Life Found in a Meteorite?

Space geekout time. This one is older. I missed the chance to comment on this initially. Apparently, a scientist claims to have found evidence of fossilized life in a meteorite.

Life in a Meteorirte

Looks like a fossilized Flying Spaghetti Monster to me.

The scientist, who made this claim is NASA Astrobiologist Dr. Richard Hoover. He is an established scientist. For example, he was featured as an Astrobiology expert in one of the episodes of the acclaimed BBC documentary Wonders of the Solar System. However, he has been releasing similar claims as early as 1997.

The meteorite in question is also quite famous. It’s the Orgueil Meteorite. It’s a very rare type of meteorite (Carbonaceous chondrite – CI Group). Only 5 similar meteorites are known. With 14kg, the Orgueil Meteorite is the biggest of it’s type ever found. The extraordinary about this particular type of meteorite is that it’s made up of the same stuff as the Sun, except for the gas. This suggests that the meteorite is very old and that it was created at the same time as the Solar System was born. For example, other meteorites are often derbies of planets or planetoids. The meteorite type is interesting for Astrobiologists because it contains a lot of elements necessary for life like water (!!) and amino-acids.

You don’t need to be a science expert to see problems with the claim. The scientist already has a history of making similar, unsuccessful claims with other meteors. The paper is actually not supported by NASA. Remember the big deal they made about the weird arsenic-based bacteria? That’s what happens when a scientist is able to successfully prove a new and remarkable claim. However, this claim was released without much buzz in just one scientific journal. Already off to a bad start.

But then consider the meteorite. It’s not a fresh, new meteorite that was found recently. It was found in 1864 (!!) and has already gone through rigorous studies and even numerous false claims of discovered life forms. In one instance somebody glued a plant seed on of the fragments. At this point it is impossible to rule out that the meteorite hasn’t been already contaminated by earth bacteria.

And if you look at the actual evidence, it is not that compelling. Yes, the structures on the photos are fascinating and some of the data is unusual. But claiming that these are alien life forms is simply jumping to conclusions. It is an extraordinary claim that can be only substantiated by extraordinary evidence.

Of course I’m not a scientist so don’t take my word. Dr. Phil Plat from the Bad Astronomy Blog has a nice collection of reviews and opinions of other scientists. They are not favorable.

This doesn’t mean that that Dr. Richard Hoover didn’t find aliens. It just means that there is not enough evidence to tell for sure. And if the claim is so extraordinary, we certainly need to be 100% sure.

But that is not the end of the story. The meteorite type is rare on earth but actually quite common in space. C-Type asteroids are common and they seem to have a similar composition to meteorites like the Orgueil Meteorite. If we sent a probe or even a manned mission to one of the C-Type asteroid, we could search for evidence of fossilized life there. We could easily exclude the possibility of contamination by earth bacteria in this case. For example, the biggest asteroid of the Solar System, the Dwarf Planet Ceres also belongs to the C-Group depending on the classification system. It would be certainly an interesting place to explore more thoroughly. Luckily, a probe is on it’s way to visit Ceres! The Dawn probe will arrive at Ceres in just 4 years. I don’t think it has the instruments necessary to detect microbes. But at least we get a first look. If there is a Forrest there, we will certainly be able to see it. ;)

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

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The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.

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