"Noah's Ark" via Meteorite?

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | March 5, 2011 12:30 pm

If trueand not a case of contamination or mistaken identitythis could be big:

Dr. Richard B. Hoover, an astrobiologist with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, has traveled to remote areas in Antarctica, Siberia, and Alaska, amongst others, for over ten years now, collecting and studying meteorites. He gave FoxNews.com early access to the out-of-this-world research, published late Friday evening in the March edition of the Journal of Cosmology. In it, Hoover describes the latest findings in his study of an extremely rare class of meteorites, called CI1 carbonaceous chondrites — only nine such meteorites are known to exist on Earth.

Though it may be hard to swallow, Hoover is convinced that his findings reveal fossil evidence of bacterial life within such meteorites, the remains of living organisms from their parent bodies — comets, moons and other astral bodies. By extension, the findings suggest we are not alone in the universe, he said.

For now I’ll say I’m intrigued, but also somewhat skeptical–at least until we learn more. What do readers think?

[Update: Phil’s got a great post up on the possibility of fossilized microscopic life forms.]

MORE ABOUT: bacteria, meteorite, NASA

Comments (23)

  1. Careful now, we know what happened to the Alan Hills meteorite and other artifacts from outer space. They would have to go to extraordinary lengths to prove that the material is not of earthly origin. If true though, this would not be too surprising since it would support the panspermia theories laid out by Fred Hoyle, Francis Crick and others. On the other hand it could turn out to be a collection of complex molecules which also would not be unexpected; all kinds of funky organic molecules have been found in outer space. Basically I would hold out until there’s more evidence but would not be surprised if the claims are true; simple life in outer space has a pretty good possibility of forming, it’s complex, multicellular, intelligent life which faces enormous hurdles.

  2. Sean T.

    Your skepticism = very warranted.

  3. JP

    Choosing science-hostile Fox News as the recipient of a preview is suspect, to say the least.

  4. Sean McCorkle

    I don’t much like being a skunk at the picnic, but journalofcosmology.com doesn’t appear to be of the caliber of a professional astronomy or astrophysics publication. For starters, the contents show a lot of titles that aren’t really cosmology at all (a study of the large-scale structure of the universe), many of them being focused on extraterrestrial life among other unusual topics (Climate Change? Quantum Physics and Consciousness?). Another red flag in the Hoover article is the sudden switch of focus from FESEM and EDS analysis of the specific chondrite samples to color comparisons of Europa images to bacterial samples—that’s almost a complete disconnect, which makes me wonder just how peer-reviewed this work was. Be cautious with this one. I would first run it past some cosmochemists and astrobiologists to get their take on it.

  5. Cathy

    I reviewed the paper when I saw it on Slashdot this morning. There were a lot of questions regarding the credibility of the Journal of Cosmology itself (with good reason), but you can see the gorgeous photographs they present as evidence with your own eyes, and it’s pretty intriguing. I’m not quite sure I believe yet, but part of me really wants to.

  6. tresmal

    Definitely waiting for post publication review on this one. The journal looks a bit iffy and new-agey e.g. “The Cosmological Origins of Consciousness”. I suspect terrestrial contamination. That said, it would be really awesome if this holds up.

  7. I don’t know what to think about these specific meteorites but to think we are alone in this universe I believe is to forget everything we were supposed to learn from the Copernican principle: we are not special or in a special situation.

    So, I think the safe money is on there is life somewhere out there.

  8. Dennis

    I think it sounds like a Dan Brown novel I read.

  9. Nullius in Verba

    Well, it sounds like rubbish to me, but then I’ve always enjoyed being the skunk at the picnic.

    What would these bacteria live on? How would they operate without liquid water? Why do they look recognisably like Earth bacteria, given that all the Earth bacteria must have evolved along different paths? How did it get so deep inside a rock solid enough to keep the Earth environment out for 150 years?

    I suspect this is like the ‘face on Mars’ – if you stare is random blobby micrographs for long enough, you eventually see things that look familiar, and if you only show other people the edited highlights it can give a misleading impression.

  10. aztec

    I don’t want to digress but, to be honest with you, i am not very excited about the idea of being an alien myself. I mean let’s say we really found life in space rocks ,so what. We still don’t know how it all began. How inanimate matter turned into life. The origin of life, and our ignorance about it always comes up to our face, and religious zealots rightly use that in all their arguments in trying to debunk evolution, and other sciences. It is almost ironic that we know 14 billion years of history, how the biggest (relativity) and smallest (quantum mechanics) work, and even have some kind of a consensus on how the universe started, but when it comes to lifes origins, we still have no clue. Yes i know all about the “primordial soup” and hot volcanic vents in the oceans and all that, but if it was that simple, shouldn’t we have already recreated life in laboratory untill now ?

  11. Nullius in Verba


    It depends what you mean by “recreated life”. If you do a search for ‘self-replicating molecules’ there are lots of papers. But nobody thinks it’s a simple, single-stage process, and the original experiment probably took about half a billion years in a planet-sized test-tube.

  12. Neil

    My presumption is that Dr. Hoover would not invest his reputation, and his large expenditure of time and energy, for 15 minutes of fame.

    But these days, we wind up being amazed by all the dumb, wacky decisions made by people of whom we previously thought better.

    So, I guess we’ll have to let the dust settle a little. Wish I could see the whole article, without paying $94 to Journal of Cosmology!

  13. Dave

    Can writers please not use religious language or religious allusions for what are natural phenomena: It isn’t “Noah’s Ark” — it’s potentially “Panspermia,” or some other origin/transport for the emergence of life.

    Pious believers are looking for any rationalization to preserve their dogma, and they will reinterpret absolutely anything in order for scientific discoveries to fit within it — so let’s not supply them with additional ammo by invoking their fables, please.

  14. Buckeye

    The bad:
    A more respected scientific publication than the “Journal of Cosmology” would have been preferable.
    There was no peer review before publication, which would have lent the findings a lot more credence.
    Evidence similar to this has been debunked in the past.

    The good:
    Dr. Hoover has excellent credentials, and his findings appear grounded in research, not personal belief.
    There’s complete sunshine on the findings and evidence, with an open call for peer review.
    The findings of Dr. Hoover’s peers, whether they back him up or tear his research apart, will be available for all to see.

    To Neil: Here’s a link to the research, no fee: http://journalofcosmology.com/Life100.html

  15. LJ

    Note to Buckeye: I agree completely with The Bad. As for The Good, Richard Hoover (I am pretty sure does not have a Ph.D. – see http://www.batse.msfc.nasa.gov/colloquia/abstracts_summer07/rhoover.html) is NOT a professional biologist. His excellent credentials are in engineering, not biology or paleontology. His is the 2009 recipient of the Gold Medal of SPIE, the Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers, which seems to be his home community. I would like to hear the comments of a professional microfossil expert, but it doesn’t ring true to this astrobiologist.

  16. LJ

    Thank you to all those who have seen through this. Unfortunately the events of the last two days show exactly how science should NOT work, that is in the blogosphere where this work was “published” and hyped. Rather, the time-tested method is to advance an hypothesis to explain a phenomenon. If the hypothesis does a better job of explaining the data, and has better predictive power than alternate hypotheses, it is conditionally accepted. But in this case there are far better alternative hypotheses.

    And for those who think NASA has found fern spores or any life form from outer space orbiting earth, if only it were so. It would make my job a lot more exciting as I actually am a professional astrobiologist / microbiologist at NASA working on this kind of thing. if organisms are found elsewhere (something I DO hope and think there is reason to believe is true), there is very little chance they will be identical down to the genus to anything on earth. Even if the two life forms are evolutionarily related from way back when (think ~4 billion years) there would have been so much time for them to diverge that they would be unlikely to be identical to modern species on earth. Cyanobacteria apparently evolve very slowly (well, anyway are morphologically conservative) but still….

    Finally, in terms of the lunar-forming impact kicking up life, this occurred about 50-100 million years after the earth formed which the earth was likely too hot for liquid water and certainly life.

  17. Andy Wakefield

    It would seem that Hoover is also engaging in resume enhancement. Does he or does he not have a Ph.D. i.e. is he really “Dr.” Hoover? http://nasawatch.com/archives/2011/03/nasa-msfc-astro.html

  18. Here’s another informed commentary on the paper, similar to Phil Plait’s:

  19. This seems to be happening more and more often now. MSM swallows bad science stories bait, hook and sinker, and the science bloggers debunk it. See Rosie Radfield, David Dobbs and PZ Myers for starters….

  20. There are chances that bacteria found in Antarctica, Siberia or Alasks.. might have resulted their presense there due to Volcanic eruptions occurred elsewhere on earth, which throws up tons of rocks laced with bacteria miles high into the sky and in all directions. Those rocks has to come back to Earth in similar condition as meteorite showers..

  21. Anthony McCarthy

    No idea if it will turn out to be remnants of life, though the idea doesn’t bother me either way.

    As to whether this is support for the entirely unsupported idea of panspermia, I’d want a somewhat larger sample from a number of places even farther away in just this galaxy, which is almost certainly not going to get to us in time for the April issue. Not without things happening that would probably pose some basic problems for physics. I hate to have to tutor people in Douglas Adams, but the universe is big. A lot bigger than our solar system.

  22. ChrisD

    @Nullius #9:

    Well, it sounds like rubbish to me

    I think you’re absolutely right. How weird is that?

  23. scientist don’t know crap,somed­ay they’ll land and the nonbelieve­rs will look like what they are. http://www.factasy.com/civil_war/


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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.com For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at srkirshenbaum@yahoo.com.


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