If you missed part I of this article click here:

The rise of astrobiology.

In the `Space Age `nineteen seventies the terms `barren` and `inhospitable` were much employed to describe the planets in our increasingly depopulated solar system. Talk of life on Mars was bracketed, in the main, with Percival Lowell’s eccentric belief in canals on Mars.

Meanwhile, nostalgic compilations of old science fiction tales like Farewell Fantastic Venus  were doing the rounds. If anybody was out there, we all thought, they would be separated by many light years from us.

In the last two decades, nevertheless, there has been a renewed belief that there might be some forms of life out there which share the same sunlight as us. Attention has been focused on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn which could harbour microbial forms of life.

This sea change in outlook was brought about by finding new life down here. Extremophiles are life forms that have adapted to situations once thought inimical to survival. They have been caught hiding in many a crevice. In February 2013, for instance, living bacteria was found in the cold and dark of a lake buried a mile and a half beneath Antarctica. Likewise, life has been found thriving in the mouths of active volcanoes.

Martian redux.

After the American robot called Viking had scuttled about two million miles away on the surface of the red planet, the big headline to follow was that there were no little green men there, nor any other forms of life. Behind the scenes, though, there has long been more of a dispute about exactly was encountered up there. One of the devices that Viking employed, tried to determine whether life existed in the Martian soil. To do this it got organisms to feast on irradiated nutrients which – if they existed – would show up on Geiger counter readings when the organisms breathed out. To the surprise of all, it found positive results.

The problem was that another test, involving a Gas Chromatograph Mass Spectrometer, found nothing to indicate life. Erring on the side of caution, NASA decided that it was best to say that no evidence was found for life on Mars. Instead the positive result was ascribed to the action of hydrogen peroxide – a chemical that is not even known to exist on that planet.

Among those who think that NASA got it wrong is Gilbert Levin who designed the device which gave positive results. Backing him is Joe Miller, a cell biologist of the University of California who declared in 2002 that he was over `90% certain` that the Viking had after all discovered life (Brookes, p-93).

If life can withstand more, and is more widespread, than we once thought, might life have reached us via meteorites as Lord Kelvin theorised?

It is exactly this question which has been answered by the respected Northern English maverick astronomer Fred Hoyle and his Sri Lankan associate Chandra Wickramasinghe. In 1978 they contended that not only did life arrive from space but also viruses such as the bubonic plague did too. Wickramasinghe has since proposed, in The Lancet no less, that SARS may an extraterrestrial infection.

This notion of interplanetary contamination is not so new. The influential TV science fiction thriller The Quatermass Experiment (1953) is predicated on a fear of just that. In the real world, the Galileo space probe, after it had done its tour of the moons of Jupiter, was made to crash on that planet in 2003 to ensure that it did not contaminate its area of study.

The independent researcher Alexander Popoff, writing in the UFO Digest has suggested that the lack of non-terrestrial micro-organisms detected around the scenes of close Encounters with UFOs and their alleged occupants is a strong argument against their identity as being space aliens.

Biological SETI.

The concept of panspermia has, in recent times, received a boost in credibility. The Daily Mail Online reports that in April 2013 a group of geneticists used a computer based projection to determine when life started. By use of Moore’s law – which governs the speed increases of computers – they concluded that life must be 10 billion years old. Given that the earth itself is less than half that age, you may draw your own conclusions….

Are we the descendants of Martian microbes then, or did life on Mars (if it exists) come from the earth, or could both worlds be recipients of life that was floating about in the cosmos for a long time before that? Moreover, is there any room now for Crick and Ogel’s space arks? Should these be parked away in the land of fiction?

Perhaps not. To the dismay of many of their peers both Hoyle and Wickramasinghe, the former in the Intelligent Universe (1983), later went onto envisage the possibility that life may have been designed in some way. Since neither are were religious, in any conventional sense, they seemed to be hinting at the involvement of alien intelligences. Indeed, the more we learn about DNA, the more we liken its complexity to a carrier of information.

Two astrophysicists from Kazakhstan, Vladimir Cherbak and Maxim Makukov have theorised that an alien code is written into our very DNA. They published this hypothesis in May 2013 – in Icarus, the very journal that also published Crick and Ogel’s paper exactly forty years ago! Perhaps Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of DNA, might be vindicated in his bold vision of interstellar forebears after all.

Edward Crabtree.


Brooks, Michael 13 things That Don’t Make Sense (London: Profile Books Ltd, 2009)

Bryson, Bill A Short History of nearly Everything (Great Britain: Doubleday, 2003)

Crick, F.H.C/Orgel L.E  Directed Panspermia  in Icarus 19, 1973 (Pages 341 – 346)

Popoff, Alexander `Alien bugs` in the UFO Digest, April 2013

The worlds of David Darling www,daviddarlinginfo/encyclopedia an alien message be embedded in our genes?

Most recent posts by Edward Crabtree

All posts by Edward Crabtree