Sunday, August 2, 2009

Star of Bethlehem as Cometary Panspermia

Matthew, the only Gospel writer who added a 'star' to the story of the birth of Jesus, may have been on to something which he never could have imagined: star stuff. The late astronomer and host of an astronomy series in the 80's, Carl Sagan, often said of us humans that we were 'star stuff!'

Matthew, of course, added the star to bolster the credibility of Jesus and make him more competitive with the so-called pagan gods of the time. In his tri-layer cosmology-earth, heaven, hell- he knew nothing of black holes, comets, asteroids, novae, or the retrograde motion of Jupiter. His 'star' reference was pure propaganda. Yet, if he had referred to a comet, he may have been precocious.

The newly-developing theory of cometary panspermia suggests that the seeds of life are every where in the Universe and considers comets as the delivery vehicles that spread life throughout a galaxy. Scientists have learned that if amino acids were frozen at ice temperatures, they would last indefinitely. The same is true for nucleotides, the monomers of nucleic acids. Frozen suspended animation- the stuff of Sci-Fi movies. Isn't Walt Disney frozen, too?

Scientists have already simulated a polymerization reaction in ice. When an aqueous solution freezes, it essentially dries out. The ice crystals that form immobilize most of the water molecules, and liquid films of highly concentrated solutes accumulate in the cracks between crystals. Interestingly for our wine aficionados, same thing happens when ice wines are made from frozen grapes.

In the same study, scientists made a dilute aqueous solution of nucleotides, the monomers of RNA, and lowered the temperature to -18 degrees C to produce ice. "When we melted the ice a few days later and looked for products, the monomers had polymerized into short strands of RNA!"the report stated. The result clearly supported the idea that interesting chemical reactions can be promoted by freezing.

It takes no giant leap of faith, pardon the pun, to ascribe the same biochemistry to the ice in comets that have been travelling around our galaxy and solar system for eons. The science community became acutely aware of the reality of comet panspermia in 2001 when a strange red rain occured in India. Red colored rain occurred in many places of Kerala in India during July to September 2001 due to the mixing of huge quantity of microscopic red cells in the
rainwater. This event was correlated with a meteor airbust event phenomenon and raised an extraordinary question whether the cells are extraterrestrial. Two scientists, Godfrey Louis & A. Santhosh Kumar of the School of Pure and Applied Physics, Mahatma Gandhi University, document [link] how the observed features of the red rain phenomenon can be explained by considering the fragmentation and atmospheric disintegration of a fragile cometary body that presumably contains a dense collection of red cells. Slow settling of cells in the stratosphere explains the continuation of the phenomenon for two months. The red cells under study appear to be the resting spores of an extremophilic microorganism."

Matthew's 3-strata cosmology of myth and magic is a far cry from this theory of the origin of life on earth. Science Daily reports on the latest theory that the watery environment of early comets, together with the vast quantity of organics already discovered in comets, would have provided ideal conditions for primitive bacteria to grow and multiply.

Creationists like to scoff at the evolutionary process, naturally, for the belief in a Poof Moment by a sky-god. They often contend that evolutionary time is not long enough for simple-celled organisms to develop into humans. Timing is everything, they say, and thus close the 'book' [or open another one] at this point.

Yet, they fail to recognize that there is another possibility that does not require a lengthy time period: cometary panspermia. If there is too short a time for the evolution of life to take place from simple precursor molecules to the level of prokaryotic and photoautotropic cells, it leads to the argument that life has earlier originated elsewhere and then it was transported to primitive Earth. There is evidence to show that microbial life can remain in a resting phase for millions of years, which can enable them to make long space travel. There is the possibility of liquid water in comets, which could support active life inside of comets.

The creationists will now have to work overtime to think of ways to dispell this new theory as the comet theory erases their trusted 'time element' argument. I have no doubt that the Bible-thumpers will soon circulate a rebuttal to the panspermia theory. Perhaps they already have one. My email inbox may soon light up with said 'evidence.'

Until then, I'll dream with Carl Sagan that we are indeed, star stuff!

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