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Rock solid proof of alien life? Scientists claim fossilized algae inside meteorite

Published time: January 19, 2013 01:04
Edited time: January 19, 2013 08:36
An example of a supposedly fossilized diatom (Image from www.journalofcosmology.com)

An example of a supposedly fossilized diatom (Image from www.journalofcosmology.com)

Fossilized algae recently discovered inside a Sri Lankan meteorite could finally prove the existence of extra-terrestrial life, claim the authors of the new paper.

­In a recently published article in the Journal of Cosmology titled “Fossil Diatoms in a New Carbonaceous Meteorite”, scientists from the UK and Sri Lanka claim to have found fossilized algae in a meteorite.

The paper alleges that “microscopic fossilized diatoms were found in the sample,” which fell in Sri Lanka in December last year. The finding, the work suggests is a “strong evidence to support the theory of cometary panspermia.” The theory argues that life across planets is spread by meteorites and asteroids.  Panspermia suggests that life could have existed on another planet and moved to Earth.

The scientists concluded the paper by saying “the presence of structures of this kind in any extra-terrestrial setting could be construed as unequivocal proof of biology.”

Samples from the rock were collected immediately after a large meteorite disintegrated and fell in the village of Araganwila in Sri Lanka on 29 December 2012.

The scientific community, including Prof Francis Thackeray from the Institute of Human Evolution at Wits University welcomed the report as  “very exciting” yet “very controversial”, as samples could have been contaminated on earth, Business Day reports.

Comparison of a Polonnaruwa meteorite structure with a well-known terrestrial diatom. (Image from www.journalofcosmology.com)
Comparison of a Polonnaruwa meteorite structure with a well-known terrestrial diatom. (Image from www.journalofcosmology.com)

­The study was conducted by a group headed by Chandra Wickramasinghe, the director of the Buckingham Centre for Astrobiology at the University of Buckingham, who was also a co-founder of Panspermia theory.

The finding however has already come under sharp criticism, with astronomers claiming that the meteorite looks more like a rock that could be found on earth as the study provides vague details of the finding.

Astronomer and lecturer Phil Plait wrote in his blog on Slate that the chemical analysis presented “doesn’t prove it’s a carbonaceous chondrite, let alone a meteorite,” and there is “no reason to trust that what they have is a meteorite.”

Plait also cited a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology Patrick Kociolek as saying that there was no sign that the diatoms illustrated in the study were “fossilized material,” and that most of them were species that represented “a clear case of contamination with freshwater.”

Speaking with HuffingtonPost, the author of the study did not deny that the meteorite his team studied contained known freshwater species from Earth. But there were also “at least half a dozen species that diatom experts have not been able to identify,” Wickramasinghe added.

He also addressed the allegations that the meteorite could be a simple rock, saying that “from all the evidence” his group possessed – which they plan to publish – they “have no doubt whatsoever” it was a meteorite.

“If only ideas that are considered orthodox are given support through award of grants or publication opportunities, it is certain that the progress of science will be stifled as it was throughout the middle ages,” Wickramasinghe said.

(Image from www.journalofcosmology.com)
(Image from www.journalofcosmology.com)
(Image from www.journalofcosmology.com)
(Image from www.journalofcosmology.com)