Yet to be Verified

When I see a headline like this, "Panspermia theorists say India's red rain contains life not seen on Earth", I can't help but think they left off the most important words. Yet to be verified.

In July 2001, red rain fell in India, most likely tinted by sand and dust from a desert. In this rain, a researcher named Godfrey Louis found cells. That in and of itself isn't that big of deal. There isn't a natural drop of water on earth that is sterile. However, Louis claims that these cells contain no DNA, only reproduce when above 121°C, and fluorescence under UV light. If this is true, WHICH IT HAS YET TO BE VERIFIED, it would be very interesting. But to Chandra Wickramasinghe, a leading panspermia theorist from the UK, this is proof of panspermia, the theory that life could travel from planet to planet by hitching a ride on rocks and comets. He has even narrowed down the origin.

The team also found an unusual pattern in the way the cells changed colour under UV light, known as "fluorescence behaviour". They said it was "in remarkable correspondence" with red emissions from the Red Rectangle planetary nebula some 2300 light years away, "suggesting, though not proving, an extraterrestrial origin".

A planetary nebula is a relatively short period in a star's life, last just a few tens of thousands of years. It happens toward the end of the life of a sun sized star when it blows off it's outer layers and forms a beautiful nebula. The Red Rectangle nebula is 2300 light years away, so we are seeing it as it was a couple of thousand years ago. Here is a key point to keep in mind, even if the life around a star or nebula did emit a corresponding light, WHICH IT DOESN'T, light travels a lot faster than rocks or comets. The light from the nebula has traveled 2,300 years to reach us. If a comet containing the seeds of life left that system at the same time, it wouldn't get here for millions of years, and by that time the nebula will have been long gone and there would be no way to compare the fluorescent life with the source nebula.

This is just shitty science reporting. There are a lot of other things wrong with this article, but I would like to hear Dr. Scott's take on it, as biology is his field.


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  2. Info published by the Indian Centre for Earth Science Studies says that the organisms they cultured from the red rain are lichen-forming algae of the genus Trentepohlia.

    That report was released in Nov. 2001, but I can't find any publication on PubMed with those authors or referencing Indian red rain.
    Coloured Rain produces a number of papers from all over the world, but these are typically talking about dust or radioactive atmospheric debris dissolved in rain.

  3. Okay, after digging around a bit more:

    The corresponding author hasn't published a peer reviewed paper cited by PubMed since 2005, and has only published five total. He also was the guy that said the SARS epidemic was possibly of extracellular origin.
    The report these authors produced resides on, and was never peer reviewed that I can tell.

    In short, lichens seem much more likely.