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Did Life Begin In Space?

From: Rick Nielsen <nilthchi.nul>
Date: Wed, 15 Aug 2007 07:59:37 -0700 (PDT)
Archived: Thu, 16 Aug 2007 10:31:40 -0400
Subject: Did Life Begin In Space?

Source: Science Daily - Chevy Chase, Maryland, USA

Date: August 14, 2007


Did Life Begin In Space? New Evidence From Comets

Recent probes inside comets show it is overwhelmingly likely
that life began in space, according to a new paper by Cardiff
University scientists.

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.

Professor Wickramasinghe said: "The findings of the comet
missions, which surprised many, strengthen the argument for
panspermia. We now have a mechanism for how it could have
happened. All the necessary elements - clay, organic molecules
and water - are there. The longer time scale and the greater
mass of comets make it overwhelmingly more likely that life
began in space than on earth."

The new paper, The Origin of Life in Comets, by Professor
Wickramasinghe, Professor Bill Napier and Dr Janaki
Wickramasinghe is to be published shortly by the International
Journal of Astrobiology.

Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by
Cardiff University.

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