Dr. Richard Hoover, a very well respected astrobiologist at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, says he has made an extraordinary discovery. In a paper published in the March edition of the Journal of Cosmology.
Hoover says that he has found, inside a rare type of meteorite, the fossilized cyanobacteria that originated on planets, moons or comets other than Earth. In short, he has found the fossils of primitive alien life forms.
Based on his detailed analysis of the fossils, Hoover says, the alien bacteria grew in a watery environment, died and were fossilized while still in situ. Impacts between large solar bodies can cause fragments of moons or planets to be ejected into space by the force of the collision. It is possible that these fossils were knocked loose from their home world by just such a collision. It might also be possible that they originated entirely within the icy materials that make up comets.
The meteorites in question are a very rare type called CI1 carbonaceous meteorites, of which only nine known specimens exist. These meteorites are different than the rock and iron meteorites that are more commonly found. That difference is the primary reason they are so rare. They are comprised of materials more like dried clay than rock and they readily dissolve in water.
Of the nine known examples of CI1 carbonaceous meteorites, five were observed as they fell and located shortly after impact. The other four were found in the frozen expanses of the Antarctic in the 1980s and 1990's according to a search of The Meteoritical Society's database.
I asked Steve Arnold, of the Science Channel's Meteorite Men, about the announcement. "In the past, most of the focus for evidence of past life has been done by looking at meteorites known to have been blasted off the surface of Mars by asteroid impacts, but what is amazing," the professional meteorite hunter told me, "is that this meteorite has come from what many scientists believe was part of a comet -- not what most people would think of as a hospitable environment for life to occur on."
Arnold went on to say, "this announcement of evidence of alien life may or may not be proven to be legitimate, but it reiterates the value of both commercial meteorite hunters and institutional government paid hunters finding meteorites that have landed here on Earth. The quicker a meteorite is recovered, and preserved for science, the greater the chance that one day it, too, will contribute to our understanding of our universe. If there ever was life outside of our planet, there is a chance evidence of it has been captured in some meteorites. The more meteorites we find, the more pieces of the puzzle of what is out there start to get assembled to form the big picture."
Hoover, is a veteran NASA astrobiologist, with many discoveries already to his credit. His work in the study of extremophiles and meteorites at NASA is well respected as are his contributions to the field of photo-optical instrumentation for which he was awarded the 2009 Gold Medal of SPIE, the Society of Photo-optical Instrumentation Engineers. Despite Hoover's reputation and vast experience, says Dr. Rudy Schild of the Center for Astrophysics, Harvard-Smithsonian, and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Cosmology, the Journal is taking the unprecedented step of releasing Hoover's paper to more than 5000 experts before publication and asking them to review his work and submit commentaries, either picking apart or supporting his conclusions based on the evidence presented.
Based on the stated procedures in Hoover's paper, the sample collection methods, cross-contamination prevention methodologies and controls used, look pretty solid. Hoover also cites previous analyses by other scientists of fragments of these same CI1 carbonaceous meteorites which found chemical compounds for which no non-living source is known, including chemicals resulting from the breakdown of chlorophyll, used by plants here on Earth for photosynthesis.
It will be very interesting to read the commentaries solicited by the Journal of Cosmology to see whether there is some critical flaw in Hoover's assertions or if, as he believes, he really has discovered the first conclusive evidence of alien life. If he's right, it greatly increases the odds of finding extraterrestrial life still thriving elsewhere in the solar system.