Evidence of living bacterial cells entering the Earth's upper atmosphere from space has come from a joint project involving Indian and UK scientists.
The first positive identification of extraterrestrial microbial life was reported on Sunday (July 29) at the Astrobiology session of the 46th Annual SPIE meeting in San Diego, by Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe of Cardiff University in Wales. He spoke on behalf of an international team led by Professor Jayant Narlikar, Director of the Inter-Universities Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics in Pune, India.
Samples of stratospheric air were collected on January 21 under the most stringent aseptic conditions by Indian scientists using the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) cryogenic sampler payload flown on balloons from the Tata Institute Balloon Launching facility in Hyderabad.
Part of the samples sent to Cardiff were analyzed by a team at Cardiff University led by Professor David Lloyd, assisted by Melanie Harris.
Commenting on the results, Professor Wickramasinghe said, “There is now unambiguous evidence for the presence of clumps of living cells in air samples from as high as 41 kilometers, well above the local tropopause (16 km), above which no air from lower down would normally be transported.”
The detection was made using a fluorescent cyanine dye which is only taken up by the membranes of living cells. The variation with height of the distribution of such cells indicates strongly that the clumps of bacterial cells are falling from space.
The daily input of such biological material is provisionally estimated as about one third of a ton over the entire planet.
This new evidence provides strong support for the Panspermia theory of Sir Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe.
“We have argued for more than two decades that terrestrial life was brought down to Earth by comets and that cometary material containing microorganisms must still be reaching us in large quantities,” Professor Wickramasinghe said.
Cardiff University is home to the UK's first Center for Astrobiology, which provides the UK with a facility to contribute to space missions probing for life on solar system bodies. The Center is a joint initiative between the University and the University of Wales College of Medicine.
The Center combines research interests in astronomy and molecular cell biology to throw light on the emergence and development of life in the cosmos and planetary bodies. The work of the Center will also provide information essential for the emergent discipline of space medicine.
Cardiff University has a history of service to Wales and the world which dates from its foundation by Royal Charter in 1883. Today, independent government assessments recognize the University as one of Britain’s leading research and teaching universities.