Could Life on Earth Have Originated from Somewhere Else?

Could Life Have Survived a Fall to Earth

Asteroid impacting Earth’s oceans. Credit: NASA/Don Davis

New research presented at the European Planetary Science Congress at UCL examines whether life forms would be able to survive an impact with the surface of the Earth, opening the door to the possibility that life did not originate on Earth but came from elsewhere in the universe.

It sounds like science fiction, but the theory of panspermia, in which life can naturally transfer between planets, is considered a serious hypothesis by planetary scientists. The suggestion that life did not originate on Earth but came from elsewhere in the universe (for instance, Mars), is one possible variant of panspermia. Planets and moons were heavily bombarded by meteorites when the Solar System was young, throwing lots of material back into space. Meteorites made of Mars rock are occasionally found on Earth to this day, so it is quite plausible that simple life forms like yeasts or bacteria could have been carried on them.

Yet serious questions remain for supporters of this theory. Would even the hardiest life forms be able to survive an impact which ejects the rock into space? Could they live through the freezing temperatures and deadly radiation of space? And could they enter the atmosphere and hit the surface of the earth without being killed?

New research presented at the European Planetary Science Congress at UCL aims to answer the final question, of whether entry and impact is survivable for simple organisms. Using frozen samples of Nannochloropsis oculata, a type of single-celled ocean-dwelling algae, Dina Pasini (University of Kent) set out to test the conditions which early life would have had to survive if it did indeed travel through space.

Using a two-stage light gas gun, which can accelerate objects up to very high speeds, Pasini fired frozen pellets of Nannochloropsis into water, and tested the samples to see if any had survived.

“As you might expect, increasing the speed of impact does increase the proportion of algae that die,” Pasini explains, “but even at 6.93 kilometers per second, a small proportion survived. This sort of impact velocity would be what you would expect if a meteorite hit a planet similar to the Earth.”

As well as surviving freezing and impacts, like those experienced when rocks are ejected from planets or hit them, there are good reasons to think that the other problems faced by panspermia are not insurmountable either. Ice and rocks can provide protection against radiation, especially if the organism is deeply embedded inside. What is more, heating caused by entry into the atmosphere is unlikely to heat anything more than a thin layer around the outside of rocks, forming what is known as a ‘fusion crust’.

This research suggests that panspermia, while certainly not proven, is not impossible either.

“Our research raises several questions,” Pasini says. “If we find life on another planet, will it be truly alien or will it be related to us? And if so, did it spawn us or did we spawn it? We cannot answer these questions just now, but the questions are not as farfetched as one might assume.”

7 Comments on "Could Life on Earth Have Originated from Somewhere Else?"

  1. A great theory,
    surely though,
    two or more chemicals/elements mixing or reacting could also diversify the future path of any life on earth.
    Meaning that any meteorite introducing a new type of element or mix of elements on to the planet could be enough to coerce any already living thing into a state of change. That would mean that the meteorite would not have to carry life at all and yet we would still carry trace elements from elsewhere causing us to evolve as we have.

    Or it could be exactly as it says above lol.

  2. C. Peter O'Connor | September 12, 2013 at 1:47 pm | Reply

    The saying; ‘Grasping at straws’ comes instantly to mind on reading this report. Those involved cannot provide a sensible, logical posit for how life began on Earth so it would appear they are prepared to prostitute themselves in every way possible in order to con the, General Public into thinking all of this actually means something.

  3. It seems to require an astronomical number of flukes to transfer life from where-ever it got started rather than assuming that as carbon, water and the other minerals necessary are common enough and that there’s a vast numbers of potential planets out there, plus there’s been plenty of time for various primeval soups to simmer, life in one form or another will spontaneously appear regularly if not frequently. Unless carbon has different characteristics in other parts of this universe I’d suggest it would be hard to stop if forming ‘life’ eventually. Of course all bets are off in different universes….

  4. We all know that of all the millions of stars out there….and all the planets we know of….EARTH is the only one that can sustain life ….the only one with gravity .That puts a period to all questions about life in the universe. Simply with the power of GOD it is the EARTH that is positioned in a very perfect way.So …we have the moon…the sun….and millions of stars out there that we can all enjoy.Let us accept the power up above .

  5. This has always been my argument which can be seen in several of my blogs and articles that can be read by typing ‘vcmadan’ or ‘vcmadan2’ in the google. I had always been telling that primordial soup of life was obtained from the cometary debris falling on earth from the Oort Cloud containing millions of comets in Sun’s orbit. This should be so even in the case of exoplanets circling around distant stars. The cosmic plan is same and uniform. Due to immense radiation felt in the cosmos, it is possible for the formation of amino acids and other hydrocarbons in space itself rather than in any planet. This amino acid soup should combine with the massive ice mountains of comets and rocks to strike the planets on their trajectory to the Sun or Central Star. Immense radiation in the space is borne out by the fact that meteors and asteroids are highly magnetic and also contain certain highly radioactive isotopes of heavy elements. Even the oceans we have on the earth and the alcohol ocean of the Titan and water, water everywhere from Moon to Mars (as discovered) is a clinching evidence of this fact. Thank You.

  6. As per my own theory. Complex life originated within our solar system. The vehicle for this creation was an exo planet not unlike Europa. Europa currently resides within the grasp of Jupiter’s massive gravity. This was not always the case, as was true with the planet that came to Earth. They where in unstable orbits around our own early protostar, the Sun. The temperatures around our early protostar accretion disk, where of such a nature that any planet such as Europa would have a liquid water surface, many hundreds, if not thousands of kilometers deep. The massive pressure and high salinity, coupled with planetary core warmth and seismic shocks. Offer the perfect environment for the creation of rudimentary unsophisticated biology. The Earths Moon is the remnant remains of this planets core, mixed with some earth rocks and minerals. The rest of the exo planet would be joined with the larger, denser planet with the higher gravitational force. More so, as the majority of the exo planet was liquid water. The resulting collision also gave the Earth its vital tilt and single, large dense satellite.

  7. It is He Who begins (the process of) creation; then repeats it; and for Him it is most easy. To Him belongs the loftiest similitude (we can think of) in the heavens and the earth: for He is Exalted in Might, full of wisdom.

    In this article, we will see how Allah addresses various subjects with a single proposition; illustrating the sophistication and magnitude of Allah’s Knowledge, Wisdom and Majesty. Verily, Allah is All-Knowing and Most Wise.
    For example, when Allah states in the Quran that He had created all living things from water, this refers to the following:
    1. All living things originates from water, molecules and microbes, this is the simple beginning of all living organism from the vegetation to animals. Water is a building block of life, without which life is not possible.
    2. All living organisms are built from bricks of cells, science now confirms that 80% percent of cell is made up of water and the other 20% is made up of Carbon/matter.
    3. According to our knowledge and scientific advancement of today, Life in the animal kingdom begins with a sexual activity between mates. This sexual activity is to aid the transfusion of liquid, male (sperm) and female (Egg). Again, we see that life begins from a drop of water.
    4. Finally, the clay that is mentioned in the Quran refers to matter we know as carbon, which is a fabric of cells, that make up the physical body. The cells are like bricks that make up buildings. The bricks can be used to build a mud house or a palace for a king. As such, cells form the smallest living organism to the largest living creature we know. Putting science aside, if you were to ask the most primitive of our society to put together a substance of clay, you would find that they would gather soil; they would then mix it with water to create a sticky and adhesives like material that would be used to mould and shape. Hence what they used is water to keep each and every grain of soils together. This illustrates the scientific findings, that carbon (clay) and water are the basic component of life.

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