Recurrent Dreams of Life in Meteorites

Meteorite in Aurora

This stunningly beautiful image of a meteorite falling through aurora borealis was taken at Patricia Beach, Manitoba by photographer Shannon Bileski of Signature Exposures in March 2013       and is used with her kind permission.

Humans have probably been looking for signs of life from the stars since we first looked up. The first claim for life in meteorites was for a meteorite that fell in 1682. The most famous claim is based on an examination of a carbonaceous chondrite meteorite that fell in Orgueil, France in 1864. There a no less than 440 papers on that meteorite alone. All told there have been eight rounds of claims of discovery of life in meteorites including the Orgueil one.

There are two approaches to deciding if life is in a meteorite: morphology and chemistry. When considering the possibility of morphological evidence in meteorites the friability, salinity, and porosity of the meteorite samples has to be considered. One problem is that primitive life consists of single cells, sometimes strung in filaments or in clusters. It is hard to tell a “real” fossil of such life from an inorganic growth or precipitate.

Some chemicals have been presumed to be unique to life. However, the development of organic chemistry soon showed it was possible to create organic compounds (including those found in meteorites) in the laboratory. Now we know that many of them abound in interstellar space. Therefore, organic compounds alone are no longer considered sufficient proof of life.

Another problem is that life is everywhere on Earth. Examining a meteorite found on the Earth means that if you do find life, it is far more likely to be contamination from life we already have here than any sort of novel panspermia sample. It has been argued that if a possible microfossil were found on the interior of a meteorite it could not be the result of contamination. However, a huge taxonomic diversity of prokaryotes colonized the Tatahouine meteorite in less than 70 years making such claims dubious. And when a meteorite lands on earth it comes from a vacuum and so will suck in air into its interior upon entry and cooling. Carbonaceous chondrites, the most likely kind of meteorite to contain life from space, are hygroscopic, i.e., drawing into them any moisture in the vicinity. And so it is possible for some eager microorganism to be drawn into or crawl into the interior of the meteorite. It is far more reasonable to assume that motile microorganisms, perhaps from spores in the air falling on the surface, invaded museum specimens at times of high humidity and subsequently fossilized. We give an example in Embryogenesis Explained of hot springs bacteria that get fossilized in 2 days. Earth rocks often contain live bacteria deep inside. Similarly, organic chemicals can seep into rocks and meteorites. It can even be assumed that anything that got close to Earth might get contaminated since Earth life, like diatoms, have been claimed to be found floating about on the outer reaches of our planet’s atmosphere. Since the 1960s, if a meteorite fell through our atmosphere, then any life found on or in it can be safely presumed to be Earth life contamination.

And then there are hoaxes. Dick was involved as an undergraduate in a 100-year reexamination of the Orgueil meteorite. Ed Anders and he uncovered a hoax in which some unknown person placed a piece of coal and the dried bud of a local plant into a sample of the meteorite. Dick showed, by analyzing it for the amino acid hydroxyproline, that the mass had been put back together with animal glue. The hoaxster placed the specimen on the local museum shelf, where it sat 100 years. They probably didn’t live to see their crafty work found, but it did make scientists extremely wary a century later.

We therefore agree with the decision of NASA to keep Rover far away from the place where NASA seems they have found water. No matter how carefully NASA cleaned up Rover before sending it off, there is always the possibility one of our more persistent and clever forms of Earth life hopped a ride and would immediately start colonizing the Red planet’s water. That would not only be bad science, it might also be a violation of the Prime Directive.

You can read the full article on this topic with references and additional information at: Recurrent Dreams of Life in Meteorites by Richard Gordon and Jesse C. McNichol (2012), a chapter in Genesis – In The Beginning Volume 22 of the series Cellular Origin, Life in Extreme Habitats and Astrobiology. Or ask Dick for a reprint: DickGordonCan@gmail.com

If you would like a hard copy of the gorgeous picture of the meteorite against the aurora, you can purchase it by contacting Signature Exposures.

This entry was posted in Nerdy Tumbleweeds and tagged , on by .

About tumbleweedstumbling

I have three blogs, embryogenesis explained, tumbleweed tumbling AND fulltimetumbleweed. I am a scientist, and my husband and I have written a book which will be published soon by World Scientific Publishing called Embryogensis Explained. Full time tumbleweed was my first blog which I worked on during five years of living full time in a travel trailer. I have now retired that blog in favour of Tumbleweeds Tumbling since we bought a stick house in April 2015 and are no longer full-time. I have a blended family of five sons and one daughter, all grown up now. I am (step)grandmother to nine boys and one girl. My husband and I have two dogs and a cat. We spend summers in Manitoba, Canada, in a 480 square foot house on a half acre of land in the tiny town of Alonsa. We spend winters in the USA. My husband is retired and being a US citizen, he does volunteer work in winters for Gulf Specimen Marine Lab in Panacea Florida as their emeritus. I retired in Sept 2013 and so far I am loving it.

3 thoughts on “Recurrent Dreams of Life in Meteorites

  1. tumbleweedstumbling Post author

    May 19, 2016 the following comment came in comment from Richard Hoover/ Unfortunately it came posted under About so I have moved it here.

    Dick,

    Sorry, but I do not accept your meteorite contamination theory. If all carbonaceous meteorites are contaminated by modern bacteria—then why are not all 23 proteinogenic amino acids and all 5 nucleobases found in Orgueil, ivuna, Murchison, etc.

    The missing amino acids and nucleobases prove these stones are not contaminated by terrestrial bacteria. The absence of nitrogen in the Cyanobacteria, testate amoebae, acritarchs, and diatoms I have found in Orgueil, Murchison and other carbonaceous meteorites prove that these recognizable biological remains are not modern bio-contaminants. Ancient fossils do not crawl into the interiors of black rocks, even if they are in a museum cabinet. Furthermore, several of the fossils Academician Rozanov and I have found can not be linked to known groups of terrestrial microfossils. Some of these forms have unusual element compositions with rare earth elements and uranium and other heavy metals present.

    I challenge you or anyone else to explain how you can contaminate a meteorite with living bacteria and not also contaminate it with all 23 proteinogenic amino acids, all 5 nucleobases, and the host of other enzymes, pigments and complex biomolecules essential for life that would surely be detectable if they were present in the stones.

    Richard B. Hoover
    Entogonia@aol.com

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  2. dickgordoncan

    Dear Richard,
    We are both retired, so it is the next generation that will have to take up your challenge. In “Recurrent Dreams of Life in Meteorites” Jesse McNichol and I reviewed a vast body of literature to conclude that the collective “we” cannot yet ascertain if meteorites that have fallen to Earth contain real organisms from outer space or Earthly ones that got themselves inside. We have to catch a falling star, before it falls, under sterile conditions at least as good as used for the moon rocks. Then we shall see.

    It was a pleasure working and publishing a couple of papers with you. You reignited my interest in exobiology (now called astrobiology).
    Yours, -Dick Gordon

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  3. Richard B. Hoover

    Dick,

    As you know, I disagree. Using this logic, we would have to invent a time machine and travel to the Cretaceous of Wyoming to see if Dinosaurs ever lived on Earth. But the fossils they left behind proved they were alive and were on Earth,

    On the same way, the fossils I have found in meteorites constitute undeniable proof of life unless someone can explain how you make hetrocystous Cyanobacteria or diatoms by abiotic means. Furthermore, all living organisms and all dead organisms (except those that died several million years ago) contain nitrogen at levels easily detected by EDS. The absence of detectable nitrogen in these fossils proves they could not have invaded the stones after they landed on Earth—Alais in 1806; Orgueil 1864; Murchison 1969 and Polonnaruwa Dec. 29, 2012 – only a few minutes before one of the samples I have studied was collected by the rice farmer Dikiri Banda where the stone was observed by him as it fell in his dry rice paddy. Diatoms,Acritarchs, for and and Hystrichospheres could not have rushed into this stone and become embedded in the interior portions of the rock matrix in the few moments just after it landed. When Dikiri Banda saw the fireball explode and burned his hand on a hot stone that had fallen to the ground like a “twinkling Firefly” he had come as close to “catching a falling star” as anyone on Earth ever has, and I have been privileged to study these precious meteorites that contain definitive proof of extraterrestrial life.

    FESEM, ICL-OES and Neutron Activitation Analysis I am now doing with Dr. Marina Frontasyeva at JINR in Dubna, Russia shows these. Stones have several thousand times as much Iridium as terrestrial rocks and bizarre REE–in one case particles with 31 weight percent Yttrium.

    Regarding, Water, I have written about it on other planetary bodies of the Solar System and the implications to Astrobiology, but I do not know if that is of interest for your book. If so I could send a example manuscript– but it also discusses fossils in meteorites.

    Yours,

    Richarf

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