Polonnaruwa Meteor Carried Life, Maybe

A meteor carrying life much like — heck, some people would say exactly like — our own Earth algae fell to earth in Sri Lanka on Dec. 29, 20120. Or at least that’s the report published in the March issue of the Journal of Cosmology (JOC). If true, what the researchers called “the first compelling evidence for life existing outside the earth” would probably be one of the most important discoveries since the proverbial sliced toast.

The UK and Sri Lankan team said that witnesses observed the fireball as it tracked across the sky near Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka. They claimed that eyewitnesses led them to the spot where the meteor smashed into fragments into the earth. However, some observers have disputed even that much, saying that it’s uncertain whether the fragments were remains of the meteor in question.

When meteors fall to earth, they are renamed meteorites, and they aren’t always easy to find even if thousands of people witness the fall.

The rush to publish is also questioned. Chandra Wickramasinghe, one of the study’s co-authors, had already submitted a note to JOC on Jan. 10, 2013 — which means that the team took less than three weeks to learn about the fireball, track down the meteorite fragments, and then analyze the results.

Wickramasinghe is a leading advocate of the concept of panspermia, the idea that life was seeded on earth by meteors or comets that collided with our planet. Some observers have suggested that his scientific objectivity has been colored by his desire to be proven right. In that, he may follow in the tracks of his famous teacher, Fred Hoyle, who spent a lifetime denying the growing evidence for the Big Bang theory of the creation of the universe.

The photographic evidence purports to show a “diatom,” and it may very well do so. However, it isn’t obvious to me or to many other people just why the diatom couldn’t contaminated the specimen after the stone fell to earth. The diatom family is a very large group of single-celled algaes that are extremely well represented on our planet. In fact, there are an estimated 100,000 species already here. And if the rocks in Sri Lanka are anything like the landscape rocks in my yard, the algae doesn’t waste any time in growing all over them.

Marcia Malory has written for Physorg that all of the algae reported to have arrived on the Polonnaruwa meteorite are actually common freshwater earth species.

While it’s likely that Wickramasinghe is sincere but just mistaken, some disgusted people have called “hoax” on the entire project. The so-called Polonnaruwa meteor didn’t bring the algae from outer space, and it may not even be the real meteor fragments.