New Research: Meandering Microorganisms Between Planets

September 24th, 2012

Credit: Amaya Moro-Martín/Belbruno

There is a high probability that life came to Earth — or spread from Earth to other planets — during the Solar System’s infancy.

New research on this prospect has been presented at the now being held European Planetary Sciences Congress.

The findings provide the strongest support yet for “lithopanspermia” – that’s the hypothesis that basic life forms are distributed throughout the Universe via meteorite-like planetary fragments cast forth by disruptions such as volcanic eruptions and collisions with objects such as asteroids.

Previous research on this possible phenomenon suggested that the speed at which objects hurtle through space made the chance of them being captured by another planet very small.

However, new data, based on computer simulations of the star cluster our Sun was born in, suggest differently.

The process is called weak transfer, in which solid objects can gradually meander out of the orbit of one object and into another, greatly increase the odds that this process could have happened.

The research is based on principles of weak transfer developed by mathematician
Edward Belbruno (Princeton University) and collaborator Amaya Moro-Martín (Centro de Astrobiología and Princeton University).

These new findings argue that microorganisms that crashed to Earth embedded in the fragments of distant planets might have been the sprouts of life on our planet.

“If this mechanism is true, it has implications for life in the universe as a whole. This could have happened anywhere,” Belbruno said in a press statement.

By Leonard David

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