Comet probes reveal evidence of origin of life, scientists claim

August 14, 2007

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.

Source: Cardiff University

Explore further: Evidence of aliens? What to make of research and reporting on 'Oumuamua, our visitor from space

Related Stories

Cosmic detective work: Why we care about space rocks

November 8, 2018

The entire history of human existence is a tiny blip in our solar system's 4.5-billion-year history. No one was around to see planets forming and undergoing dramatic changes before settling in their present configuration. ...

Could 'Oumuamua be an extraterrestrial solar sail?

November 1, 2018

On October 19th, 2017, the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System-1 (Pan-STARRS-1) in Hawaii announced the first-ever detection of an interstellar asteroid, named 1I/2017 U1 (aka, "Oumuamua). In the months that ...

Targeted hope for metastatic cancer

November 1, 2018

A cancer diagnosis is tough enough to hear, but a diagnosis that cancer has spread through the body has often been considered a death sentence.

Recommended for you

Gravitationally lensed quasars

November 19, 2018

The path of light is bent by mass, an effect predicted by Einstein's theory of gravity, and when a massive galaxy or cluster lies along our line-of-sight to a more distant galaxy its matter will act as a lens to image the ...

Odd bodies, rapid spins keep cosmic rings close

November 19, 2018

Forget those shepherding moons. Gravity and the odd shapes of asteroid Chariklo and dwarf planet Haumea—small objects deep in our solar system—can be credited for forming and maintaining their own rings, according new ...

Astronomers discover giant relic of disrupted Tadpole galaxy

November 19, 2018

A team of astronomers from Israel, the U.S. and Russia have identified a disrupted galaxy resembling a giant tadpole, complete with an elliptical head and a long, straight tail, about 300 million light years away from Earth. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.