A NASA scientist claims to have identified signs of extraterrestrial bacteria in meteorites, and if he's right, it means a strong boost to the theory that such entities are common and could be the origin of life on Earth.
In his paper Fossils of Cyanobacteria in CI1 Carbonaceous Meteorites, published on Friday in the Journal of Cosmology, Richard B Hoover of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center says: "Environmental (ESEM) and Field Emission Scanning Electron Microscopy (FESEM) investigations of the internal surfaces of the CI1 Carbonaceous Meteorites have yielded images of large complex filaments.
"The filaments have been observed to be embedded in freshly fractured internal surfaces of the stones. They exhibit features (eg, the size and size ranges of the internal cells and their location and arrangement within sheaths) that are diagnostic of known genera and species of trichomic cyanobacteria and other trichomic prokaryotes such as the filamentous sulphur bacteria."
Hoover explained to Reuters that the alleged bacteria have "lots of carbon, a marker for Earth-type life". They don't have nitrogen, but its absence "only means that whatever nitrogen was in these structures has decomposed out into a gaseous form long ago", Hoover claimed.
He said: "We have known for a long time that there were very interesting biomarkers in carbonaceous meteorites and the detection of structures that are very similar ... to known terrestrial cyanobacteria is interesting in that it indicates that life is not restricted to the planet Earth."
Reuters notes that this isn't the first claimed sighting of diminutive aliens. Back in 1996, a four-billion-year-old Martian meteorite unearthed in Antarctica apparently showed signs of fossilised microbes.
The scientific community proved hard to convince, and confirmation of the discovery has proved elusive.
Accordingly, the Journal of Cosmology's editor-in-chief added the following statement to Hoover's findings: "Dr Richard Hoover is a highly respected scientist and astrobiologist with a prestigious record of accomplishment at NASA.
"Given the controversial nature of his discovery, we have invited 100 experts and have issued a general invitation to over 5,000 scientists from the scientific community to review the paper and to offer their critical analysis."
Hoover's study is of the nine known CI1 Carbonaceous Meteorites – an "extremely rare" beast among over 35,000 meteorites recovered on Earth. They're "the most primitive of all known meteorites in terms of solar elemental abundances and the highest content of volatiles", he explains. ®