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Hypothesis Testing

Carl Sagan famously claimed in his 1980 book Cosmos that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.

This quote is often cited by people attempting to justify rejection of ideas that they cannot reject evidentially. Ironically, the statement is itself an extraordinary claim as it is at odds with the accepted paradigm of using the scientific method; involving hypothesis testing with experimentation on falsifiable premises.

The theory of the biological solution to the interstellar dust had simply not been evidentially refuted. It was the strongest theory available for the nature of the interstellar dust.

“The arguments in support of life as a cosmic phenomenon are not readily accepted by a culture in which a geocentric theory of biology is seen as the norm” – Sir Fred Hoyle and Dr N. Chandra Wickramasinghe, Nature Vol. 322, 7 August 1986

A New Domain of Biology

Sir Fred Hoyle and Dr Chandra Wickramasinghe did not assume that the bacteria grew in interstellar space. Their working hypothesis was that the bacteria would likely be dead and in the process of decay.

They proposed that bacterial replication is a product of star formation in environments that are suitable for organisms to grow. After which bacteria are expelled into interstellar space.

They considered that the most likely place where bacteria could flourish would be within comets which, early in a solar systems history, would be heated by radioactive decay – providing a liquid water interior for extended periods of up to millions of years for giant comets. The proposed biomass of the cometary bodies in our own solar system would be more than a billion times the biomass of the Earth.

Only a tiny fraction of viable bacteria would need to survive being expelled into interstellar space in order to seed colonies in other star formations – such as our solar system.

Unearthly Traits

According to NASA a viable strain of Streptococcus mitis was recovered after two years on the surface of the Moon. A little closer to home, bacteria have been found to survive outside of the International Space Station (ISS). Viable bacteria have been recovered from an operating nuclear reactor – where they were actually feeding on the steel in the reactor core.

Bacteria are hardy organisms that have been shown to have the ability to survive extremes of temperature and pressure without loss of viability. The ability of bacteria to survive extremely high doses of radiation and even to repair themselves in environments of continued high radiation are not traits that you would expect for organisms whose genesis and evolution was on the Earth. These are characteristics necessary for survival in space.

Comet Halley

The return of comet Halley in 1986 provided an opportunity to test their hypothesis that microbial life exists in the solar system within comets. This premise required that particles ejected from the comets nucleus into the coma would include organic molecules. The existence of organics would refute the widely held premise that comets are simply ice and rock – the “dirty snowball” model.

Using observations from Earth and the space probes Giotto (ESA) and Vega (Soviet) the dust from Comet Halley was found to be largely organic with about 90% of the comets surface covered by a dark inert material.

Infrared spectra of the comet recorded by the Giotto space probe showed spectra comparable to the bacterial model spectra. A study of comet dust published in the journal Nature rejected the idea that organic components where biological in nature because phosphorus ions (P+) were not detected by the on-board mass spectrometer. However, Wickramasinghe discovered that the data matched phosphate ions (PO+,  PO2+ and PO3+) showing that phosphorus was indeed present.

By the end of 1986 the cosmicrobial model had been shown to be the stronger model than the dirty snowball model. Although it required that astronomers avoid cherry-picking the data to suit pre-existing notions and allowed the possibility that life is not limited to the domain of planet Earth.

Fossil Evidence

Carbonaceous chondrite meteorites are fragments of asteroids that have remained relatively unchanged since the formation of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago, and are commonly found to contain organic compounds. A meteor of this type fell to Earth near the town of Murchison in the Australian outback in 1969. When examined under a scanning electron microscope a freshly created fracture in fragments revealed complex structures with the appearance of blue-green algae microfossils.

More recently in January 2013 the mainstream press reported on a study of a rock that fell to Earth in Sri Lanka on December 29th 2012. The specimen reportedly contained evidence of fossilised diatoms (algae) in a carbonaceous chondrite meteor.

This was of course refuted by some respectable scientists and other commentators alike. To date, no one has refuted the claims by application of hypothesis testing. It would appear that they do not feel that they even need to employ the scientific method to refute something which, in their own world view, is simply not possible.

Incidence upon the Earth

From their initial discovery of bacteria in space, Sir Fred Hoyle and Dr Chandra Wickramasinghe began looking at incidents of diseases. They suggested that problems with the theories regarding person to person transmission of diseases are circumvented when the trigger for the disease originates from space. Diseases ranging from influenza to the bubonic plague, they argue, are examples of predominantly vertical incidence of viruses, viral particles and bacteria from space.

Regardless of what you believe about the moon landings, the outward appearance presented by NASA was that astronauts returning to earth needed to be placed in quarantine in case they picked up a disease from space.

Extraterrestrial DNA

The incidence of extra-terrestrial DNA on the Earth by viruses, according to Hoyle and Wickramasinghe, may solve the problems inherent in neo-Darwinism when explaining how evolution takes great leaps forward, when the step by step approach doesn’t hold up mathematically.

The problem in essence is that neo-Darwinian evolution involves a closed system where changes to DNA must occur stepwise and for the betterment of a species. Open that system up to beyond the Earth and new genetic material, originating within comets, can be introduced – not only to lifeless early Earth of 4.6 billion years ago – but periodically throughout the Earth’s history.

Viruses are known to insert their DNA into the DNA of host species – a process called antigenic shift. The suggestion is that contrary to neo-Darwinian evolution, evolution on Earth may in effect be driven by receipt of new genetic material from space.

By Anthony Beckett B.Sc. (hons) M.Sc.

Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe

Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe presented a lecture on The Case for Life as a Cosmic Phenomenon at the 5th Annual British Exopolitics Expo held at The University of Huddersfield on Saturday September 28th, 2013.

Anthony Beckett Biography

Anthony Beckett lives near Keighley, West Yorkshire. He studied Chemistry at Loughborough University graduating in 1997 and continuing his studies with a M.Sc. in Analytical Chemistry from the University of Huddersfield in 1998. He went on to work in the Pharmaceutical Industry as a Analytical Scientist until 2006. He is currently a software engineer and in his spare time he is the executive producer of Exopolitics Great Britain, an organisation which has been hosting the UK’s UFO Disclosure and Exopolitics Conferences since 2009.

© Anthony Beckett 2013

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