Life from Space Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe look for Life from Space
The idea that life is a cosmic, rather than a purely terrestrial phenomenon, has progressed from scientific heresy to mainstream science within the short timespan of a few decades. The theory of cometary panspermia developed by Fred Hoyle and the present author in the 1970’s has been vindicated by a spate of new discoveries in astronomy and biology, and also with startling new evidence of microbial fossils in meteorites and micrometeorites. The recent Kepler Telescope searches for exoplanets have indicated the presence of over 100 billion habitable planets separated by only a few light years, thus making panspermia and the transfer of microbial life between such planets an inevitable fact. The book presents a comprehensive and up-to-date account of the Hoyle–Wickramasinghe theory of cometary panspermia in a manner accessible to a wide general readership.
In the year 2015, 100 years after Fred Hoyle was born, the ideas relating to the cosmic origins of life are slowly gaining credence in scientific circles. Once regarded as outrageous heresy, evidence from a variety of disciplines — astronomy, geology, biology — is converging to support these once heretical ideas.
This volume opens with recent review articles pointing incontrovertibly towards our cosmic heritage, followed by a collection of published articles tracing the development of the theory throughout the years. The discovery that microorganisms — bacteria and viruses — are incredibly resistant to the harshest conditions of space, along with the detection of an estimated 144 billion habitable planets around other star systems in our galaxy alone, makes it virtually impossible to maintain that life on one planet will not interact with life elsewhere. The emerging position is that life arose exceedingly rarely, possibly only once, in the history of the cosmos, but it's subsequent spread was unstoppable. "Panspermiology" can no longer be described as an eccentric doctrine, but rather is the only doctrine supported by an overwhelming body of evidence. Fred Hoyle's work in this area may in the fullness of time come to be regarded as his most important scientific contribution.
This is the story of the author's unique scientific journey with one of the most remarkable men of 20th century science. The journey begins in Sri Lanka, the author's native country, with his childhood acquaintance with Fred Hoyle's writings. The action then moves to Cambridge, where the famous Hoyle-Wickramasinghe collaborations begin. A research programme which was started in 1962 on the carbonaceous nature of interstellar dust leads, over the next two decades, to developments that are continued in both Cambridge and Cardiff. These developments prompt Hoyle and the author to postulate the organic theory of cosmic dust (which is now generally accepted), and then to challenge one of the most cherished paradigms of contemporary science — the theory that life originated on Earth in a warm primordial soup.
This new edition examines the many scientific developments that have transpired since the first edition was published. The discovery of bacteria in the upper reaches of the atmosphere, biological signatures in meteorites, spectroscopy of high-z galaxies and more all mesh with many of the ideas that had their origin in the first edition. Pushing into the future, the updated text examines the many experiments and probes currently operating or planned that will shed more light on the theory of planetary panspermia. A Journey with Fred Hoyle is an intriguing book that delineates the progress of a collaboration spanning 40 years, through a sequence of personal reflections, anecdotes and reminiscences.
The idea that comets may be connected with the origin of life on Earth was considered heresy a few decades ago, with scientists shying away from this possibility as if from a medieval superstition. However the case that comets may have contributed at least the complex organic building blocks of life has become very strong, and mechanisms have now been identified whereby comets may incubate and transfer microbial life from one cosmic habitat to another in the Galaxy. The latter process cometary panspermia was pioneered by the late Sir Fred Hoyle and one of the present authors in the early 1980's. A theory that was once controversial is slowly gaining scientific respectability and support. The recent surge of interest in astrobiology has led to a spate of books in astrobiology -- combining astronomy and biology -- but in most of these, cometary panspermia is dealt with only cursorily. The present book sets out the case for cometary panspermia in a cogent way, combining evidence from space science, celestial mechanics, geology and microbiology. It should be an essential part of any university course on astrobiology, and also serve as a reference textbook for researchers in the field.
This is the story of the author's unique scientific journey with one of the most remarkable men of 20th century science. The journey begins in Sri Lanka, the author's native country, with his childhood acquaintance with Fred Hoyle's writings. The action then moves to Cambridge, where the famous Hoyle-Wickramasinghe collaborations begin. A research programme which was started in 1962 on the carbonaceous nature of interstellar dust leads, over the next two decades, to developments that are continued in both Cambridge and Cardiff. These developments prompt Hoyle and the author to postulate the organic theory of cosmic dust (which is now generally accepted), and then to challenge one of the most cherished paradigms of contemporary science -- the theory that life originated on Earth in a warm primordial soup. A Journey with Fred Hoyle is an intriguing book that traces the progress of a collaboration spanning 40 years, through a sequence of personal reflections, anecdotes and reminiscences. Ideas that were thought heretical 25 years ago are now quietly slipping into the domain of orthodox science.
This volume contains papers presented at an international conference to celebrate Fred Hoyle's monumental contributions to astronomy, astrophysics and astrobiology and more generally to humanity and culture. The contributed articles highlight the important aspects of his scientific life and show how much of an example and inspiration he has been for over three generations in the 20th century. There are few people whom it could be said they changed the way we perceive the world. Galileo Galilei, Nicholas Copernicus and Isaac Newton were amongst these. The inclusion of Fred Hoyle in this elite group may be contentious at the moment for the reason that in challenging the most cherished of Holy Grails in science he unwittingly offended many. But once the dust has settled over the many disputes that were raised and in the fullness of time there can be little doubt that Fred Hoyle will be ranked alongside these figures of history. Hoyle perceived science with an indomitable passion and an obsessive desire to find the truth wherever it lay. His singleness of purpose in this great mission and his deep suspicion of orthodoxy, his powerful intellect and imagination set him apart from most of his contemporaries in the last century. This volume included papers presented at a commemorative conference held in Cardiff in June 2002. The material divides naturally into several sections: Personal Reminiscences, Stellar Structure and Evolution, Cosmology, Interstellar Matter, Comets and finally Panspermia. Each article pays its own tribute to Fred Hoyle for his inspiration and guidance that led to major breakthroughs in astrophysics and space science throughout the 20th century.
This groundbreaking volume explores evidence indicating that life on Earth began with the arrival of comets four billion years ago. It also theorizes that life on Earth is not unique, as the general scientific community tends to believe, and postulates that all living matter derives from the cosmic matter that make up comets that were formed in the early days of our galaxy. Also discussed are the numerous ways comets could bring an end to life, such as by introducing bacteria and viruses that cause epidemics, or by creating a new ice age from comet dust shrouding the planet from the sun.
Living material contains about twenty different sorts of atom combined into a set of relatively simple molecules. Astrobiologists tend to believe that abiotic material will give rise to life in any place where these molecules exist in appreciable abundances and where physical conditions approximate to those occurring here on Earth. We think this popular view is wrong, for it is not the existence of the building blocks of life that is crucial but the exceedingly complicated structures in which they are arranged in living forms. The probability of arriving at biologically significant arrangements is so very small that only by calling on the resources of the whole universe does there seem to be any possibility of life originating, a conclusion that requires life on the Earth to be a minute component of a universal system. More
Some think that the hugely improbable transition from non-living to living matter can be achieved by dividing the transition into many small steps, calling on a so-called 'evolutionary' process to bridge the small steps one by one. This claim turns on semantic arguments which seek to replace the probability for the whole chain by the sum of the individual probabilities of the many steps, instead of by their product. This is an error well known to those bookies who are accustomed to taking bets on the stacking of horse races.
But we did not begin our investigation from this point of view. We began by attempting to understand the data on the scattering and absorption of starlight by interstellar dust particles. As the observations improved over the years we were led gradually to a cosmic view of the origin of life, led first to clear evidence that a major fraction of the dust is of an organic composition and then to the result that the dust actually contains a component in the form of bacteria. Much of this work appeared in the Cardiff Blue Preprint Series and was later published in journals, mainly in Astrophysics and Space Science.
Microorganisms reproduce themselves at astonishing rates when the physical and chemical conditions are favourable, so great indeed that there is no difficulty in seeing how the entire universe could be suffused by microbial life. Those with a dislike for this conclusion often argue that interstellar microorganisms would be destroyed by ultraviolet light from stars. But there are several effective replies. First, organisms are not so much destroyed by ultraviolet as deactivated. Their genetic arrangements survive, and reactivation can be achieved simply by a redirecting of the switching of thymine bonds. Second, microorganisms are easily shielded against ultraviolet light. Indeed molecular clouds in the galaxy are highly effective in this respect, both in cutting out the glare of ultraviolet radiation and permitting the growth of protective mantles around the bacterial particles. And third, the replicative power of microorganisms is so great that only a minute fraction of them are required to survive in each generation. These replies seem collectively more than adequate to answer this objection.
With the genetic components of life distributed widely throughout the universe, it is a matter for each local environment to pick out the arrangements that fit the particular circumstances. In a case like the Earth a complicated fitting together of the components has occurred over the last several hundred million years, by a process which biologists refer to as evolution. However the basic genes have not been produced here. For those who believe otherwise there are problems. The interclass differences between bears and horses are much greater than the interspecies differences among bears and horses taken separately. Yet it is the latter that dominate the fossil record. Because the latter have indeed occurred on the Earth, whereas the genes responsible for the class differences of bears and horses have been externally driven and the record of their origin is not local.
Cardiff, July 1999
Fred Hoyle's longtime friend George Carson urged Hoyle to write this book. Carson was a biologist who thought that neo-Darwinian evolution needed to be mathematically analysed, and he knew that Hoyle was capable of doing the job. But Hoyle was preoccupied with cosmology and astronomy at the time. Only later he did turn his attention to biology. In collaboration with his former student, astronomer Chandra Wickramasinghe, he studied evidence for organic compounds in space. This work beginning in the early 1970s, and his correspondence with J.B.S. Haldane reopened Hoyle's interest in biology. In 1986, Hoyle finally did the mathematical study that Carson had urged him to do. He dedicated the book to Carson's memory. But, except for a few facsimile copies of Hoyle's manuscript, the book was not published. Now Hoyle has updated the text and written a Foreword for the publication on January 1st, 1999.
The Case for a Cosmic Heritage?
(Clinical Press Ltd; First Edition edition 1997)
Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe have again combined forces to write a book that is not just highly topical but in its broad sweep provides an insight into the origin and development of life and our place in the Cosmos.
This highly readable book expounds in a logical and scientific manner the radical idea that life did not originate on Earth, but was added to it from comets. When Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe first made this proposal in the 1970s they did not have many takers for the simple reason that the theory flew in the face of established beliefs. In recent years, however, evidence to support this theory has accumulated from many different directions and grown to the point of being compelling. Today we know that there are polyaromatic hydrocarbons in space, the amino acid glycine is present in a molecular cloud, organic dust with absorption properties similar to bacteria has been detected in comets, as well as in interstellar space.
Furthermore, cometary dust with an organic composition is known to be entering the atmosphere at the rate of some tens of tonnes per day.
Last August NASA scientists stunned the world by announcing that there was strong evidence for microbial fossils in a Martian meteorite. The most rational explanation for these facts and many more is offered in this book: life is a cosmic phenomenon, microbial life pervades the galaxy and indeed the entire Universe. The comet of the century, comet Hale-Bopp, that graced our skies so magnificently in recent weeks must serve to remind us not only of our cosmic heritage but also of our fragility should pieces of such comets strike the Earth, as they must inevitably do from to time.
This book is a 'must' for all readers interested in general science, the origin of man and the meaning of life. Foreward