Scientists published a paper on January 10 in the online Journal of Cosmology in which they claim that a meteorite discovered in Sri Lanka contains evidence of extraterrestrial life.
The paper, titled “Fossil Diatoms in a New Carbonaceous Meteorite,” asserts that microscopic fossilized diatoms (algae) were detected in the meteorite, and therefore provides “strong evidence to support the theory of cometary panspermia.” Business Day explains that the lead scientist on the paper, the director of the University of Buckingham’s Centre for Astrobiology, Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe, “was the co-developer of the theory of panspermia, which holds that life exists across the universe and is spread by asteroids and meteoroids.”
But not everyone agrees with the team’s findings.
Astronomer Phil Plait of Slate magazine feels the claims made by the paper’s authors are flawed. He first points to a possible bias on the part of the paper’s lead scientist. Talking about panspermia, Plait explains, “Wickramasinghe is [a]fervent proponent of it. Like, really fervent. So much so that he attributes everything to life in space. He’s said that the flu comes from space. He’s said SARS comes from space . . . Wickramasinghe jumps on everything, with little or no evidence, and says it’s from outer space, so I think there’s a case to be made for a bias on his part.”
Plait contacted Patrick Kociolek, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, to get his take on the findings published in this paper. Kociolek appears to share Plait’s criticism of the study. In Kociolek’s opinion, “There certainly is not any sign” of the diatoms being fossilized. If that is true, it pokes a pretty big hole in the assumption that the diatoms must be native to the meteorite. Plait points out that “all the diatoms shown in the paper are from known species on Earth.
For Kociolek, “It is a clear case of contamination with freshwater.”