British scientists have found evidence for a microscopic organism living 27 kilometres above Earth in the stratosphere and argue that it could not have been carried up into the atmosphere by storms due to their size. They conclude that the living organism “has an extraterrestrial origin”.
The researchers from the University of Sheffield and Buckingham University used a specially designed balloon to gather samples in the stratosphere in July of this year during the period of the annual Perseid meteor shower. Equipment aboard the balloon captured air samples and results revealed the fragments of single celled algae known as a diatom.
The scientists have argued that it is not possible for the diatom to have originated on Earth. “Most people will assume that these biological particles must have just drifted up to the stratosphere from Earth,” said Professor Milton Wainwright, from the department of molecular biology and biotechnology at the University of Sheffield. “But it is generally accepted that a particle of the size found cannot be lifted from Earth to heights of, for example, 27km.”
The scientists have stated that the only way such an organism could have been carried up to that distance from Earth is through a violent volcanic eruption, but no such eruptions had occurred within three years of finding the sample.
“In the absence of a mechanism by which large particles like these can be transported to the stratosphere we can only conclude that the biological entities originated from space,” said Wainwright.
The finding has major implications for our understanding of how life originated on Earth. The scientists believe that this discovery could be the first evidence to show how life may have arrived on Earth, perhaps carried here by meteorites, a theory known as Panspermia.
“Our conclusion then is that life is continually arriving to Earth from space, life is not restricted to this planet and it almost certainly did not originate here,” wrote the study authors.
Further studies on the samples are now underway to determine with certainty “where the organisms found in this region originate – are they existing from Earth, or falling in to our planet from space?” This will be revealed through the ratio of certain isotopes in the diatom.
The full study, published in the Journal of Cosmology, can be downloaded here.
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