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Can Life Spread From Star to Star? The Theory of Galactic Panspermia

Can Life Spread From Star to Star? The Theory of Galactic Panspermia


the race is on to find life in other
places in the solar system from underground reservoirs on Mars to the
subsurface oceans on Europa and Enceladus
if spacecraft Rovers or even astronauts make the momentous discovery of life on
another world that’ll just open up new questions did it originate all on its
own completely independently from Earth or are we somehow related and if we are
related how long ago did our evolutionary trees branch away from each
other even though Mars is millions of kilometres away it could be possible
that we’re still related thanks to the concept of panspermia the idea that
meteor impacts could transfer rocks and maybe even living creatures from world
to world but could you go one step further if we find life on another star
system could we discover that we’re actually related to them – is galactic
pence per meeow possible before I get talking about pence per Mia on a
galactic level I’d first like to just bring everyone up to speed on regular
old panspermia the concept was popularized by Fred Hoyle Chandra
Wickramasinghe and John Watkins in the 1986 book called viruses from space and
related matters they discovered that dust in space contained organic
compounds and proposed that new diseases could be falling to earth from space
this would explain why disease outbreaks seem to happen randomly around the world
but planetary scientists have known for a while that larger objects do travel
from world to world meteorites the Allen hills 84001 meteorite discovered as part
of a survey in Antarctica was found to contain captured gases that match the
atmosphere of ancient Mars at some point about 17 million years ago a meteor
struck Mars and debris was thrown off into space faster than Mars’s escape
velocity some of this material orbited into the inner solar system in alh for
0:01 enter the Earth’s atmosphere about 11,000 years ago getting scooped up in
1984 by meteorite hunters in fact this has
happened a lot there are more than 70 Martian meteorites in the hands of
scientists the surprising discovery is how well various life-forms can
withstand the extreme conditions of space and then spring back to life when
they’re returned to earth-like or even Mars like conditions in an experiment
from 2014 to 2016 samples of various earth life-forms from fungi to
cyanobacteria were exposed to the vacuum extreme temperatures and ultraviolet
radiation of space itself outside the International Space Station after they
were brought back to earth and return to more reasonable conditions they were
able to recover to continue on even in a simulated mars-like environment it’s
still not clear if organisms can survive for long periods of time orbiting around
the Sun in the harsh vacuum of space but life has already shown us what it’s
capable of as they say in that dinosaur movie life finds a way when samples are
returned from Mars or a serious life finding robotic laboratory travels to
Mars or if SpaceX delivers human scientists to Mars and if they do find
life that just sets off a cascade of new questions is it life as we understand it
with DNA RNA and similar processes to life on Earth if it is are we related
and if we are when did we branch off it could be possible to figure out roughly
when a meteorite from Mars landed on earth never get me wrong if we do find
life on Mars or Europa it’ll be one of the most important scientific
discoveries in human history but if it turns out that we’re all related that
doesn’t tell us anything about whether there’s life anywhere else in the
universe what about getting life from star to star will we eventually discover
that all life in the universe is related now I know that Star Trek proposed this
idea in the next generation that various humanoid species were related across the
galaxy but that’s science fiction humanity clearly evolved right here on
earth one of the weird things about life on Earth is the fact that it’s been
around for so long the earth is 4.5 billion years old and
there’s direct evidence of bacterial colonies that lived almost 3.5 billion
years ago and if you calculate a common ancestor life probably arose from
hydrothermal vents in the oceans as far back as 3.8 billion years ago and some
researchers suggest that it’s even older literally as old as the earth itself
which seems kind of unusual it’s amazing that life arose the moment
that it could so what if it was seeded from another star system and took hold
as soon as conditions were acceptable you would think that one mechanism to
get life across the galaxy would be to just scale up planetary meteorite
impacts but instead of getting just enough escape velocity to get away from
Mars or earth an object could be shot fast enough to escape the entire solar
system but that’s a big jump in velocity while the escape velocity of Mars is
5.03 km/s you need 9.4 km/s to just get into low-earth orbit and to go from
Earth orbit to escaping the entire solar system requires another 42.1 km/s the
voyagers pioneers and new horizons were able to achieve this feat by doing
gravity assists past the massive planets in the solar system the problem is that
planets like Earth which are big enough to generate a protective magnetosphere
are too difficult to escape from another idea is that light pressure and the
solar winds could push lighter material out into the galaxy but anything outside
the protective magnetosphere of a place like Earth experiences relentless
ultraviolet radiation inside the solar system and then damage from cosmic rays
in interstellar space this radiation strikes the DNA molecules of life
essentially killing it although even if material was long dead when it reached a
more hospitable environment it could still be a source of complex organic
molecules and give life a kickstart in another world the term for this idea is
necro panspermia in theory life could be protected inside
rocky objects as small as one meter across but these would be too difficult
to push with light pressure alone neat objects smaller than a millimeter to
escape the pull of the Sun of course one last idea is that life is being
intentionally seeded from world to world by aliens and this is known as directed
panspermia but come on once you say aliens did it the argument is pretty
much over aliens could have done anything or
nothing we’ve talked about how difficult it would be for meteorite impacts to
send debris out into the galaxy but there might be another way
comets and we’ll talk about that in a second but first I’d like to thank
Sebastian – Berg Daniel Lee Frank and the rest of our 842 patrons for their
generous support educational content should be freely available to anyone in
the world and the patrons make this possible join our community at
patreon.com slash universe today and get in on the action Aamir Suraj and avi
Loeb recently wrote a paper called exporting terrestrial life out of the
solar system with gravitational slingshots of earth grazing bodies and
while I guess the title really explains it all there they looked into whether it
could be possible for asteroids or comets skimming through the Earth’s
atmosphere to carry biological material out into the galaxy life on Earth is
mostly on the ground and in the oceans but some of it is also in the atmosphere
in fact microorganisms have been discovered at altitudes as high as
seventy seven kilometres this is high enough that a long-period comet from the
Oort cloud could just graze the Earth’s atmosphere scoop up a face full of
bacteria and then fly out into deep space again and if that comet encounters
a planet or large objects in the Kuiper belt
it could be kicked out into an interplanetary trajectory that takes it
from the solar system out to another star thanks Jill mwah and comment – I
Borissov we know that comets can get kicked out of their star systems and
make an interstellar journey in fact there could be thousands of objects in
the solar system right now Siraj and Loubs simulated what might happen if a
long-period comet passes through the Earth’s atmosphere these objects are key
because they just barely hold in orbit around the Sun and it doesn’t
take much to kick them into an interstellar trajectory they calculated
how much atmospheric drag the objects would receive as they pass through the
atmosphere and also how much of a gravity slingshot they get and they also
determined how many bacteria would get scooped up by comet as passed through
the atmosphere incredibly bacteria can easily handle the kinds of instantaneous
acceleration you’d get slamming into a comet screaming through the atmosphere
hundreds of thousands or even millions of G’s of force and based on their
calculations they estimated that this event could have happened up to 100,000
times in history of the earth and we haven’t had a bright comet visible in
the Northern Hemisphere’s night sky since hatake back in 1996 and that was
15 million kilometers away imagine seeing a comet pass right through the
Earth’s atmosphere live long enough and you might see that happen it’s gotta
wait 45,000 years or so and if life has ever found floating as high as 100
kilometers in the Earth’s atmosphere Siraj and Loeb think that it would
dramatically increase the number of escapees think of the trillions of
planets across the Milky Way in the comets carrying living material on an
escape velocity out of all those star systems and it makes you wonder if all
life in the galaxy might be related of course if there is life across the Milky
Way we don’t see any evidence of advanced civilizations out there so yeah
we’re back to the Fermi paradox but then maybe it still means that only earth
ever evolved multicellular organisms single cellular life might be everywhere
but only earth has animals and intelligence of course so much of this
is going to remain purely theoretical for a very long time even if we could
sample interstellar comets a tiny fraction of them would contain any
interstellar bacteria and if we do perceive faint bio signatures in the
next generation of monster telescopes we can’t actually perceive their DNA yet
the only way to know once and for all is to send a mission to another star and
actually sample them too correctly and of course if we do we’ll
send our bacteria with us what do you think let me know your thoughts in the
comments here are the names of the patrons who support us at the $10 level
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search for Universe Today on iTunes Spotify or wherever get your podcasts
and I’ll put a link in the show notes observing another world and even knowing
if there’s life there is going to be a difficult task we did a whole video
about the concept of bio signatures and how difficult it’s going to be to know
once and for all if there’s extraterrestrial life watch that next

63 comments on “Can Life Spread From Star to Star? The Theory of Galactic Panspermia

  1. Wouldn't it actually be easier to figure out how to make life from lifeless rocks, than doing these super-high-flying speculations?

  2. Could NASA's coating technology (made specifically by the Goddard Space Flight Center I think) help solve the problem of lunar dust that are adhering everywhere, including space suits of astronauts? :-/

  3. Can we Make a ice moon , can it be done ? May be some additives to harden a layer shell and recycle inner layers …

  4. you interview mostly atheists. can you interview hugh ross. someone who is an old earth creationist who denies evolution and denies that we'd ever get to mars and stuff? that could be fun.

  5. "Once you say aliens did it…" 6:53 The recommended videos listed next to this one include "Ancient Aliens", "Parasitic Aliens", "Smug Aliens" and more from Isaac Arthur.

  6. I can only deal with so much speculation based on speculation! Let the speculation based on ignorance and stupidity begin!

  7. I've always wondered if there would be a way to bootstrap a physical information processor at a remote location using only light.
    Imagine a transparent box filled with chemicals typical to say, a gas giant. We aim a laser at the box and pulse certain frequencies for a certain duration that cause chemical bonds to form. Slowly we create a slew of chemicals based on this technique – then continue the laser pulses to cause more and more complex molecules to link together. At some point we've created a complex enough molecule that it can self assemble.
    We make it in such a way that it wants to increase in complexity whenever energy is added.
    We could stop there and just see what happens to an atmosphere that becomes filled with molecules that self assemble when irradiated, or we could continue hitting them with lasers to speed up mutations.
    Maybe there is some sort of methodology we could follow to create complex molecules using only laser light that would vary depending on atmospheric composition and conditions.
    We have done something slightly similar already with the famous Miller–Urey experiment. I wonder if something like that could be done in a lab with lasers and a box across the room?

    [EDIT]: my idea here is to, over vast time periods, create a method of manipulating physical matter without sending anything physical to do so. After there is the most simple computational device at the remote location, it could very rapidly follow instructions to make a better version of itself that can then manipulate matter however we wish.

  8. With pan spermia, all life will be pretty similar? Genes, carbon based, formed by evolution etc? The question is probably, that life have also mitochondria?

  9. Life could be spread to other solar systems. The caviat is that by natural means, it would probably take tens of thousands of years or more for a rock to traverse from one solar system to the next, that is unless there's several solar systems in a cluster (like the Alpha Centauri system ). Artificial means of spreading life between solar systems could take much less time. A civilization with advanced enough technology could launch ships to seed life in other star systems in as little as a few decades for the first 20 light-years of their own solar system. And 40 light-years in less than a century. And a whole galaxy could be seeded with organisms in less than a million years!

  10. Is it still directed panspermia if the 'aliens' accidentally leave their bacteria behind as they send probes to explore? Asking for a friend…

  11. Let’s impregnate the galaxy, just throw life out there and see what sticks. Maybe places we think is inhospitable, are really not and life blooms.

  12. Maybe some strands of RNA may be sufficient to initiate the process of evolution.

    Interstellar panspermia may support the rare Earth explanation for the Fermi Paradox. Even if Earth-like planets are everywhere, only a few would be "inseminated."

  13. You don't need microscopic debris to move out of hthe solar system. We've founf Rouge stars, rogue planets, rogue comets and asteroids two of which have visited the Solar System in the last 2 years. All you need is a large gas giant planet to move objects extrasolar. Binary stars are even more likely to sling shot objects out of their systems.

  14. Frasier Cain your channel is absolute gold for all space/astronomy junkies and you have a gift for presenting the facts with easily understood factual research to back it up. You totally remind me of MKBHD lol with your presentation style which is a huge compliment but you’re worthy of the comparison!

  15. Multi cellular life might exist everywhere, just not "intelligent" life. It is still in doubt humans are intelligent, since we're destroying our planet for profits come hell or high water, both of which are coming soon.

  16. Not only because of the findings. Fred Hoyle proposed it because he said the odds, according to his calculations, dna or rna life forming out of lifeless compounds was essentially impossible. In fact, the number with the probability of it occurring was 1 in 10[to the power of]40,000. So that's 1 with 40,000 zeroes after it. Basically impossible. Hence, why the idea of Panspermia seemed a more likely explanation for him. Obviously this doesn't explain the origin of life, but it pushes it one step deeper. But at least, it explains the start of life, as far as this planet is concerned. Which was better than no explanation or an impossible explanation.

  17. Hey Fraiser, just wondering who you think will get to the moon first SpaceX, NASA or mabe someone else? And also what are some of the pros and cons of having a private space company or have the government fund you. Thank you for all you do!

  18. This is why scientists should not exclude the "God Factor" from the equation. They rightfully can be "agnostic" but what right do they have to be "atheistic"? According to the Wordbook App, the term "Atheistic" means (1) related to or characterized by or given to atheism. (2) rejecting any belief in gods.
    So, anybody who is religious believes in a "God" or gods. But anybody who is atheistic has already concluded there is no God.
    But a person who is agnostic has no opinion one way or another. Here is my question to an atheistic: What proof do you have that God did not create the universe?
    The counter-argument to a believer is: "What proof do you have that there is a God?
    Both are good arguments. But the "Atheist" has already made a scientific conclusion that there can be no God. The atheist less than the agnostic has no better proof than the "believer" to question that God created the universe. This is a logical question. Something to think about.

  19. Hello, Fraser. If we ever discover life, currently alive, on Mars ( most likely bacterial) do you think NASA would suffer backlash due to forward contamination? How do you think it would impact future Mars missions? Could this discovery actually be bad for NASA, SpaceX and other space agencies? Thank you!

  20. "Life on earth is mostly on the ground and in the oceans, but some of it is also in the atmosphere."

    Recent findings lead to estimates that approximately 70 percent of Earth's bacteria and archea are underground, living in the Earth's crust. https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/life-deep-underground-is-twice-the-volume-of-the-oceans–study-65201

  21. 1) This is why the "Planetary Protection" rules are a total farce. It's billions of years too late to matter.

    2) This is astronomers already preparing new proposals for when the Viking results are re-confirmed, and they take back refusing to accept it in the first place. The new line will be "Oh, well, we knew since the 1970's that mars had life, and mars and earth had traded asteroids, so re-confirming life on mars doesn't REALLY tell us anything. Now we need xxx-mission to xxx-planetoid or moon. Give us billions more dollars to piss away on fatcat salaries and overpriced toys in dixieland.

    3) How about the temperature of forming solar nebulae? Comets passing through proto-stellar clouds could seed the whole thing with microbes that pass among the various particles and bits. Giant petri dish in space.

    4… quit screwing around with Rube Goldberg contraptions and limited robotic missions that waste @#%#[email protected] of money and send back super-limited data. Build us ONE proper rotating cylinder habitat ship that can build another ship, etc, and let the asteroid mining commence, and we'll send real explorers to actually go look at these places in person. It's a fraction of the cost of the foot-dragging pace we've had so far. Just let us loose with the first one, and see where we'll go.

  22. The Earth is 4.5 billion years old, yet the universe is only 13.8 billion years old. There is something strange about that.

  23. Hi Fraser, do you think there could be such a thing as a super panspermia world? A world with extreme seeding capabilities that is ideally suited to spreading life. By this I mean water moons. With no atmosphere, life frozen in a crust could be nocked off by asteroids or large plumes dense with life could be ejected by geological activities. Places like Earth might be ideal for complex life but the water moons could be how life spreads. Water moons, like giant vats with their thick soups of simple life, spewing vast amounts into space. And could these even be common?

  24. Could any of the Spores, mold, odd cells that lived on whatever they road into space on adapt to life in space? So getting to or landing on another planet kill them?

  25. Another name for the term "panspermia" that is catching on a bit, and may induce less jokes from the Beavis and Butthead type crowd, is "exogensis". I have to say I'm liking it as a new possible replacement term for this phenomena!

  26. Thank you for pointing out the problem of escaping the solar system. I'd add the extremely long odds of encountering another habitable planet. Earth is big. The solar system is vastly bigger. But the solar system is a tiny dot in the scheme of the galaxy. Actually planting primitive life is hitting a bulls-eye within a bulls-eye.

    The odds of galactic panspermia are so long that random abiogenesis is looking virtually inevitable. I don't think abiogenesis is the Great Filter we're looking for to solve Fermi's Paradox.

  27. Is it possible that the laws of physics can be different at the edge of the universe? I only ask because there is a gif of "that hubble telescope picture" that was aimed at a totally black point in the nights sky for a long period of time and one of the galaxies in the picture was apparently impossible based on our knowledge of physics.

  28. ❓ Since our solar system is Pop1, that is, formed from the remnants of earlier solar-systems. Could Earth have picked up organic molecules when it collected everything else when it formed? If so, life should be everywhere. 😎👀 but where are they?

  29. I really don't like the misuse of Panspermia (nb: I'm NOT saying that Fraser did this) as an explanation for the origins of life, as all that does is push the answer back a step. Panspermia lacks any explanatory power regarding the transition of non-living organic matter into living matter. Instead, it suggests where already living matter may have come from.

  30. Indeed, panspermia could happen between solar systems, though it would take thousands of years for the average piece of space rock to travel between star systems.

  31. The odds for interstellar panspermia could be better inside a stellar birth cluster because distances between stars are smaller. Also, a lot of stuff gets ejected during planet formation and migration. It's possible there is some exchange of material between neighbor systems in their early histories.

  32. On the subject of ETs – it seems to me no one is looking at the dual windows and tech levels needed. First, a ground rule – no FTL, either travel or comms.

    The first window, is how long we have been looking, lets be generous and make that one 100 Earth years. So, for us to detect them, they have to have been transmitting within 100 years of 'now', as seen from Earth's frame of reference. That statement reveals the second window – a civilization 500 light years away that has been transmitting for 100 years would not show any signs of that transmission for quite some time yet. So, we have to account for distance in a big way. Ignoring the dust, it would take 20+ thousand years to get a signal from say, a distance similar to the galactic core, so they would have had to start that transmission long before we could ever hope to detect it, but still be inside that 100 year window as well. That really narrows things down a lot.

    The other part however, is what seems to me to be the biggest issue. Tech level. A civilization at an identical level to ours living on the planet orbiting Proxima Centauri would still be pretty much invisible to us; any non-directional radio signal would be attenuated to undetectability by the time it reached us. We might be able to detect a very powerful laser from there, or an extremely powerful directed radio signal, but otherwise, nope. Factor in dust, and as the distances and time increase, it seems obvious we won't hear anything other than a stellar-level event from thousands to about a hundred thousand years ago (for the origin) likely meaning whomever sent the signal is probably long gone to dust.

    Considering all this, it is really no surprise to me we have no evidence outside the woo-woo club of any extra-solar life. What does surprise me is that none of the science channels I watch that talk about the Fermi paradox seem to be taking these things into account. At the least, it's never mentioned. Why would that be? Is it just 'assumed' that all viewers know and take these things into account? I find that a tad hard to believe, after reading some of the comments these channels get. Maybe, just maybe there's no real paradox after all.
    Heh, all that being said, I still run [email protected] 😊

  33. Sorry to be the one to tell you this but there is no, zero, nada biological life on ANY star. Please be more careful about what you suggest and the language you use. Life may transfer from one star system to another but not from a star to a star.

  34. I’m confused by your conclusion. You suggested sending out our bacteria – but not too long ago (a year? Please don’t make me find the video), I could’ve sworn you suggested that it would be irresponsible to add life to planets with pre-existing life. Have you changed your position?

    And it’s videos like this that make me so incredibly bummed at our super quick mortality. To be able to watch while all of this life-hopping takes place would be my absolute dream. Siiiigh.

  35. Cross-contamination is a big problem with cosmic exploration. You don't want to potentially infect a world you just discovered, and you don't want to risk infection from it. We've already infected Mars, so if we do find something how do we confirm it didn't come from us unless it is unmistakably original? Thats why I find so much of popular science fiction space travel so silly. They hop around from planet to planet without a care. I suspect inter-planetary visitation and diplomacy may prove to be an extremely difficult problem. Even if we discover advanced life elsewhere, we don't dare go near it until we have studied it extensively. It could be years or decades before we could even consider setting foot on a newly discovered inhabited planet. Robot emissaries.

  36. You know I've been watching this channel quite a while now and of course I still love the guide to space, but having also gathered a few other favorite space guides in that time (Namely Scott Manley and Curious Droid), I feel like your G2S ought to have an intro sequence. I don't know what it is about intros, but even Scott's beat-boxed cut scene with the star wars spaceship toy just gets me psyched for some sweet space news 'n science. I know you probably feel like you've been getting by just fine for a very long time without one but you never know, you might have some fun with it too.
    Also, I wanted to say that I like and whole-heartedly agree with your new-ish intermission message but I think you could get more of a response if you changed that up more often and got more creative with it. I know there's a general core you need in there but when you read it precisely the same each time it's not long before a person can't help mentally filtering it out, if not literally skipping through. You could maybe ad lib just a bit or even add some levity if the mood strikes. Perhaps food for thought.

  37. With meteor impacts blasting rocks off worlds, some rocks blasted off from Earth would eventually make there way back home after millions of years. Why not test said meteors for ancient bacteria? Is such a thing even possible?

  38. Sending DNA out to space shot gun style, is the best way to explore the universe, instead of using human bodies.

    Roll the dice and hope the DNA finds a suitable planet where it can replicate and begin the process of evolution. Eventually after a few billion years it will build a body suitable for its new home and maybe gain intelligence and repeat the process of sending DNA out into the universe.

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