Wild 2 found a range of complex hydrocarbon molecules - potential building blocks for life.

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. They also point out that the billions of comets in our solar system and across the galaxy contain far more clay than the early Earth did. The researchers calculate the odds of life starting on Earth rather than inside a comet at one trillion trillion (10 to the power of 24) to one against.

The amusing thing for the true skeptic is that there's no scientific difference between the proposals that God intervened to create life on Earth; that some other intelligent agency did; or that a comet did. All we know for sure is that external intervention -- to plant pre-existing "seeds" -- is required. After that you pick your faith.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 15, 2007 7:57 AM

The real issue, of course, is not how life started on Earth but how it started anywhere in the universe. And, assuming that natural laws are the same on a comet as on earth, a Darwinian view of randomness creating the seed still has to overcome the mathematics of probability and combinatorial inflation. Still not enough time.

Posted by: Ed Bush at August 15, 2007 8:26 AM

"This account has man (adam) being created first out of the dust of the ground (adamah), when 'no bush of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprung up.'"

Coincidental, isn't it?

Posted by: Genecis at August 15, 2007 9:59 AM

"The researchers calculate the odds of life starting on Earth rather than inside a comet at one trillion trillion (10 to the power of 24) to one against."

And what, praytell, is their uncertainty (statistical and systematic, of course) on those odds? This article is obscene scientific, statistical, and journalistic malpractice.

Posted by: b at August 15, 2007 12:29 PM

Psst ... life never "started". Pass it on.

Posted by: ghostcat at August 15, 2007 1:00 PM

"After that you pick your faith."

Actually, before that, you might want to consider what your really mean by "external intervention" or "planting seeds".

Posted by: Raoul at August 15, 2007 11:55 PM

Your consideration is your faith.

Posted by: oj at August 16, 2007 7:03 AM