Is this ET? If it is, it resembles a distant cousin found here on Earth, a large bacteria aptly called Titanospirillum velox. Does this mean life is ubiquitous in the cosmos? Was life seeded on Earth from space?
ORIGINAL POST: Fossilized alien microbes have been discovered in a sample extracted from a meteorite, according to research carried out by a NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center astrobiologist. What's more, he has challenged any scientist to investigate his work.
Published in the online Journal of Cosmology, Richard Hoover's paper claims to have made the discovery after finding "large complex filaments" inside "freshly fractured internal surfaces" of carbonaceous chondrite meteorite samples (including new fragment samples from the famous French Orgueil meteorite).
Some of the "alien" fossils appear to resemble bacteria found on Earth (such as types of cyanobacteria, a microorganism that helped make early-Earth hospitable to life by producing oxygen), whereas others don't look so familiar.
"The exciting thing is that they are in many cases recognizable and can be associated very closely with the generic species here on earth," Hoover told Fox News in an "exclusive" interview.
"There are some that are just very strange and don't look like anything that I've been able to identify, and I've shown them to many other experts that have also come up stumped."
This discovery could have huge implications for the genesis of life on Earth. If there are microbes that originated inside a meteorite that was found on Earth, did life originate from space? If so, did life on Earth get "seeded" by a meteorite? Perhaps Earth-Brand™ Life is actually an evolved form of Cosmic-Brand™ Life?
Spot the difference. An electron microscope image of an actual Titanospirillum velox - there's a strong reseblance with the "alien" fossil pictured top.
The hypothetical mechanism where life "hops" from one planet to the next is known as "panspermia," so Hoover's research, if confirmed, would be a huge slab of gold-plated evidence for this mechanism.
This research is certainly exciting, but my first reaction was skepticism even before I'd looked at the paper. Why has this research been published in the Journal of Cosmology? Why isn't the news plastered across the front page of NASA's website?
Surely something that claims to be of this groundbreaking, historic significance should be published in a major science journal (not a troubled online journal that has announced it is going out of business this year)? Did the most reputable journal of all, Science, turn this research away? If so, why?
Undoubtedly, the NASA researcher might be aiming to prevent this news from being blown out of proportion, like the 1996 discovery of microscopic features resembling fossilized bacteria in the notorious ALH 84001 meteorite sample.
The debate continues over ALH 84001, but shortly after NASA's chief astrobiologist David McKay published an article in Science in 1996 indicating these features could be fossils of alien microbes from Mars, President Clinton addressed the nation! Can we expect President Obama to be doing the same thing over the coming days? Probably not... but why not?
The paper is very clear: a NASA scientist is claiming to have found aliens and he has written a paper titled "Fossils of Cyanobacteria in CI1 Carbonaceous Meteorites" - that is a groundbreaking claim, why wouldn't Obama "do a Clinton" and get on the telly to tell us about this amazing news?
A 1000x magnification of a sample from the Orgueil meteorite - many different structured filaments can be seen.
Well, we've been here before, and the past claims of alien life discoveries (whether it be in a meteorite sample or on the Martian surface) have been notoriously difficult to confirm. Also, this isn't the first time Hoover has announced such discoveries. I think there will be a far more measured response to this new research, and it will probably take years and dozens of follow-up studies to confirm or deny this extraordinary claim.
Confusion to one side, in a statement that accompanies Hoover's paper, Rudy Schild, the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Cosmology and Center for Astrophysics, Harvard-Smithsonian, says:
Dr. Richard Hoover is a highly respected scientist and astrobiologist with a prestigious record of accomplishment at NASA. Given the controversial nature of his discovery, we have invited 100 experts and have issued a general invitation to over 5000 scientists from the scientific community to review the paper and to offer their critical analysis.
So it looks like the Journal of Cosmology paper is just the beginning. By having a scientific, transparent debate, perhaps a consensus can be reached about what these tiny features really are.
Special thanks to Kieran Mulvaney, Discovery News writer, for bringing my attention to this fascinating news.
UPDATE: Phil Plait over at Bad Astronomy has also written about this announcement and reached similar conclusions to me. He does however have more details about his personal dealings with the Journal of Cosmology and Hoover's history.
Image credits: PNAS, Journal of Cosmology, Richard Hoover