back to article LIFE, JIM? Comet probot lander found 'ORGANICS' on far-off iceball

Scientists at the ESA claim that "organic" molecules - the so-called building blocks of life itself - have been found on the icy surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by the sadly now defunct Philae lander probot. Dr Fred Goessmann, principal investigator on the Cometary Sampling and Composition instrument (COSAC), told …

  1. Pirate Dave
    Pirate

    Secret mode?

    "engineer who built it to unlock a secret extra power setting dubbed "desperation mode."

    Let me guess - they had to type in IDDQD ...

    1. Steven Raith
      Thumb Up

      Re: Secret mode?

      IDKFA, you amateur.

      ;-)

      So how long before the major religions update their spiel to include how complex organic molecules got onto comets?

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Re: Secret mode?

        Actually, the code for passing through something without the expected obstruction is IDSPISPOPD.

        [Off-topic: Which game gave you invulnerability if you pressed F7 instead of Return at the Graphic Mode selection screen, then 'i' during the game? Hint: It was famed for its music, but not on the PC version.]

        1. Midnight

          Re: Secret mode?

          Yes, but the code for hitting things really really hard is still IDKFA.

          1. Swiss Anton

            Re: Secret mode?

            IDKFA .I had to look this up and I was somewhat disappointed with the results.

            As an engineer of pre-web vintage, I suggest better meaning - "If in Doubt - Kick/Knock it F***ing 'Ard". That has always worked for me.

        2. ThomH Silver badge

          Re: Secret mode? @Dave 126

          Xenon 2, naturally.

          Actually, I didn't know the cheat. But how many games were really famed for their music before the PC could keep up?

        3. Pirate Dave

          Re: Secret mode?

          I forgot about the IDSPISPOPD code. Yep, that might have been better suited.

      2. Javapapa

        Re: Secret mode?

        No need to update anything.

        "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." - Gen 1:1 (KJV)

        Includes P67.

        1. Michael Dunn

          Re: Secret mode? @Javapapa

          "In the beginning, God said the four-dimensional divergence of an antisymmetric,

          second rank tensor equals zero, and there was Light, and it was good."

          (Can't remember where I snitched this from - apologies to originator)

      3. Tom 35 Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: Secret mode?

        "So how long before the major religions update their spiel to include how complex organic molecules got onto comets?"

        They already have an answer. One that works for everything.

        God did it.

        He also put stars 13 billion light years away and put all the light in place between there and here so we could see it.

        Fossils, plate tectonics, carbon dating... god did it. Faked everything, just to test our faith.

        God is the biggest troll in the universe.

        1. dan1980

          Re: Secret mode?

          @Tom 35

          You don't need any revisions whatsoever.

          There are two broad groupings of religious folks - let's focus on Christianity as it is the most familiar to most of us - the moderates and the fundamentalists.

          The moderates are, generally, fine with evolution and the age of the universe and the earth and many may find no conflict with their faith and the idea of panspermia. After all, if they accept the idea that life started as very, very basic and grew from there, then there's really no problem saying that the basic pre-cursors of life could have come from an meteor/meteorite

          The fundamentalists, however, will never accept such a proposal. Any evidence that contradicts their world view is either distorted (or plain lied about) to fit their beliefs or discarded.

          So no problems here - those who are fine with this will accept it and move on; those who aren't will say that the experiment was flawed push some tortured theory to bring it into line, quoting some ambiguous/poetic/scientifically-illiterate passages to back it up.

          1. stu 4

            @dan1980

            I like the way that you suggest the 'moderates' are less deranged and misguided and DONT'T lack the ability for logical thought....

            Frankly, if you believe in magical invisible fairies creating the universe, I fail to see whether the fairy doing things quickly or doing things slowly is particularly relevant....

            1. dan1980

              Re: @dan1980

              @stu 4

              People who accept established facts like evolution and the antiquity of the Earth and the universe that contains it are in my view much less "misguided" than those people who insist on a young Earth and a special creation, flatly denying those same facts.

              If any of those "moderates" - and there are many gradations - still believe in, say, original sin, while accepting evolution then those people are perhaps misguided* but I would submit that a failure to adequately analyse the nitty-gritty consequences or inconsistencies of one's beliefs is being "misguided" to far less of a degree than someone who would discard evidence out of hand.

              Essentially, much of this evidence goes towards disproving traditional religious beliefs. Some discard the evidence in favour of their beliefs while others accept the evidence but don't go so far as to actually re-evaluate those beliefs that might be in conflict.

              If you ask me which of the two I would consider as a partner or want making decisions on my behalf in government or teaching my (imaginary) children, well, that's an easy one.

              * - I say "perhaps misguided" because I believe "uncritically accepting of established views" to be more precise.

              1. DropBear Silver badge

                Re: @dan1980

                If you ask me which of the two I would consider as a partner or want making decisions on my behalf in government or teaching my (imaginary) children, well, that's an easy one.

                Absolutely so: definitely neither. Now go ahead and downvote away, it's ok - I'll still prefer to associate with people who don't voluntarily forego the use of their brains.

                1. Adair

                  Re: @dan1980

                  'I'll still prefer to associate with people who don't voluntarily forego the use of their brains.' - well that goes for me too, and I'm a paid up Christian.

                  Funny how we can find 'brainless' people all over the place; or maybe it would be more accurate to say closed-minded, prejudiced, bigoted, self-righteous, etc. You know the type, they can only accept their own point of view, get all defensive if anybody suggests anything different, and are quick to pour scorn and mockery on the 'brain dead people who refuse to see things my way'.

                  You find them everywhere: in the blogosphere, on the TV, in the office, down the pub, in our own living rooms, and members of churches too. They sit alongside the ones who are interested in all sorts of possibilities, finding out what other folk think and believe, and seeing what we can do to make the most of the limited time we have to explore and make choices about what matters and how to put it into practice.

                  In my experience I have found those generous spirited, interested, curious, and thoughtful kinds of people everywhere as well. Regardless of the label pinned on them they are usually by far the more interesting and entertaining.

                  1. Bleu

                    Re: @dan1980

                    You are absolutely right but you are completely off-topic (sure, not alone in that on this thread).

                2. Sarah Balfour

                  Re: @dan1980

                  I'm fairly open-minded - so if Darwinian theory's also a crock o' monkey bollocks, then what's the alternative - intergalactic space lizards…?!

                  I've never really accepted Darwin as definitive, just as the best we've come up with thus far, kinda deal. If there's summat more plausible, I'd like to hear about it.

                  As an aside, I learnt about the book of Urantia yesterday, on one of my Wikipedia wanderings, have to say I'd never come across it before. Appears to be some kind of a middle ground, i.e. scientific theory acceptable to at least SOME of the sky-fairy fuckwits.

                  1. Anonymous Coward
                    Anonymous Coward

                    Re: @dan1980

                    Definitely space lizards. Its the only explanation. That and 42.

            2. Kyle Roberts

              Re: @dan1980

              I agree! I can't believe that ANY kind of "Fairy" created the universe! I'm sure their pink frilly dresses would have inhibited their magic!

              :-D

        2. CarbonLifeForm

          Re: Secret mode?

          I'm confused by the assertion that finding organic matter on an asteroid is somehow dispositive of anything.

          If anything, finding organic matter on comets calls Oparin-type scenarios into question. Life may not have originated in any Earth-bound primordial soup at all, in which case most of the standard theories on the origin of life need updating - they assume conditions *on Earth* gave rise to life. Maybe conditions on Earth just *accepted life* already evolved elsewhere.

          As for the God angle - really, why do non-religious people assume all religious people are narrow-minded, joyless and doctrinaire? It must be projection! :-)

          1. dan1980

            Re: Secret mode?

            @CarbonLifeForm

            Well, that really depends on a few definitions, specifically, what you define as "life" and "evolved".

            Presumably, one would say that "life" is that which is "alive". Is a basic organic compound "alive"? Most would argue that no, "organic" does not imply "life". (Actually, there you'd need to define "organic" as well, though whatever the definition, the amino acids found on meteorites so far certainly qualify!)

            To the other term, "evolved" is problematic because you have to define exactly what you mean by that. It is a more general word and so one can talk about the "evolution" of opinions, or the "evolution" of a star or a whole galaxy.

            So, one could also say that there was an "evolution" from basic organic compounds to more complex ones through to DNA. However, when the word "evolution" is used, it is most frequently used to denote evolution by natural selection, which as a pre-requisite, requires the transmission of data to subsequent generations of the organism - however you define that.

            Thus, "evolution" only starts up once something like DNA is on the scene.

            One problem faced (depending on the hypothesis) is the particular sugar (ribose) required for RNA and DNA is not necessarily created overly abundantly by any known reactions as these produce many other, different compounds as well. Thus the idea that pre-RNA compounds may have arrived via meteroites. We already know that meteorites can carry organic compounds including amino acids so this is not at all a stretch.

            It may be that the required pre-cursors came from a meteorite or it may be that a meteorite simply enriched an existing 'soup' with enough extra goodness to pass some critical threshold where more of the required self-assembly could occur and thus give the process a leg-up.

          2. Psyx

            Re: Secret mode?

            Correct me if my memory has done me a disservice, but isn't any carbon-based chemistry 'organic'. And carbon is pretty common. So this isn't really news.

            If it's COMPLEX organic chemistry taking place that would be good news, but that's not what appears to be announced

            /puzzled by the excitement.

            1. Bleu

              Re: Secret mode?

              Psyx,

              I was about to post much the same, but followed my usual custom of tracking until I found a sensible post.

              Indeed, 'organic' meaning carbon-centric, also CHON as the main bits.

              Amino acids? Maybe, sounds like the sampling was about as successful as our Hayabusa a few years back, a *very* small sample.

              Most of the other posts are centred on cod-philosophy or religion, or denial that Philae largely FAILED. I hope that it reawakens under more light, but it sounds unlikely. If it does, it doesn't have a surface-sampling tool any more.

              'Organic' produce seems a particularly unfortunate term, suppose that's what you have to expect from people who hate science and maths at school! Not that I don't check and prefer 'organic' produce at times!

              Controversial on the reg., I know, but glad our govt. doesn't allow GM foods.

          3. Drakkenson

            Re: Secret mode?

            @ "As for the God angle - really, why do non-religious people assume all religious people are narrow-minded, joyless and doctrinaire?"

            Because they really are, by and large?

            Even my own family looked at me as if I was sick in the head when I told them i don't believe...

            1. Adair

              Re: Secret mode?

              '@ "As for the God angle - really, why do non-religious people assume all religious people are narrow-minded, joyless and doctrinaire?"

              Because they really are, by and large?'

              OTOH, they really aren't, by and large. We could go on like this all day, couldn't we. My experience, which now stretches over several countries and more than 30 years of 'active faith', is that your experience, whilst possibly common, is by no means the norm.

              So, 'religious people' are generally, in my experience, pretty much like all people, when it comes to the proportion who are 'narrow-minded, joyless and doctrinaire'---which may be about what we should expect, although I would hope, at least when it comes to Christian faith (which is what I know about) there would be a tendency for a lower frequency of those negative qualities, given what lies at the heart of Christian faith.

              Anyhow, roll on the discoveries' out there' as well as 'down here'. It's exciting stuff.

        3. P. Lee Silver badge

          Re: Secret mode?

          As opposed to "evolution did it"?

          I fail to see much difference between "god did it" and "it was random stuff we don't understand.". Advanced tech and magic comparisons spring to mind.

          Isn't pansperia just an admission that the maths for evolution on earth doesn't work?

          1. dan1980

            Re: Secret mode?

            @P.Lee

            It's impossible - or at least unproductive - to have any such discussion that fails to define the terms properly.

            There are a bunch of steps that need to happen to go from inorganic matter on a newly-formed earth to the matter with the kind of self-replication and hereditary characteristics upon which natural selection can act.

            Many of those steps are still unknown but well-supported, such as the 'RNA-world' theory, wherein RNA was the based of some form of "life" that pre-dated RNA and that these reactions actually formed some kind of selective pressure and competition whereby some chains of ribonucleotides were more successful than others.

            You have the question of how these ribonucleotides got there in the first place and this is a quandry as it seems difficult to 'make' these in the conditions suspected on the pre-biotic Earth, not least of all because it is unclear how sufficient quantities of free ribose could arise based on the reactions known or suspected. But even then some research has shown, however that ribonucleotides can form without the necessity of having the two components available from the start.

            And so it goes.

            BUT, all this is really pre-evolution in the way the term is generally used. The point is that the path from inorganic to "life" is as yet unknown but more and more parts are being filled in all the time. We may never know exactly what did happen but scientists are putting together impressive collections of plausible scenarios - enough to show that it could have happened.

          2. CarbonLifeForm

            Re: Secret mode?

            Organic compounds aren't life any more than a pile of rocks is Buckingham Palace... Being made of similar things does not address how you are made. And organic just means "containing carbon".

            For the record, I think it bears restating that non-speculative evolution is primarily concerned with how life changed from one form to another - primitive unicellular organisms to Paris Hilton, for example.

            You can observe natural selection-driven evolution happen in bacterial cultures, in animal populations, etc. But while there are many hypotheses on abiogenesis, AFAIK they suffer from having far less experimental evidence to back them up. I am unaware of any good experimental proof of self-replicating chemical compounds arising from simple reagents *in conditions that resemble the primordial soup*, i.e. non-intentional natural chemical reactors. Amino acids, yes - that was Oparin's experiment. But nothing as cool as RNA. Yes, they've made RNA in the lab, and I am certain we will be able to cook up replicants one day in the lab - it's just chemistry. But the only way to prove abiogenesis is to simulate, in vitro or in silica, a non-intentional environment and demonstrate how life itself will arise inevitably as an epiphenomenon wherever sufficient energy and chemicals obtain. If making life requires a lab and a crew of boffins, you are very much *not* proving abiogenesis - you are demonstrating biogenesis. The boffins are alive, and they are intelligently designing life. :-D Or if you prefer they are reproducing in a weird way.

            There's a really cool novel (out of print maybe) called the Dark Cloud, about a sentient nebula which swings by the Earth and humans communicate with it via radio waves. One of the interesting ideas in the book is that planet bound life is rare in the Universe, and that cloud-based diffuse biochemistry is very common and the cloud has many fellows. The aliens are everywhere, but they are nebula essentially. It is suggested as I recall that a fellow cloud may have seeded the earth to see what would happen. While this is reductio ad deum, the point is that our kind of life may be so unusual that extrapolations therefrom may be useless.

            When we find self-replicating anything out there, it'll be a great moment.

      4. Kyle Roberts

        Re: Secret mode?

        So that's what this is about? 'Disproving' religion? :-D ROTFL

      5. Jaybus

        Re: Secret mode?

        I suspect that they will wait for confirmation. Notice that the team is quick to withhold any claims until further analysis determines just how complex these molecules are. My guess is that they discovered methane out in deep space......again. Since an ocean full of methane on Titan didn't cause too much of a stir with the major religions, I shouldn't think a dusting of it on a comet would bother them. No need for them to worry just now. Until RNA or DNA is found in deep space, the transpermiation theory is just as speculative as the "God did it" theory.

    2. DNTP Silver badge

      Re: Secret mode?

      IDCHOPPERS

      To get the chainsaw, obviously.

    3. Rusty 1
      Happy

      Re: Secret mode?

      And for drilling, that is merely the deployment of an SDS drill. I'm sure they could have budgeted for a kilo or two of proper drill. OK, the 230/110v supply might be troublesome, but that's a just a practicality for the engineers.

      Could have branded the comet with "Makita Inside" logos too. Must be worth a bob or two of advertising revenue :-)

    4. Benchops

      Re: Secret mode?

      I thought it was 6031769

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Secret mode?

        Nope - WRITETYPER

    5. Kane Silver badge

      Re: Secret mode?

      ↑ ↑ ↓ ↓ ← → ← → B A

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Secret mode?

        g_forcerespawn

        1. Richard Wharram

          Re: Secret mode?

          WRITETYPER

    6. The Vociferous Time Waster

      Re: Secret mode?

      I heard they used the control stick and used up up down down left right left right B A

      1. Bleu

        Re: Secret mode?

        It sounds like Space Channel 5 (I have synathaesia for sound and vision), but also looks like the Konami code. Not having used it lately, I suppose I am wrong.

        Lef-righ-lef-righ, shoo shoo shoot!

        I guess anybody under thirty will not remember how revolutionary Space Channel 5 was and looked. I have to reconnect my Dreamcast!

        Oh no, I am also going off-topic!

        ... not completely, the Moon stage has some connection with Philae!

  2. Chemist

    "Panspermia has some influential supporters, including Prof Stephen Hawking. Researchers have claimed to have found examples of extraterrestrial bacteria inside meteorites,"

    Oh, good grief, It may have started somewhere else but so what, you can't keep passing the parcel forever. It had to start somewhere, at some time, why not here ?

    1. Mikel

      Re: why not here?

      Billions of suns for eight billion years before Sol's first light. Stars born and burned out their life before there ever was a man to look into the night sky and ask, "are we alone?"

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: why not here?

        A poetic suggestion of Drake's Equation. Nice.

        We are beginning to get some more data to plug into that equation, with more exo-planets being discovered. Some people believed that our moon is an unusual companion for our blue sphere, and that the tides it gives us might have allowed more complex molecules to form over successive wet/dry cycles.

        Who knows.

        1. G Watty What?
          Angel

          Re: why not here?

          who knows?

          The little baby Jesus

      2. Bucky O' Hare

        Re: why not here?

        Very well put. It's extremely ignorant of us to think to the contrary, isn't it?

    2. John D. Blair

      Because then we're probably not alone

      Because if it didn't start here, but "out there, somewhere" then there's a high probability life, as we know it, exists on any planet with a similar climate.

      If it only started here then the rare conditions that led to life have to happen in more than one place for life to exist in more than one place. If life spreads around the universe it only has to happen once in the lifetime of the universe.

      1. Denarius Silver badge
        Meh

        Re: Because then we're probably not alone

        ho-hum, another materialist using time as a magic black box pronouncement. As most religions have no real concept of creation outside of Christianity and Judaism, they will be unaffected. Most official christian denominations are atheist in world view with a religious language veneer. The old men in Rome have fully accepted biological materialism only a decade or two after protestants rolled over. As in Darwins time they will fall over themselves to agree with whatever is culturally accepted.

        Back in the real world, organic molecules are a long way from anything describable as a protein, let alone life. Since the past is not "scientifically" evaluable, agnosticism on the subject is appropriate. It is probable that Earth is the only place with life based on what is _known_, not speculated. That might change if someone builds a Heim drive or close analogue. The projected successors to Webb might not have the ability to analyse small rocky world atmospheres.

      2. Chemist

        Re: Because then we're probably not alone

        "t only has to happen once in the lifetime of the universe."

        It's a huge, huge distance to anywhere. Doesn't make it impossible. But at the mo' it's just organic compounds, not DNA, RNA whoa. Wait for the data.

        1. dan1980

          Re: Because then we're probably not alone

          @Chemist

          "But at the mo' it's just organic compounds, not DNA, RNA whoa. Wait for the data."

          I think that makes it all the better. Personally, I find the idea of very BASIC organic compounds being distributed by meteors to suggest that it's even more likely that life exists elsewhere.

          After all, having more 'evolved', complex compounds may make them more 'picky', in that only a small subset of potential life-bearing worlds would have the correct properties to support that specific type of compound.

          Simpler compounds might be able progress to more complex compounds suitable to the particular environment they encounter.

          So, DNA/RNA would be possibly unique to Earth, having developed here from simpler precursors that, had they landed on another planet, may have developed into something that performs a similar function but is not the same.

          1. Chemist

            Re: Because then we're probably not alone

            "I find the idea of very BASIC organic compounds......."

            Very basic organic compounds are found all over the place, simple organics form readily from CO, CO2, H2, H2O + energy. There's really no need to have them arrive by comet/meteorite.

            (Remember the 'organic' bit doesn't mean LIFE or formed by living organisms - it is just is an (historical) name for carbon/hydrogen based chemistry.)

      3. Chemist

        Re: Because then we're probably not alone

        "If life spreads around the universe it only has to happen once in the lifetime of the universe."

        Basically bollocks - maybe true but so, so unlikely - it's a big,hard, difficult universe out there.

        1. Adrian Midgley 1

          big....

          as you say.

          Really big.

          So unlikely things are likely to happen.

          Positing instead that something impossible happened is not, Watson, an improvement.

      4. sisk Silver badge

        Re: Because then we're probably not alone

        Because if it didn't start here, but "out there, somewhere" then there's a high probability life, as we know it, exists on any planet with a similar climate.

        I prefer to think that there has to be life out there somewhere. I find it impossible to accept that in all of the hundreds of trillions of planets out there that only this one insignificant rock managed to spawn life. Even if Earth is very special in that the exact right 1 in a billion circumstances happened that still means there should be hundreds of planets out there with the same circumstance.

      5. Adrian Midgley 1

        we know it has happened

        at least once.

        1. Benchops

          Re: we know it has happened at least once

          "There are those who believe...that life here began out there"

          so All Of This Has Happened Before And Will Happen Again

      6. Fink-Nottle

        Re: Because then we're probably not alone

        There is little doubt that other life exists elsewhere in the universe, it is the existence of other life in this galaxy that is under investigation here.

    3. Terry Cloth

      It leaves you wanting more.

      Or if not here, then how did it start there? Panspermia is ultimately unsatisfying.

      1. Denarius Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: It leaves you wanting more.

        @Terry, correct. In logic it is known as the infinite regression error. Like turtles all the way down. Changing the location of lifes origin in a materialist world view changes nothing.

      2. Mephistro Silver badge

        Re: It leaves you wanting more. (@ Terry Cloth)

        "Panspermia is ultimately unsatisfying."

        Truth and science don't need to be 'satisfying', at least not in the sense of the word that you are using.

        Yes, I'd also prefer to know the whole history, but there are also many things we will never know for sure, more so when they are related to things that happened many millions of years ago and/or many thousands of light years away.

        1. CarbonLifeForm

          Re: It leaves you wanting more. (@ Terry Cloth)

          I don't know about unsatisyfing - it just get us any closer to explaining *how it happened*.

      3. bpfh

        Re: It leaves you wanting more.

        Turtles all the way down... It just passes the buck.

    4. ElReg!comments!Pierre Silver badge

      Why would it change anything about the origin?

      I came to this section to post something similar:

      suggest a suitably scientific answer to the question of the origin of life on Earth.

      Seriously? If we're going to say that life originated with the self-assembly of organic compounds, why would we need them to come from deep space? (appart from the "we're all aliens" angle, that is)

      Either way I'm fine with the idea; it's just the implied claim that there was no scientific grounding of the theory before we found organic compounds on a comet that peeves me.

    5. Bleu

      Fred Hoyle

      a great astronomer and writer, supported several heterodox ideas, while he did not go so far as to explicitly support panspermia (as far as I know), he was keen on the idea that many viruses have come from comets.

      Who knows?

      He also made a steady-state universe theory. Probably wishful thinking on that, but even more dependent on unknowns.

  3. zbcontent
    Meh

    Just because they're organic doesn't mean they're biologic...

    We already know there's lorryloads of organic molecules in space, including El Reg readers' favorite, ethyl alcohol! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_interstellar_and_circumstellar_molecules

    We also know there's kerogen-like hydrocarbons in meteorites. http://www.lpi.usra.edu/books/MESSII/9008.pdf?origin=publication_detail

    NO carbon molecules on the comet would have been bigger news. But I'm all for them finding DNA or proteins or lipids, that would be amazing news.

    1. Grikath Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Just because they're organic doesn't mean they're biologic...

      not very likely.

      what would be a serious "hit" would be either complex cyanides and/or penta-chain monosaccharides. put those in water and let stew for a year, and you'll have your amino-acids and rna precursors. From there on it's just a matter of time...

      The idea of whole, viable bacteria brought in over interstellar distances over stellar timescales is downright silly. The environment within our galaxy cooking up a significant amount of the precursor molecules that make up what we call life, saving a hell of a lot of time in the synthesis of sufficient amounts on a suitable planetary body is not.

      1. Mephistro Silver badge

        Re: Just because they're organic doesn't mean they're biologic...

        "The idea of whole, viable bacteria brought in over interstellar distances over stellar timescales is downright silly"

        Sorry to -at least partially- disagree, but comets would be an ideal method for disseminating bacteria. They provide lots of cold storage, protection from UV and other harmful radiation in the surface of the comet (thick dust), and protection from harder radiation in the inside.

        Even some scientists believe that some comets could have liquid cores maintained by heat from radioisotopes. And comets being thrown off the solar system were a common occurrence in the Solar System's early History, according to computer simulations.

        The part of your comment about complex compounds in comets acting as precursors for life makes also a lot of sense, though.

    2. Bunbury

      Re: Just because they're organic doesn't mean they're biologic...

      Yes I think the issue here is that the mission scientists might know that organics does not mean organisms but the BBC has not really reported accurately. The should put a footnote in to the effect that this just means a compound of carbon, which are very common in the universe.

  4. Mark Wilson

    Methane?

    This does seem to be blown out of all propotion at the moment, we have known about methane in space for ages and it is well documented, though some sources may be controversial. At this stage they have found undetermined organic compunds which could be fairly simple organic molecules, even if more complex molecules are found it doesn't give any more weight to panspermia as a source of life, mainly because all it says is that life didn't start here. One thing we can say with certainty is that scientifically our current knowledge of what has been found proves very little and that every science article must include a quote from the theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking.

  5. sisk Silver badge

    Panspermia

    Even if it turns out to be viable space microbes (which is exceedingly unlikely at this point) and panspermia claims the day the real question still remains unanswered. Rather than "we don't know" the answer to where life came from simply becomes "not Earth". Which is really not a terribly helpful answer as far as figuring out how life came to be in the first place.

    1. Anonymous Coward 101

      Re: Panspermia

      If they think they have found 'space microbes', would it not be more probable they messed up the sterilisation process of the probe, or have otherwise messed up?

    2. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      Re: Panspermia

      "the real question still remains unanswered"

      For now. Science will find the answer, eventually. Though likely not within our lifetimes. The evidence is pretty damn conclusive, however, that the answer is not "god".

      Though please, do try using the god of the gaps argument. I'll just have NDT destroy you over and over in my mind. :)

      1. dan1980

        Re: Panspermia

        @Trevor_Pott

        "For now. Science will find the answer, eventually."

        Only if you mean science as an abstract idea or method. It is entirely possible that human science never will. Earth may well become uninhabitable* before we have developed suitable technology to preserve our species adequately. Grim but completely plausible.

        Perhaps some other beings out their have figured this out with their science.

        One can imagine a series of steps going from barren rocks to the pinnacles of sentience. You start with planets. Only a tiny number exist in such a state that life ever could develop. Only a tiny number of those ever will get to the stage of organic compounds. Of these, only a tiny number will get to basic 'life'. And so on up to sentience. From there, though, we posit that only a small percentage of those sentient species survive long enough to develop any kind of science. Of those, only a small percent manage to escape their own planet, and so on.

        Who knows how far away the knowledge or our true origins lies and if we are one of the species that will get to the stage of actually knowing.

        * - For any number of reasons.

        1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

          Re: Panspermia

          Why are humans so important? Maybe we'll seed another planet with microbes before we expire, and their descendants will solve the mysteries of the universe. Maybe humans will evolve a second time, on another world, and know us only by large circular devices we've left scattered about the galaxy that offer instantaneous transportation between worlds.

          Maybe a lot of things.

          But I remain firm in my belief that the answers will be found out through the methodical and logical exploration of reality rather than bleating plaintively at the night's sky, asking the shadows to grant us dominion over others.

          1. dan1980

            Re: Panspermia

            "Maybe we'll seed another planet with microbes before we expire . . ."

            Maybe we'll even do it deliberately.

      2. wolf359

        Re: Panspermia

        "The evidence is pretty damn conclusive, however, that the answer is not "god".....why, because you say so? So what you are saying is that the two most improbable things in the universe (the universe popping itself into existence and life spontaneously creating itself) just happened? That is SO much more likely than God helping the process along.....I suggest you do a little more reading on just how improbable the proteins necessary for life assembling themselves is or how a physics-less void can create a universe. When you come right down to it, what is the difference between believing God creating everything or everything creating itself? We both believe something that is impossible to prove.

        1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

          Re: Panspermia

          God of the gaps arguments! Yay! Religious types are so predictable.

          Remember, just because science can't prove that our universe is the result of a brane extrusion today doesn't mean we won't have that taped in the future. Meanwhile, your "god" is - and remains - nothing but an ever receding pocket of scientific ignorance, constantly retreating in the face of new new knowledge.

          Niel deGrasse Tyson on "god of the gaps". Enjoy.

          Tides go in, tides go out! Religious types are aught but clockwork ignorance.

          1. Kyle Roberts

            Re: Panspermia

            Trevor you are so funny, pat yourself on the back. No wait, you probably already are ;-)

            There are millions of gaps in knowledge, many are getting bigger, not smaller. If science has so many answers, where are they?

            1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

              Re: Panspermia

              Hey there religious type. Neil deGrass Tyson has the answer to the god of the gaps argument on Youtube. I am not going to write it out. if you actually care about the answer to your question, you'll watch it.

              If your god exists, then I invite, challenge and taunt him/her/it into smiting me right now for blaspheming against his/her/it's existence. No "free will" arguments, please, this is an open invitation for a smiting. The Prime Directive isn't violated.

              ...

              ...

              ...

              Well, shit. That was fucking anticlimactic. I really thought that a metaphysical being was going to...wait....

              ...I feel something...

              ...I think it's lunch related.

              Yeah, still here. Sorry. Your god doesn't exist. And your god of the gaps argument is provably ridiculous.

              1. Kyle Roberts

                Re: Panspermia

                :-D I watched it! Ever heard of straw-man arguments?

                Religious nut says: "We don't understand how it works. God must have done it"

                Humanist nut says: "It must have done it by itself, because there is no god."

                Humanism excludes the possibility of a god A priori. That's not science. Science goes where the evidence leads, bearing in mind evidence is ALWAYS interpreted through a world view, be it theist or atheist.

                JUST suppose there IS (or was) a Creator. If you exclude this possibility as a basic assumption, you will NEVER arrive at the truth.

                Enjoy your lunch, the God I know doesn't often smite down blasphemers ;-)

                1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

                  Re: Panspermia

                  I exclude the possibility of a god for very simple reasons:

                  1) Multiple testable hypothesis to prove the existence of said god have been advanced, none of them have returned evidence.

                  2) No evidence for god has ever been found to exist.

                  3) There are far more rational and logical explanations available for that which we encounter than "god did it".

                  4) We create hypotheses to test these alternative explanations and - lo and behold - we obtain evidence. Quite often that evidence serves to make the "non god" hypothesis even more likely than they already were.

                  In short: there's plenty of evidence that there's no requirement for a god to exist in order for our universe to make sense, and there is absolutely zero evidence that god exists.

                  What's more, why you god, and not someone else's? Why your interpretation of how god works, and not mine? Why one god and not many?

                  If you accept god through faith there are eleventy squillion questions that arise, each that have no testable hypothesis.

                  I do not exclude the possibility that there may be a creator. But I won't believe in one until there is evidence of one either. Until that point, it is far more rational to believe that "god" is nothing more than the creation of scares, simple, flawed human beings.

                  But feel free to present a valid testable hypothesis that provides actual evidence for god.

                  And, for the record, I'm not a "humanist". Not even remotely. I'm actually far closer to a gaian, in that I believe that the possibility of a consciousness vaster than ours is at least possible, and that it might arise from the interactions of all the various elements of the universe itself, rather than having an organic basis such as our own brains.

                  I don't, however, believe that such a consciousness would necessarily even be aware of on of it's own sub-components (e.g. humans), or that there is "an afterlife". There's no evidence of either.

                  For that matter, I don't believe that this meta-consciousness exists, merely that it is a possibility...though a completely irrelevant one until we find a way to test for it.

                  Evidence is what matters. Not faith. Faith is nothing more than a soothing mental balm for the frightened and the easily led.

                  1. Kyle Roberts

                    Re: Panspermia

                    Trevor,

                    What we have is really more of a list of your biases.

                    When you say there is "no evidence" for a god (creator) that is absurd. All the evidence is open to interpretation. You yourself have said: "By all rights, virtually everything we hold up as "truth" today in science will eventually be proven wrong...or at least incomplete." (I notice you did not mention this) And yet you insist on rolling out monumental assertions as if they are uncontestable facts! That is inconsistent logic, in my book.

                    What hypothesis have you applied to your "Gaia" type philosophy? Eh? So that's different? Do you think your philosophy does not affect your understanding of science? Maybe it doesn't, but you should have the humility to recognise that there are many Creationists whose world view has not prevented them from doing (and even enabled them to do) great science - such as Damadian and Newton who have been mentioned.

                    You say "If you accept god through faith there are eleventy squillion questions that arise, each that have no testable hypothesis." You must have done a LOT of research to know this!

                    You say "There are far more rational and logical explanations available for that which we encounter than "god did it".

                    That's highly debatable. Please bear with me as I try to show you how that falls over.

                    Suppose you and I were walking along a remote beach by the ocean, nobody else in sight, no visible evidence anyone has been on the beach. We come across an ornate sandcastle complete with a moat, turrets, a little drawbridge made of icecream sticks and string. A little flag flies from the top.

                    You might say "Look some clever person has made a beautiful sandcastle" .

                    What if I said "No, there's no evidence anyone was here - look, no footprints. This sandcastle - like structure was made by the natural forces of wind, rain and sea splashing on the sand. We know wind can pick up sand into a pile, and flowing water can make interesting shapes of it. People throw icecream sticks and string away and they can float around. The universe is so old, a sandcastle like this had to arise somewhere, there's probably many more of them on a planet out there."

                    You'd have me certified. And yet this sandcastle is "eleventy squillion" times less complex than a bacteria. I'm sure you get the picture.

                    The evidence for God is ALL around you, and I'm NOT talking about the so-called "God of the gaps" BTW, why is it that you guys, whenever there are two POSSIBLE explanations for a phenomenon, (a) naturalistic and (b) "God did it", why assume always that the naturalistic answer is the correct one? Especially when you yourself have said: "By all rights, virtually everything we hold up as "truth" today in science will eventually be proven wrong...or at least incomplete." Is that not your BIAS? Of course you BELIEVE there is NO evidence for a god, so therefore the answer HAS to be naturalistic.

                    Having said this, I'd be REALLY interested in your ideas for a hypotheseis to test how a caterpillar could evolve the DNA necessary to turn into a butterfly, through small mutations and natural selection. A lot of what purports to be science is really just 'faith' based guesswork, and would be called such if it were not for the big names spouting it.

                    OK. God of the gaps.

                    Gap 1. What force started the big bang?

                    Gap 2. How did chemicals gather to create life?

                    Gap 3. How did a single cell organism become a multi-cell organism?

                    Gap 4. What is the origin of Sexual reproduction?

                    What will be the hypothesis, how will you repeat the experiments to prove the answers?

                    You say: What's more, why you[r] god, and not someone else's? Why your interpretation of how god works, and not mine? Why one god and not many?" Again, that's a theological question, not a scientific one. I have many reasons why I am trusting in God, I'm happy to elaborate based on logic and my experiences to anyone who wants to hear.

                    Trevor, you say: "I do not exclude the possibility that there may be a creator." But in reality you do. You are only saying this in the hope you appear thoughtful and reasonable. Be honest with yourself.

                    1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

                      Re: Panspermia

                      "When you say there is "no evidence" for a god (creator) that is absurd. All the evidence is open to interpretation."

                      No, evidence isn't open to interpretation. If there are multiple possible hypotheses that evidence could support, then you create new experiments at you attempt to eliminate possibilities. You don't resort to faith.

                      "What hypothesis have you applied to your "Gaia" type philosophy? Eh?"

                      Absolutely none. Which is why I hold it up as a possibility that requires a proper testable hypothesis, experimental design, and then evidence before it could be accepted. It isn't a faith. Or a belief. It is a possibility. One that I arrived at by examining the complex interactions of neurons, and the emergent properties of conscious that are given rise by those interactions.

                      The question that emerged from that study was "could there be other complex interactions which give rise to similar emergent properties that would be reasonably termed consciousness." The followup was "at what scale could these interactions exist that would cause that." The next question was "would time be a factor? Human consciousness is given rise by sub-second electrochemical interactions...would a "larger" interactive system be capable of a form of emergent consciousness operating at geologic timescales?"

                      None of that is requires faith. I have questions derived from experimental observation. I am hoping to one day create a testable hypothesis. Until that point, I maintain that there exists the possibility of a "Gaia"-type meta-consciousness. Because I have before me at least the rudiments of a hypothesis that explains how that consciousness might exist. I am driven towards these questions - and the possibilities inherent in them - through evidence.

                      If it turns out that I am wrong, my views on the world, my ego and my understanding of the universe are not altered. There was no faith involved, and no personal commitment to the idea.

                      "BTW, why is it that you guys, whenever there are two POSSIBLE explanations for a phenomenon, (a) naturalistic and (b) "God did it", why assume always that the naturalistic answer is the correct one? "

                      A) "You guys"? Lumping people who disagree with you together much?

                      B) I assume that the universe arose without a creator because currently we have no need of a creator to explain the universe. There is no need of a creator to explain life, evolution, stellar formation...any of it. It's called Occam's razor. Given a set of diverse possible explanations for an event, the simplest one tends to be true.

                      I don't believe in a creator because I have yet to encounter something for which a creator is necessary.

                      I also don't believe in a creator because every single time that someone has pointed to a gap in our scientific knowledge and said "aha! You can't explain that, thus god" we ended up explaining it. Sometimes hundreds of years later, but we got there.

                      So: given the evidence why would I assume a creator? It's the least likely of the available possibilities. What's far more likely is that our understanding of the universe, as individuals and as a species, is simply incomplete.

                      "Is that not your BIAS? Of course you BELIEVE there is NO evidence for a god, so therefore the answer HAS to be naturalistic."

                      That fact that you might, for example, look at the structure of an eye and believe that it has to be evidence of intelligent design doesn't make it so. You are simply choosing to confirm your own faith by ceasing to investigate. I, and people like me, choose instead to continue to investigate.

                      Lo and behold, testable hypotheses for the evolution of the eye emerged.

                      Now, Jesus-botherers proclaimed the complexity of the eye to be conclusive evidence of their god. Scientists continued to investigate and found that there was no need for a god to exist in order for the eye to arise. So please, tell me why any other thing, ever, should be a point in my understanding of the universe in which I simply choose to stop learning and start believing?

                      Faith doesn't have a good track record of being right about anything.

                      "Trevor, you say: "I do not exclude the possibility that there may be a creator." But in reality you do. You are only saying this in the hope you appear thoughtful and reasonable. Be honest with yourself."

                      No, I don't have a problem with the possibility of a creator...if and when evidence emerges that one is required. A gap in our knowledge is not evidence that a god exists. "God did it" is not the default answer to everything.

                      I accept that there could be a creator that created the superstrings which then extruded our universe. Maybe branes were the work of a creator. But the possibility that one might exist doesn't mean one does, that I should believe one does, and certainly not that I should ascribe mere gaps in understanding to the work of a mysterious creator.

                      For me to believe in god there needs to be actual evidence both of a requirement for god in order for our universe to function and that there is such a thing as a god, and that they created and/or direct all things.

                      Until then, god doesn't exist. The afterlife doesn't exist. There's no evidence of it. There's no need for it.

                      What is, however, likely is that religion evolved out of a combination of a need of individuals to believe there was something beyond death and enterprising sociopaths seeing that there is a vector to controlling large groups of people by manipulating both a fear of death and controlling the cultural moores that govern the right/method/individuals with whom people may reproduce.

                      So I ask myself what's more likely:

                      1) There is a creator of all things for whom there is no evidence and no scientific requirement, but somehow certain people "chosen" over time have been told by this creator what is truth and what is not, and we should do what they say.

                      2) Some folks figure out how to manipulate others en masse, wrote (or had written) the basis of their social control and then viciously went after anyone who threatened their power.

                      I have zero evidence to support 1). I have lots of evidence to support 2).

                      Scientology is a great example of a modern religion having been created, with all the same keystones as, for example, the Abrahamic religions (like Christianity, Judaism, etc). Why should I believe 1) instead of 2) when there are multiple documented examples of 2)?

                      What evidence is there for god, beyond pathetic attempts to point to gaps in scientific knowledge and claim god should be the default answer? The scribblings of a sociopath or desert madman? Why are they more valid than the scribblings of anyone else? Or the actual evidence science has gathered?

                      I can accept that a creator of some variety may exist, even thought there is no evidence for one. I am open to that possibility.

                      I can, however, say with near absolute certainty that your particular god doesn't. You worship the rules of a man set forth to control other men and earnestly believe it describes all that is in the universe.

                      I, on the other hand, question everything. Evidence put forth by a man can be compelling, and better inform future questions, but they are only actually relevant as answers if they can be experimentally verified.

                      That's the difference between science and faith.

                      1. Kyle Roberts

                        Re: Panspermia

                        Trevor

                        You have put in a huge amount of effort in replying to my humble questions, remarkable. I apologise in advance that my response is not as lengthy. I notice, and appreciate your bringing to the discussion a series of stories as to how it might be possible to explain a few of the many difficult problems faced by neo Darwinism.

                        You say: “we don't have all the pieces of that puzzle yet” which is, of course, carefully understated. As you have mentioned earlier but seem to be avoiding now, many of the pieces (you said “all”) will no doubt be found false or in need of modification, down the track.

                        One of my greatest beefs with many evolutionary articles and posts on blogs such as this one is the grand confidence proclaiming how “we now know” how things evolved. As you say, there are huge numbers of examples where the new knowledge is disproved. As you also say, this is what science is supposed to be about. As you say, most of it will likely be debunked.

                        I agree there is a danger in “God – science” for SOME people to stop investigating the natural world “Because God did it”. However it is patently disingenuous to imply this would be widespread – history shows that most of the early scientists were theists or at least deists, (Eg: Bacon, Galileo, Pascal, Boyle, Newton, Faraday.) and there are many PhD scientists still really keen to investigate natural phenomena (if they could only get some funding!)

                        • “Where is the evidence that a gap in our understanding of the universe means god exists?”

                        Well since there is a “gap in our understanding” many of our scientists want to pursue the possibility of an intelligent Designer. Where is the problem with that? Why wait until the god deniers come to the complete end of their ideas before this avenue is explored?

                        You mention Occam’s Razor. Yep, I can foresee the day when this will be applied to the massive kludge that is the modern “Big Bang Theory”, with its dark matter, dark energy and strings propping it up. :-)

                        I read the article about metamorphosis it does not explain how the caterpillar (in crude terms) dissolves in the chrysalis and then re-forms into a butterfly. This must be in the DNA right from the get-go.

                        The stories about life forming from chemicals, the formation of multicelled organisms and the origins of reproduction (cells, is what I meant :-) are very speculative. Adding random bits of DNA to “chosen” companions and all that sounds a bit too anthropomorphic for me. I can’t help thinking, “these cells don’t actually have a brain”. The grand sweep of the story is just like my story about the sandcastle. Honestly, It’s all “Just So”!

                        • “Eventually, a freak of evolution occurred: cells gained the ability to alter their functionality based on environmental/epigenetic factors. A cell in the middle of the mat would perform one set of functions. A cell on the outside would perform another.”

                        Just so!

                        • Do you mean the evolution of modern genitalia? There's a fish responsible for that one; in fact, its genital claspers eventually evolved into our legs.

                        Just so!

                        • So this strand of life solved the need to rapidly respond to environmental changes by evolving the ability to unzip itself, split in two, then re-merge, randomizing genetics. We have no hard data on how long that went on before it also underwent the evolution to multicellularity, but it was probably quite a while.

                        Please remember this is just a single celled organism, with DNA suited to reproducing itself “after its kind” You’re talking about a huge jump. See my story about the sandcastle. Natural selection HAS to have something to work on.

                        • You don't just say "I am looking for a new particle"…

                        If you see an apple falling, you should, as a scientist, say “What makes the apple fall towards the ground?” So you go looking for the cause of the effect.

                        If you see a universe full of cause and effect, you should go looking for the “First Cause” EVEN if it is the unpalatable “Intelligent Designer” Evidence of design is everywhere. Evidence for a designer. Once you have ascertained there is a designer, by all means – find out who / what it is.

                        • Facts, not faith.

                        Don’t write off faith! Here’s a secret: I don’t like religion, I don’t belong to one. I do believe the evidence shows that there is a Creator, and His name is Yeshua (Jesus). The kind of faith Jesus talks about is NOT shut your eyes and hope. It is NOT the “just believe in spite of real evidence” you (and a lot of religious people too) seem to think it is. The faith He talks about is the kind of faith you have when you walk across a plank over a chasm. You look at the plank and judge whether it will break. You test the plank, then you have real faith it will hold you up. You use faith every time you drive on a motorway. You cannot live without real faith.

                        • No, evidence isn't open to interpretation

                        You miss what I’m saying. Our courts would disagree with you. Example: Lots of fossils are found in the Cambrian rock. Some scientists see this as evidence life ‘arose’ then, other scientists see the huge deposits with perfect fossils and see evidence for a sudden global flood. Interpretation.

                        • I assume that the universe arose without a creator because currently we have no need of a creator to explain the universe. There is no need of a creator to explain life, evolution, stellar formation...any of it. It's called Occam's razor. Given a set of diverse possible explanations for an event, the simplest one tends to be true.

                        Listen to yourself! We are looking at an absolutely astounding level of complexity, both in the universe and atomic level, and most of all in biology. The simplest explanation surely must be that creation requires a Creator. Theories of origins are the most complicated mish mash, constantly changing and being re-hashed when new evidence is discovered. Punctuated equilibrium anyone?

                        • I don't believe in a creator because I have yet to encounter something for which a creator is necessary.

                        Only because you have HOPE that science will one day come up with the answers they don’t have, the “gaps” you keep mentioning? Actually it is you who has ‘faith’ that science will provide naturalistic answers to these gaps.

                        You would be happy to accept that the sandcastle I described could have been made by purely natural forces, wind water and time plus chance? If something “has the appearance of design” then the simplest explanation is – it was designed. (This is obviously not ALWAYS the case).

                        • The fact that you mistakenly believe that for life to arise everything must occurexactly as it did on Earth is not my problem.

                        I don’t believe life can ‘arise’ at all. Some of the cleverest minds in the world have tried to ‘create life’ in a ‘test tube’ and after 60 years they have failed. Even IF they do eventually manage to make something, they will only be showing that intelligence can make a poor replica of something God made. Hardly proof that life can ‘arise’unguided!

                        • Earth is as "special" as you, personally are. I.E: not at all. One amongst many. Interchangeable. Disposable. Irrelevant.

                        Then why are we trying to ‘save’ it? Who cares that we are trashing it? You can take that attitude and stick it to the greenies! Have YOU volunteered to go to Mars?

                        I believe this Earth is the jewel in the universe, created for life (not just mankind) to thrive. Mankind is ruining it, it is running down. We need to lift our game, not look for hypothetical, “must be there,” Earth-like planets where any surviving people can bail to, at faster than the speed of light.

                        • But even then, there is absolutely zero rational reason to assume that those conditions only exist here.

                        Of course that pre-supposes there is no Creator, which is circular ‘reasoning’. I certainly believe creation requires a Creator, and I have NEVER seen another habitable planet. Neither have you, most likely. Why should there be one? Having said that, there could be heaps of them. There could even be aliens up there, just we have NO evidence of them, none. If YOU believe there are other life forms, you are doing so in blind faith. No facts there.

                        Evolution, the kind that says chemicals changed into living things which evolved into people and trees, is a crock. Everything is running down, just like the 2nd Law of you know what. Mutations do not result in novel new genetic code, lifting life forms to higher planes! Mutations damage our DNA and any that get a foothold accelerate the downward spiral of the quality of the genome. Mutations are BAD, that’s why you do not live close to a Nuclear reactor, or even under high voltage lines. You don’t want mutations in your own body.

                        Of course it is slightly possible you are right, the universe has consciousness and is designing itself. Good luck! :-D

                    2. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

                      Re: Panspermia

                      "Having said this, I'd be REALLY interested in your ideas for a hypotheseis to test how a caterpillar could evolve the DNA necessary to turn into a butterfly, through small mutations and natural selection. A lot of what purports to be science is really just 'faith' based guesswork, and would be called such if it were not for the big names spouting it."

                      Here is a great place to start: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/insect-metamorphosis-evolution/

                      Short answer: we don't have all the pieces of that puzzle yet. That doesn't mean we won't get there. It just means you are pointing to a current area in which our knowledge is incomplete and saying "hah, god must exist, because you don't understand this fully!"

                      There's nothing rational about that. If I pour a half-filled wide-brimmed cup of water into a tall, short-brimmed cup and it fills the cup, a young enough child will think it magic. They don't understand the conservation of volume.

                      I could tell the child that it is god that does this, and that he should accept that it is god because he doesn't understand how it is possible for such a thing to occur.

                      Alternately, I could set up some experiments by which the child could play with moving a volume of liquid around different containers for himself and allow him to understand the concept of conservation of volume through experimentation.

                      In the first instance, the child's understanding stops at the moment faith is injected. God is the answer and thus no further questioning is required. In the second instance, the child learns something about the world, god is not required and the child is one step closer to being able to formulate his own questions, craft his own hypotheses and experimentally test to see what may or may not be the reason behind something.

                      "What force started the big bang?"

                      Ultimately, we don't know. String theory has some neat ideas, but they are as yet something we cannot prove. Why should I believe this "proves" god, rather than is simply evidence of a gap in our knowledge?

                      Where is the evidence that a gap in our understanding of the universe means god exists?

                      "How did chemicals gather to create life?"

                      Interesting you should ask. Please read all my other posts in this particular comment section for the answers. I've covered it many times. There are also links to lab-created artificial metabolisms. To be perfectly honest, I am absolutely convinced that - given the progress we've made thus far - we will have recreated the early mechanisms for life creation and created fully artificial life in the lab within my lifetime. This is no longer a question of "if", but of "when".

                      "How did a single cell organism become a multi-cell organism?"

                      You can start here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multicellular_organism#Evolutionary_history

                      But I'll do you a favor and summarize it for you. The long story short is that single-celled organisms have a long history of living together, frequently in what are typically referred to as "mats". The short version is that "mats" of single-celled organisms are far more efficient at using their environmental resources - and responding to dangerous events, like toxins - than cells are on their own.

                      Bacteria also evolved the ability to exchange DNA long before multicellularity evolved. In large part, this was an evolutionary adaptation to cope with viruses. They also evolved the ability to create bacteriophages: essentially viruses that seek out and destroy bacteria that the originating bacterium doesn't like.

                      Over time, cells accumulated enough DNA from their "chosen" companions that they could theoretically perform the functions of any of a number of different types of cell. This doesn't mean they would, but merely that their DNA contained the information.

                      Eventually, a freak of evolution occurred: cells gained the ability to alter their functionality based on environmental/epigenetic factors. A cell in the middle of the mat would perform one set of functions. A cell on the outside would perform another.

                      Once cells had reached this point, they had no need of other species. So, to put it midly, they killed them off. Life is about the propagation of your own genetics, after all.

                      One cell, with one set of DNA could perform multiple functions in the mat. It could reproduce it's own lineage and that lineage could do everything required to take advantage of the environment. It didn't need to devote any resources to helping another species - or another individual - survive.

                      Some time after this, these single-species mats began rapid specialization, and things like "an outer protective layer that encloses all of the organism's cells" were developed. This helped separate the organism from it's environment more completely, and helped prevent other organisms from invading the mat and stealing resources. Thus a multicellular organism is born.

                      I am aware of at least 15 different instances in our evolutionary record in which multicellular life evolved independently. There are probably more.

                      "What is the origin of Sexual reproduction?"

                      Well that is an operation in semantics. Do you mean the evolution of modern genetalia? There's a fish responsible for that one; in fact, it's genital claspers eventually evolved into our legs.

                      Do you mean simply the combination of two gametes to form an offspring? That's more complicated. I'm a little rusty, but here's my understanding:

                      Sexual reproduction had to have evolved at least 1.2 billion years ago. All sexually reproducing creatures share a common ancestor, and that ancestor developed sexual reproduction before it developed multicellularity.

                      The theory goes that while other groups of single-celled organisms were developing into bacterial mats - and eventually multicellular (typically multicellular + symbiont) life - our ancestor solved the same set of evolutionary circumstances in a completely novel way.

                      Instead of inducing horizontal gene transfer with another bacterial species, it "unzipped" it's DNA during mitosis, and didn't "zip" it back together. That's one hell of a mutation: it basically turned DNA back into RNA!

                      Now, single stranded DNA is highly unstable. It's not remotely as conducive to life as double-stranded DNA. It is, however, possible for cells to live - and eventually to divide - using RNA instead of DNA. The mitochondria is a great example of a cell that did this (before it invaded us!)

                      But DNA is better. Eventually, two of those RNA-only cells recombined and merged their genetic structures. The result was a randomization of genetics, or...sex.

                      So this strand of life solved the need to rapidly respond to environmental changes by evolving the ability to unzip itself, split in two, then re-merge, randomizing genetics. We have no hard data on how long that went on before it also underwent the evolution to multicellularity, but it was probably quite a while.

                      The long story short is that when multicellular organisms arose from that particular branch of "unzipping" single-celled organisms, they took with them the concept of sex. It was rather a long time before that evolved into what we think of as genitalia, but the progression was fairly straightforward.

                      "You say: What's more, why you[r] god, and not someone else's? Why your interpretation of how god works, and not mine? Why one god and not many?" Again, that's a theological question, not a scientific one. I have many reasons why I am trusting in God, I'm happy to elaborate based on logic and my experiences to anyone who wants to hear."

                      No, it's a scientific question. Science needs to know what it's testing for if it is to look for it. You don't just say "I am looking for a new particle". You do the legwork to figure out what the particle should look like, it's mass, behaviour, composition and decay vectors. Then you have something to look for and go look for it.

                      There are many different gods described. They're all different. Evidence to support their existence would therefor reasonably be different. Don't dodge the question just because it's uncomfortable, or try to make this about "science versus god" when you aren't presenting scientific evidence for both the existence of your deity and why your deity is the "correct" one.

                      Facts, not faith.

                2. bpfh

                  Re: Panspermia

                  > the God I know doesn't often smite down blasphemers.

                  I'll just leave this Python here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ucgU2DJlBiw

      3. sisk Silver badge

        Re: Panspermia

        The evidence is pretty damn conclusive, however, that the answer is not "god".

        I never mentioned 'god' Trevor. Nor was that where my thoughts were headed. It as more along the lines of 'turtles all the way down'.

        1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

          Re: Panspermia

          There's nothing "turtles all the way down" about science, or even pesudo-panspermia, which is what's mentioned here.

          Pesudo-panspermia posits that the basic chemical building blocks for life arrived on Earth from "out there". For reasons I've detailed in other comments here, this makes perfect sense, given the history of the planet. It also relies on abiogenesis for the combination of those building blocks into the first Terran lifeforms.

          As for "where did "everything" come from", it's increasingly accepted that the Big Bang was not the beginning of all things, but merely the beginning of our particular universe. Our universe is likely to be one amongst many, with the others potentially having different laws of physics.

          I could get into far deeper physics about "our universe didn't spring from nothing", but the point is that there are some solid hypotheses and even a few testable theories that can bring us pretty far back in the history of our universe. Milliseconds after the big bang kind of stuff. As for the before, we have some hypotheses, but no ways of testing them yet.

          There is no need to rely on faith in science. Just the attempts to answer questions. Without faith. Just because we won't obtain the answers in our lifetimes doesn't mean the answers won't ever be found. And it sure as hell doesn't mean faith is the answer to anything.

          1. sisk Silver badge

            Re: Panspermia

            Since you obviously value intelligence and truth and given your obvious hostility towards religion I'd encourage you to look up just who came up with the original premise for the Big Bang Theory back in 1931. Here's a hint: Google Lemaitre. The answer just might make you reconsider your opinion on people of faith.

            1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

              Re: Panspermia

              I never said people of faith can't be intelligent. Deluded, yes. Out of touch with reality, sure. But there's nothing about faith that makes someone innately stupid.

              Intelligence is the ability to process large amounts of information quickly. Wisdom is the ability to process that information correctly. It is this latter talent that people of faith miss.

              There is no god. Cope.

    3. Mage Silver badge

      Re: Panspermia

      No need for Pansperia.

      Requiring it is a "Turtles all the way down" syndrome.

      Pansperia may or not be true. Suitable or unsuitable Organic Molecules can't prove or disprove the idea.

  6. Adrian Midgley 1

    depends

    on nucleic acids, for instance.

  7. x 7 Silver badge

    so Fred Hoyle was right all along

    I wonder which of his other theories were correct as well?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Right said Fred

      Hoyle's colleague Wickramasinghe is still around and indeed was/is a consultant to the Rosetta/Philae thing.

  8. lucki bstard

    Methane?

    So it wasn't the big bang? It was a big fart??

    That explains a lot of life

    1. Jes.e

      Re: Methane?

      "So it wasn't the big bang? It was a big fart??

      That explains a lot of life"

      http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=HoqSas2uFKw

  9. bfwebster

    Do you realize that a large set of organic molecules have been detected throughout interstellar space, don't you? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_interstellar_and_circumstellar_molecules

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: bfwebster

      "Do you realize that a large set of organic molecules have been detected throughout interstellar space, don't you?"

      Go home, everyone.

      C.

      1. dan1980

        Re: bfwebster

        "Do you realize that a large set of organic molecules have been detected throughout interstellar space, don't you?"

        Maybe that's why the Philae lander was equipped with capabilities specifically designed to test for the presence of organic molecules.

        We have meteorites that have fucking amino acids in them for heaven's sake - yes, we know that these compounds exist 'out there', but the story is pretty much that Philae seems to have found one of things it was theorised that it would find.

        Given the coverage and the problems that it has had, this is excellent news for those involved and indeed for any future missions.

        It's also important to find out exactly which compounds might have hitched a ride here because some hypotheses posit reactions or that might have been unlikely with known conditions and require a little extra to be more plausible. One I mentioned in a previous post is ribose, which pairs with nucleotides to form the ribonucleotides that form RNA. The problem is that people can't seem to find enough of it being produced given the chemical compositions posited and the reactions known about. Perhaps 'seeding' from meteorites played a part in that or some other puzzle.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    But isn't it

    I'm of the radical atheist, why don't they all shut the fuck up about the (insert religious thing here) bent, but also a bit challenged in the understanding science department (it's a challenge).

    And I've given up trying to formulate any argument that will make a jot of difference to anyone, since better minds than mine have tried, will keep trying, and with the endless stream of muppets falling for cheap ideology, or feeling forced towards it owing to circumstance, sadly keep failing.

    And I can't offer any insight into any theory that may or may not explain what may or may not have happened. 'Cos I'm science-challenged, see.

    All I wanted to say is, isn't this project, isn't even the possibility of seeding, isn't even the idea of such an unlikely combination of matter and motion, so fucking complex and beautiful and unlikely, that that should be enough? No further explanation required? No additional wonder needed? It is for me.

    1. wolf359

      Re: But isn't it

      In my experience, it is always the atheists that start the whole debate by celebrating every scientific thing that happens as the end of God. I am neither scientifically or Biblically challenged, as I study both intently. Science used to be about showing the hand of God in creation, now it is is all about disproving it. I would love to just read articles like this and enjoy the wonder of it all.....but then someone has to interject "That's it for God...." and the whole debate starts up again. And as far as I can tell, we both believe in something that can't be emphatically proven. So lets just agree to disagree and move on.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: But isn't it

        Try being agnostic, then you get it from both sides...

  11. Latro_

    'Organic' just means it has a carbon atom in it right? So could be totally nothing to do with 'life'... i'd wait till they analyse what they have.

    As for 'are we alone' etc etc... i'd love to think there was or has been life on other planets but if you account for the infinite complexity of the universe and even possible multi-verses you have to accept that it is 'possible' life is limited to Earth... we just know so little, until we get evidence we're just making educated guesses.

    1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      "you have to accept that it is 'possible' life is limited to Earth"

      Yes, but it's really, really unlikely. Statistically indistinguishable from zero.

      1. CarbonLifeForm

        I disagree. We don't know if it is unlikely because n = 1, which does not necessarily imply n > 1.

        1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

          Disagree all you want, it won't change the facts. All the precursor chemicals required for life exist bloody everywhere. There are any number of simple ways that life can start, and any number of ways it can continue through to the point that the remarkable things happen, like the development of cell walls and eventually multicellular life.

          Hell, for all we know new life is springing up every day from scratch all over this planet, but it ends up being out competed by the stuff that's been around for 4.6 billion years and never makes it to the point of "acquiring cell walls".

          Life isn't special. It's just a bunch of chemical interactions. You're just a sack of chemicals that interact in a fairly mundane fashion.

          There is nothing special about Earth, about Sol, about our stellar system, about the comets that seeded life here...none of it. Our inability to detect (currently) life on other worlds has no bearing whatsoever on it's existence, or lack thereof.

          The probability of life arising on another world is down to one simple question: "how rare are Earth-like planets?" The answer to that is quite blatantly "not very". And we get more and more confirmation that Earth isn't special with each passing year. The less special our planet is the more likely it is that life arose somewhere else in addition to here.

          Given the overwhelming number of galaxies, the number of stellar systems per galaxy the number of planets per stellar system...the chances that Earth is the only place in the entire multiverse where the exact conditions existed to give rise to life are basically zero. Not exactly zero, but so close to zero as to not be worth consideration.

          The chances that life only exists on Earth are pretty much the same as the chances that the exact deity of your neighborhood church is real. Oh, it's possible, I guess...but so vanishingly small a possibility as to not be worth consideration.

          Every test we can run says that the laws of physics are the same throughout the universe. And a lot of very smart people have tried very hard to put that to the test. With the laws of physics being the same all over the universe, the sheer amount of stuff in this universe pretty much guarantees that the exact same confluence of chemical events will have occurred more than once, and life will have arisen.

          Did it ever develop cell walls? No idea. Did it ever become multicellular? No clue. Did it evolve into something unrecognizably different? Probably. But I would bet my life, and lives of everyone on this mudball that we are not alone. The statistical probability that the same chemical events that led to life only occurred once are just that low.

          1. dan1980

            Trevor

            A couple of issues with your post. Points of order, perhaps.

            ". . . about the comets that seeded life here . . ."

            That may have seeded life here. As you say, life is just "a bunch of chemical interactions" and those chemicals are "bloody everywhere". 'Spontaneous' creation of various precursor compounds has been observed and one of the big barriers - the bonding of ribose and nucleotides - has been rendered that bit less problematic with a plausible alternate process whereby ribonucleotides can be generated without requiring 'free' ribose.

            'The probability of life arising on another world is down to one simple question: "how rare are Earth-like planets?"'

            Not so. It's down to several questions but one of the biggest ones is: "does life need an 'Earth-like' planet?". The answer is: "Probably not", meaning that life is even more probable. Still, I feel that the Earth is rather special (though highly unlikely to be unique) because it is a combination of a lot of factors. I just don't believe that 'life' really requires all those factors. Life as we know it does, but it is spectacularly closed-minded to believe that any possible life must be as we know it. (I am not saying that you are suggesting anything of the sort, of course.)

            "But I would bet my life, and lives of everyone on this mudball that we are not alone."

            Hmmm . . . Well, that depends on what you classify as 'alone'. Other sentient life or any type? If we talk about any complex life then less likely to be so confident. Why? Because 'humans' have only existed for (at a high estimate) 200,000 years. Given the most generous estimates of planet formation of ~2bn years after the big bang, humans have been around for about 0.0017% of that ~12bn years in which life has been possible.

            The question is not whether life HAS or WILL arise on other planets - that, statistically is almost certain. The real question is whether we are, currently, the only sentient life in this universe. For me, I count that as 'alone'. A semantic differentiation perhaps but I do not class something akin to cyanobacteria as 'company'.

            The REAL question, I suppose, is: "is humanity the current pinnacle of 'life' in this universe?"

            Even putting that aside, we are alone. Utterly, inescapably so. While the sheer size of the universe makes in vanishingly unlikely that we are the only 'life' to ever come into existence, it also makes if unlikely that we will ever meet another sentience.

            How would we?

            Chance alone. Pure, desperate chance. Even at light speed, it takes a long time for our signals to reach anywhere. They would have to reach a civilisation at a time when they were capable of receiving it and they would have to have or develop the capability to reach us (somehow) before we were no longer on the planet our signals originated from. Or vice-versa, which is equally unlikely.

            The unfortunate reality is that any "intelligent" signal we may recieve is quite possibly from an extinct civilisation.

            Plotting the expected trajectory of the universe, in ~150bn years (quick google search), our own, merged, supercluster will be the only thing in the observable universe. It will be impossible to travel or communicate outside of this bubble.

            That will of course bring multiple galaxies together, but space is bloody roomy and even with the collision of the combined 1.3 trillion stars of Andromeda and our own Milky Way, there is next to no chance that any stars will actually collide. (Quick wikipedia search : )

            Ramble, ramble, but my point is that while the universe has a LOT of stuff in it, it is spread out over truly mind-buggering distances.

            So, as likely as life is, isolation is just as assured.

            Someone didn't take their meds today.

            1. Bunbury

              Omnispermia

              I suspect it'll be a hundred years at least before we know where we come from. However, since life did develop somewhere I suppose it boils down to a balance of probabilities.

              Is there anything special about earth to make us the one place to harbour life? Not that we know of; the more evidence we get the more ordinary our planet seems.

              So the remaining science based options seem to be that life comes about through a process that is common in the universe but unknown to us. In which case on earth it's quite likely that is started within the solar system. Or it's a rare process but sufficiently survivable that it can survive interstellar travel - which probably means in a solid body that can protect it from radiation and the descent to a new planet. Perhaps a long period comet would be a good vector - a wandering planet wouldn't be good as they'll vapourise any other planets they hit.

            2. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

              The REAL question, I suppose, is: "is humanity the current pinnacle of 'life' in this universe?"

              No, that's a separate question entirely. There's simply no way to know the answer to that one unless we can observe all points in the universe simultaneously. That question is one that may well be forever beyond our capacity to answer.

              But the answer to the question of "is there life out there that isn't Terran" is "so likely to be yes that the possibility of the answer being no is indistinguishable from zero".

              As for "being forever alone", you presume that we'll never go faster than light. I don't. Every time man thought he had firmly reached a frontier of natural laws past which no technology could enable further science, someone with fewer biases came along and enabled us to smash those barriers.

              We don't have good theories on FTL yet. IMHO, that's likely because we're stuck in a mindset that doesn't allow us to think beyond our own scientific biases.

              By all rights, virtually everything we hold up as "truth" today in science will eventually be proven wrong...or at least incomplete. Newton giving way to the quantum world, etc. That's sort of what the march of science does. So...Terran life may well not be doomed to be alone forever.

              Whether or not we encounter other life at least as developed as we are is another story. And what - oh what - will we do if we run across life that is so far advanced over us that they look at us as we look at ants? Wouldn't that be a blow to our collective ego?

              Science!

              1. dan1980

                @Trevor

                'As for "being forever alone", you presume that we'll never go faster than light.'

                No, that's not the reason. The reason is my naturally pessimistic, depressive nature. (I thought the language made that clear : )

          2. wolf359

            I completely agree that there is life everywhere in the universe, however your comment "There are any number of simple ways that life can start, and any number of ways it can continue through to the point that the remarkable things happen, like the development of cell walls and eventually multicellular life." has no basis in fact.

            Please enlighten us....you talk a lot about statistics, but statistically speaking, having the proteins needed for life spontaneously assembling themselves is pretty well impossible. Or how about the probability of amino acids combining to form those proteins? Just for your calculations, there are approximately 3,000 different proteins in a bacteria. There are approximately 50,000 proteins in you and me and in one protein (hemoglobin) there are 146 amino acids....20 of which are essential for life. You might need a calculator for this one...

            1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

              Look, life existed before there were bacteria. In fact, life existed before the development of the cell wall. Consider, for example, L-Form bacteria, which exist without a cell wall just fine, thanks.

              A modern bacterium is the result of at least three billion years of evolution. They did not spring into existence fully formed. They were not "designed". Each organelle, each protein used, everything got there through billions of years of trial and error.

              Life is nothing more than self replicating chemicals. There's nothing special about it. Viruses are a great example of the border between "alive" and "not alive". They're little more than chemicals that interact with their environment (typically a host cell) to create more of those chemicals.

              Some viruses have protein sheaths similar to a cellular membrane. Most don't. What really separates viruses from actual life is that viruses don't have a metabolic process of their own. They are - for lack of a better term - their own catalysts for reproduction, but they need to hijack the metabolic processes of a living organism in order to reproduce.

              However the basic metabolic processes underpinning life itself have been shown to occur outside of a host cell in the lab. They are not hard. They don't require anything particularly special in terms of geochemistry.

              We know now that you don't require anything "uncommon" for the basic pre-life metabolic pathways to form spontaneously. From there, you throw some Deep Time at it and voila: life. The most successful reactions will continue.

              Eventually, these metabolic processes were enveloped in lipid membranes. Most likely very similar to viral sheathing. Those metabolic reactions protected by a lipid membrane were more successful than others. Those metabolic reactions that could regenerate their own lipid membrane were more successful than those which relied on accreting their membrane from the environment.

              At this point, you're off to the races. A protective lipid membrane along with a self-perpetuating metabolic process? Sounds like life to me! From there, additional organelles developed. The lipid membrane evolved in complexity to become a full blown cell wall. The precursors to RNA invaded the protocells and the ability to store information on metabolic catalysts evolved.

              Now, what's truly remarkable is that life probably successfully evolved on our planet more than once. This can be seen in that some of today's organelles we can't explain as being the result simply of metabolic evolution; they are probably degraded endosymbiotes. (I am sure you are familiar with the history of the mitochondria, so I'll skip the concept of endosymbiotes for now.)

              These degraded endosymbiote organelles don't show evidence of having ever had their own RNA, but do show evidence of having had different metabolic chemistry than the originator cells from which our branch of life sprang. In essence, life started in more than one place, but one type of life was more successful inside the cell membrane of another type of life.

              Again, here viruses can be instructional. There are several viruses we believe do not share a common ancestor with precursor viruses. They, in effect, are their own branch of pesudo-life. They spontaneously came into being through the chemical interactions of their environment and it turns out that when exposed to a cell they could hijack it's metabolic processes and perpetuate.

              So yes, there are a lot of amino acids. There are a lot of proteins. But they are not all essential for life; only for life as we know it today. Life that's been through billions of years of evolution to accrete complexity and adjust to new environments.

              The Earth was not a class-M planet to start. There was no oxygen/nitrogen atmosphere. Life created that. Primordial earth was a very different place than it is today, and only the smallest fraction of the organisms alive on Earth today would be able to live on the Earth that first birthed the forms of life that would ultimately populate our planet.

              Yet you point to a modern bacterium and attempt to say that anywhere life is to arise every single amino acid and protein must be capable of spontaneously self organizing all at the same time?

              You do not understand the first thing about the evolution of life. Not the very first thing.

              The chemical requirements for the development of metabolism and accretion of a lipid membrane are not abnormal in the universe. Increasingly, we are seeing that the presence of relevant amino acids and other precursor chemicals is not abnormal either.

              Given the sheer age of the universe and the sheer number of places both these common environments and common chemicals interact, I do not remotely understand why you would believe that it is statistically likely that Earth is the only place life ever arose.

              Even if life is only capable of arising on one in several hundred trillion rocky bodies and it takes an average of 2 billion years after the formation of a stellar system for basic cells to arise, we're still talking about hundreds of billions of bodies across the universe on which life arose. And there is no reason whatsoever to think that the circumstances for life to arise are so unique that they would only occur on one in every several hundred trillion rocky bodies. The chemistry is just too simple.

              But hey, believe life is somehow "special" if you want. You'll be wrong, and I'll understand statistics.

          3. Kyle Roberts

            Trevor,

            "how rare are Earth-like planets?" So far we have found: One. Just one.

            "There is nothing special about Earth, about Sol, about our stellar system,..." You're kidding, right?

            "about the comets that seeded life here..." So... that's how it happened!

            Marvellous example of unsupported statements and circular reasoning.

            1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

              Actually, we've got three earth-like planets right here in our own solar system. We have found a number of systems with earth-like planets, some with multiple.

              Oh, you mean a class-M world with a gaia-type ecosystem? Well, you're an idiot. Earth wasn't a class-M world when life took hold here. Life probably couldn't have if it were. When life started on Earth it was through a hot iron-magnesium metabolism to which free Oxygen was deadly. In point of fact, life had to evolve quite a bit before it was able to make it to the point of both causing the oxygen crisis and surviving it..

              In addition, there is nothing special about Earth, or Sol. There are literally tillions of Sol-like stars out there. From our investigation, stars having planets is the rule, not the exception. The sheer number of these stars guarantees that somewhere out there a planet formed with roughly the same chemistry as an early proto-Earth and did so within the habitable zone.

              Three fucking planets did this in our own stellar system. We're not entirely sure what happened to Venus yet; somehow it lost most of it's rotational momentum. We think there may have been a Theia-like impactor that - unlike Earth - struck it retrograde and contained mostly volatiles. This would explain why it has such a thick atmosphere and doesn't rotate.

              ...but it also tells us that within our own stellar system there are two planets that have remarkably similar histories.

              Earth got really lucky. The late heavy bombardment deposited a lot of Nitrogen, but and we were just big enough to hang on to some of it, but too small to hang on to most of it. We didn't turn into a Neptune. Early life probably played a huge part in ensuring we didn't lose most of that atmosphere, as it caused it to be continually recycled.

              The fact that we had obtained enough water helped too; the carbon dioxide slowly dissolved in our oceans into carbonate. This is really critical, because while methane and carbon dioxide were vital to keeping a young Earth warm while the sun was 30% dimmer than today, as it warmed we absolutely needed both the carbon sink capacities of the ocean and the mediating effects of life to prevent a runaway greenhouse effect from turning Earth into Venus.

              And...we almost didn't make it several times! Earth bordered on a Venus-like "hothouse Earth" a few times. A few times it went wildly the other way as well; too much CO2 was sequestered, and we had "snowball Earth"s. Life itself is the only reason we have been able to escape the fates of both Venus and Mars.

              Mars may well have had life. Mars' problem was that it was just too damned small. Had Venus coalesced where Mars is we wouldn't be having this conversation today; we'd be spending our free time studying the awesomeness of life on another fucking planet.

              Mars started with Nitrogen, CO2, a decent amount of spin, water and surface temperature warm enough to have oceans. But it was too small. The dynamo inside cooled before life could take hold and become the primary mediator of planetary climate. The magnetic field collapsed. Solar winds blew the bulk of atmosphere off.

              There, but for a fortuitous high-speed encounter with Theia, go we.

              So right here in our own stellar system there are three examples of Earth-like planets. At least one of three (probably two out of three) managed to give rise to life. One of our three managed to birth enough life quickly enough that life took over regulating the atmosphere in order to keep the planet balanced so that life could continue.

              There are trillions of other Sol-like stars, and trillions upon trillions more where planets, moons or even largish asteroids could exist within the habitable zone which could have given rise to life. Planetary formation is the rule, not the exception, and that we've detected Earth-like planets in habitable and near-habitable zone orbits.

              Given all of that it is perfectly reasonable to assume that the formation of Earth-like planets that are at least theoretically capable of having had geochemistry similar to proto-Earthis common. Statistically, in fact, it's quite likely to be common.

              That's before we get into moons with relatively similar geochemistry forming around gas giants orbiting dwarf stars within the habitable zone, or the "habitable dwarf planet/large asteroid clusters" theories about dwarf planets.

              So no, Earth is statistically likely to not be special. Sol provably isn't.

              And yes; the comets seeded life here. After the Theia impactor, they had to. We'd lost our atmosphere, and volcanism couldn't provide us with nearly enough Nitrogen or Hydrogen to make up what became the air and the oceans. We needed volatiles delivered during the late heavy bombardment, or we simply wouldn't be here. We'd be a largish Mars or another runaway CO2 greenhouse planet like Venus.

              Life itself - in the form of bacteria, etc - may not have come from those comets. But the building blocks of it...water, nitrogen and complex chemicals like amino acids - absolutely did. That is "soft" or "pesudo" panspemia, and all evidence we have strongly backs that theory. To the point that no other theories even come close to making sense.

              Your desire to feel important, special, or chosen by some sky fairy just don't factor in to reality. Reality doesn't care what you think...because reality doesn't have a personality, and doesn't care about anything.

              1. Kyle Roberts

                "we've got three earth-like planets right here in our own solar system"

                No, what we have is ONE earth - like planet. Any other planet we know about you can, AT BEST describe as "potentially" earth like. None with liquid water, none with a moon to give it tides, none with oxygen.

                ooo! you said the "F" word! You MUST be right! :-D

                Trevor, elsewhere on this very blog topic you state with absolute conviction that (and I quote YOU): "By all rights, virtually everything we hold up as "truth" today in science will eventually be proven wrong...or at least incomplete. Newton giving way to the quantum world, etc. That's sort of what the march of science does."

                Now read your post above. Think about it.

                Your 'reasoning' is circular, your logic is dreadful and your 'humility' not at all evident.

                1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

                  Earth wasn't "Earth-like" when life arose. You don't seem to understand that. Worse, you get caught up in semantics. When a scientist says "Earth-like" they do not mean "exactly like the Earth". Certainly not "like the Earth as it is today".

                  YOU are the one who is trying to artificially insert that requirement into the conversation, when there is no reason whatsoever for it to be there. You keep asserting that there is only one "Earth-like" planet, because you are choosing to set the language to something other than it's common use in order to "win" an argument on the internet.

                  There is nothing circular at all about my reasoning or my logic. You are grasping at semantics in desperation by not actually countering anything I've said.

                  We have, for example, zero proof that a large moon is required for life to arise. Note, I did not say "for life to thrive" or "for multicellular life to arise" or so forth. Just "for life to arise". We don't have any real reason to believe that a moon is required.

                  There are some reasons to believe that it helps rather a great deal with the diversification of life - mainly in making it from the "hydrothermal vent" stage to the "cyanobacteria" stage. But even that's is pretty wild conjecture at this point.

                  And Mars did have oceans.

                  But hey, keep trying. Eventually, if you assert it enough, you have to "win"...don't you?

                  1. Kyle Roberts

                    Ok, so by your standards even Venus could be "earth like"? Neither of us have defined "Earth - like" but I think my concept is reasonable, as there are many things that must come together to make a "Goldilocks" planet, a "Privileged" planet. You are just choosing to ignore this, casting a wider net to include planets that are completely unsuitable to allow any conceivable form of life to exist.

                    Mate, If Mars and Venus can be so similar (by your definition) to Earth, then where is the life there?

                    What I have been criticising is the oddball claim you are making that there is "nothing special" about Earth"

                    But hey, keep trying. Eventually, if you assert it enough, you have to "win"...don't you?

                    1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

                      Mars and Venus are Earth like. For all the very many reasons I've stated. Sadly, Venus likely doesn't have any life currently. (Which is not to say it never did.) Mars may have some life, it almost certainly did in the past.

                      The fact that you mistakenly believe that for life to arise everything must occur exactly as it did on Earth is not my problem. There is no rational basis for your belief. It doesn't agree with basic chemistry or with distribution statistics.

                      You espouse nothing more than faith - and a "god of the gaps" argument which boils down to "anything we haven't directly observed yet can't exist/means we're special/god did it" sytle bullshit - and demand it be accepted as fact.

                      I espouse an examination of the totality of our scientific knowledge to draw reasonable inferences from the data.

                      1) The basic chemistry that gave rise to life is fairly simple.

                      2) Lab reproductions of artificial metabolism indicate that there could actually be quite a variation in the conditions required for life to start.

                      3) Life didn't start on an Earth that looks anything like it does now.

                      4) The geochemical conditions of a primitive Earth can occur in a broad range of planet sizes and in a fairly wide-banded habitable zone.

                      5) Planets are the rule, not the exception

                      6) There are trillions of stars which could give rise to planets with relevant geochemistry.

                      7) "Comet catcher" planets like Jupiter are everywhere.

                      8) There is no actual evidence a large moon is required for life to start, and the hypothesis behind that bit of unique-earther "wisdom" is shaky, at best.

                      I could go on and on.

                      Short version: the only thing even remotely interesting about Earth is that it happens to currently be the only place where we know of life existing in large enough quantities to have altered the environment of the planet. Otherwise, there is absolutely nothing remarkable about this dump at all.

                      Earth is as "special" as you, personally are. I.E: not at all. One amongst many. Interchangeable. Disposable. Irrelevant.

                      Arguing that is must be special based on nothing more than that we haven't yet detected something identical is no different than arguing god must exist because science cannot yet explain everything. It's the "god of the gaps" argument and it proceeds from nothing more than vanity and fear of mortality. You aren't important and when you die, you decompose. That's it.

                      Get the fuck over it.

                      Statistically, there will be other planets out there which support life. We have no evidence, and not even any promising hypotheses to explain why life would be so rare and difficult to form that it wouldn't form wherever the basic conditions for it were met. We have no evidence, and not even any promising hypotheses that demonstrate why the basic conditions for life would be rare...let alone restricted to this one planet.

                      On the contrary, all our evidence - and the majority of our scientific hypotheses - point to the fact that life is hardy, adaptable, can arise in a range of conditions, and that those conditions are likely to be widespread throughout the universe.

                      Now, the conditions for advanced (read:multicellular) life to develop, thrive, and last more than a few billion years...

                      ...that's another story entirely. But even then, there is absolutely zero rational reason to assume that those conditions only exist here.

                      Nothing except one individual's overwhelming desire to believe they're relevant. They're not.

      2. ElReg!comments!Pierre Silver badge

        Re: Yes, but it's really, really unlikely. Statistically indistinguishable from zero.

        I think that given we don't have a frigging clue about how life really appeared, it's probably a tad early to speculate on the probability of it happening all over the place all at once (on cosmologic timescales the entire existence of our planet, from its distant aggregation up to its distant disintegration, is but an instant).

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Panspermia OR mystic sky Daddy

    Hmmmm, now which one is MORE likely?

    I wonder...

    1. David Pollard

      Re: Panspermia OR mystic sky Daddy

      This looks like a false dilemma. Both are most unlikely in comparison with the simple notion, demonstrated by Miller-Urey over sixty years ago and others since, that complex organic molecules such as amino acids form quite easily from C, H, O and N.

      1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

        Re: Panspermia OR mystic sky Daddy

        Where, exactly, do you think Earth got it's C, H, O and N? Hmm?

        The organic molecules came from the comets. After Theia whacked into a young Earth, there weren't exactly a hell of a lot of volatiles on the surface to play with.

        1. David Pollard

          Re: Panspermia OR mystic sky Daddy

          The C, O and N most likely came from fusion in stars; the H seems to be quite widely distributed. Organic molecules are likely to form quite readily in space; and clearly enough arrived on the young Earth for life to start.

          But panspermia, the idea that rather than arising spontaneously on Earth life came from space, carried by bacteria or spores of somesuch, seems to me to be an unnecessary and unsupported complication. The notion of life being carried to Earth on a comet seems to me to be nothing more than a techno-recast of a sky Daddy myth. Even worse, the idea that evolution proceeds as a result of directed panspermia is nothing more than a big boy's wet-dream.

          To say that life exists throughout the universe and therefore it exists on Earth doesn't do anything much to explain how it comes about in the first place, or how it starts up on a sterile planet. Neither does it help appreciation of the more subtle details of how living things differ from non-living organic chemicals.

          1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

            Re: Panspermia OR mystic sky Daddy

            Panspermia comes in two forms:

            1) Life here started out there (true panspermia)

            2) Life here started because things out there delivered to earth the relevant complex chemistry during or after the late heavy bombardment (pesudo-panspermia)

            The first is unknowable until we explore a lot more.

            The second is highly likely, given the formation of the moon, and the damage done to the surface during the late heavy bombardment.

            To the best of our knowledge, this is the history of the earth:

            1) Earth accretes from the protoplanetary disk, accumulating all sorts of yummy elements.

            2) Earth is whacked by Theia, a body roughly the size of mars. This completely liqufies the mantle. Heavy elements sink to the core. Silicates rise. Lots of stuff gets thrown into orbit, but not much of the really interesting stuff (like Uranium, gold, etc), because that was too heavy, and sunk to the core of the Eath.

            3) The Earth resolidifies (mostly), trapping virtually all volatiles in a silicon, iron and magnesium matrix.

            4) Massive volcanism is accompanied by continued bombardment from space. Carbon dioxide and methane are vented from the young planet en masse.

            5) The bombardment seeds a young earth with Nitrogen, Hydrogen and more complex chemicals based upon them. (Ammonia, water, etc.) Enough falls to form the early oceans. Very little land is above sea level.

            6) The planet continues cooling. Plate tectonics starts. Life arises.

            7) Early carbon dioxide metabolism begins. Most oxygen absorbed by oceans, rocks.

            8) The oxygen catastrophe occurs.

            9) Multicellular life arises.

            Panspermia here is of the "pesudo-pansermia" variety: the volatiles necessary to make things go were delivered to a young earth by comets after the big whack. Considering that fits with standard accretion theory, I don't see your beef.

            It doesn't mean that the goo which became us congealed "out there" as opposed to "here". But it does mean that it's somewhat unlikely that all the chemical processes required to make every single chemical required for life arose on Earth itself.

            Which, if you think about it, makes perfect sense. The various chemicals required for life all have different formation requirements. A protoplanetary disk is huge. The idea that some of these molecules formed elsewhere in the system and then found their way here after the big whack is pretty logical. I'm sure that some of the chemicals required to make it all go did form on Earth as a result of volcanism after the big whack. I'm equally sure that we needed the late heavy bombardment to seed Earth with things like nitrogen and hydrogen or we simply wouldn't be here to have this debate in the first place.

            So please, do some research into "pesudo-panspermia" or "soft panspermia". It is not the same as "all life floated in from elsewhere", but it is a great metric fuck of a lot more likely than "all life started here".

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It wasn't God

    Something that doesn't exist can't leave clues.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Organic" - arse.

    I wish they'd stop calling carbon chemistry organic, it's a bloody stupid thing to do when there is no organism involved. All earth organisms use hydrogen too, yet we don't say we found "organic" molecules when we find hydrogen compounds.

    1. Don Dumb
      Facepalm

      Re: "Organic" - arse.

      @AC - "I wish they'd stop calling carbon chemistry organic, it's a bloody stupid thing to do when there is no organism involved."

      It may be confusing but they *are* using the term correctly - see here - www.thefreedictionary.com/organic+chemistry

      organic chemistry

      n. - the branch of chemistry dealing with the compounds of carbon.

      [1870–75] Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "Organic" - arse.

        It's in the dictionary, true, and I clearly remember my chemy teacher saying exactly the same thing as he made models of molecules from cocktail sticks and fruit pastiles that day, which we later ate - but it's wrongly conceived and needs a rethink and rewrite.

        http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=organic

        organic (adj.)

        1510s, "serving as an organ or instrument," from Latin organicus, from Greek organikos "of or pertaining to an organ, serving as instruments or engines," from organon "instrument" (see organ). Sense of "from organized living beings" is first recorded 1778 (earlier this sense was in organical, mid-15c.). Meaning "free from pesticides and fertilizers" first attested 1942. Organic chemistry is attested from 1831.

        I don't think any of that really is appropriate for some stuff they found on a rock in space, see what I mean ?

        Ditch the organic and just call it carbon chemistry - shorter by one letter and more efficient to say, write and print too.

        I await eagerly the new international naming convention inspired by this post.

  15. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    They may be rocket scientists...

    ...but one does have to wonder why they were trying to drill into the surface with a hammer?

    Or are certain rules concerning tools and their applications universal to all people, tasks and locations?

    1. dan1980

      Re: They may be rocket scientists...

      @AC

      To be honest I haven't looked at it but on reading I simply assumed some kind of reciprocating - possibly pneumatic - hammer. I.e. a 'jackhammer'.

    2. Red Bren
      Joke

      Re: They may be rocket scientists...

      Are you familiar with the Birmingham Screwdriver?

    3. psychonaut

      Re: They may be rocket scientists...

      they obviously took lessons from my missus. she uonce put together a wardrobe using a hammer to bang the screws into it.

      i called it "the great leaning wardrobe of woodstock"

      how the fuck it stayed (vaguely) vertical is probably proof of the existence of god. which god though, is in question. im thinking norse - IKEA

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They knew there was life up there already

    You're all reading Philai Lander incorrectly. It's Philanderer.

    Prepare for hybridisation.

  17. LucreLout Silver badge

    If...

    If you take the view that Earth is the only place life exists, and if you also take the view that the planet is eventually doomed due to the sun expiring or a big meteor hit…. Then doesn’t it start to seem logical to seed some other planets in other galaxies with microbial life from earth, using satellites as manmade comets to target planets potentially capable of sustaining life? Maybe it’s just me, but I think the universe would seem fairly pointless if everything is dead.

    Of course, if you take that view then it's certainly possible to understand that life on earth may not be an accident and at the same time may not be the work of any supreme being.... just a scientific longshot by a long dead world.

    1. psychonaut

      Re: If...

      pretty sure stephen baxter wrote a short story including exactly that

  18. Adolph Clickbait

    Have they got any money?

    Can we borrow?

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not so much as a microbe, or the show's OFF..

    "I suppose it could be a particle of preanimate matter, caught in the matrix"

    "All right, let's get on the Comm-pic to Doctor Marcus. Maybe it's something we can transplant."

    "You KNOW what she'll say."

  20. psychonaut

    both could be / probably are true

    panspermia doesnt rule out the possibility that life evolved here anyway without help from panspermia - and vice-versa - life could have been seeded here by panspermia but that doesnt rule out the possibility that life can evolve elsewhere without it.

    theres also an intersection of the two, where life wouldnt have evolved somewhere unless helped by panspermia, and the flip side of that too, where the panspemia additions wouldnt have made any difference without the local planets attributes.

    they arent mutually exclusive and dont need to be. in fact, they both lend support to each other.

    also, life is only "as we know it" - there may be other forms of chemical structrures that can evolve to the level of self-questioning intelligence.

    there could also be intelligences out there that were made by precursor intelligences too.

    life may have happened once and spread.

    life may have happened multiple times, and some of them spread.

    life may have only happened once.

    maybe theres another kind of life out there that wouldnt recognise us as "life" and believe that they are the only ones.

    personally, given that we are not remarkable as a place in space time, and given the time and space available for it to happen, for me the the chances of us being the only ones are close to zero.

    the problem with the religious argument is that its pointless. "god did it" is the bottom of the turtle pile for every single question you ever ask. that to me is completely pointless and unsatisfying. its a nice comfort blanket for a lot of people though, so that they dont have to think too hard about stuff.

  21. wolf359

    "That's it for God, then – if Comet 67P has got complex molecules", Really? The only reason Stephen Hawking and other so called prominent scientists even consider panspermia as a viable option, is because they cannot explain how life got started on the earth on its own. They think they can explain how the universe popped into existence from nothing (purportedly the laws of physics allows for this even though the laws of physics didn't exist until after the universe popped into existence)....hmmm.

    Panspermia just moves the start of life somewhere else......consider this for a moment please: some bacteria is living out it's life on another planet, when all of a sudden, the planet is crashed into by an asteroid big enough and an explosion massive enough to eject our little bacteria friend into space at a velocity fast enough to escape the gravity of the star at the center of its solar system. After somehow surviving that cataclysm, our little bacteria friend travels through interstellar space (exposed to every nasty radiation you can imagine and near absolute zero temperatures) for millions of years or longer, only to have the rock it is on blast through our atmosphere and crash into our planet with the force several nuclear bombs. Oh, and having survived all of that, it is supposed to survive in an environment totally different from its natural home and as inhospitable as you can possibly imagine, and multiply itself. Sounds like a recipe for life to me! I wonder what the odds are of that all happening? I am certain they are still better than life spontaneously coming into existence on its own!

    The only reason our learned friends think that ANYTHING could survive such an experience in order to start life on our planet, is because it is actually less likely that life would spontaneously start, than the universe popping into existence from nothing. For the record, our scientific friends are usually wrong about everything they cannot actually observe or measure. Example, remember how paleontologists envisioned a huge bi-pedal, Tyrannosaurus killing Spinosaurus or a gigantic raptor like dinosaur that belonged to those 8 foot long arms with huge claws on the end? So now we know that Spinosaurus was nothing more than a huge crocodile with a sail on its back (which could not have stood on 2 legs even if it had to) and those giant clawed arms belong to a huge ostrich like dinosaur without a tooth in its head? Remember when dinosaurs didn't have feathers and were cold blooded? The list of mistakes by scientist goes on forever and in every discipline of science. Do you want to know when we'll know everything about everything? When we are dead and God tells us how he did it...

  22. psychonaut

    the good thing about science

    is that when some new evidence comes along, we can say - oh, yes, we were wrong - lets change how we think about this, instead of, say, calling that person a heretic and burning them,

    science doesnt claim to know everything, science is about making the best models we can of what we can detect around us. as technology improves, more things are revealed to us. we would be stupid to, say, hang onto the idea that the earth is flat today even in the light of the ancient greeks (predating christ by a good few cenuries) knowledge.

    and so science is changeable, and the best science happens when someone says "woah - THAT doesnt look right...lets investigate"

    the religious angle again is always, at the bottom of the pile of turtles "god did it".

    not any use for making anything usefull like an mri scanner, anti virals, landing on the moon etc etc.

    you have your book, which is manifestly wrong on many many things. its morals are also massively questionable in lots of it, just go read the evil bible website. if you stand by the "facts" in that book, then you are blind to the truth. thats fine if you want to bury your head in the sand, but thats not what science does.

    1. Kyle Roberts

      Re: the good thing about science

      " when some new evidence comes along, we can say - oh, yes, we were wrong - lets change how we think about this" That's a nice thought, ever heard of Phlogiston?

      "the religious angle again is always, at the bottom of the pile of turtles "god did it"."

      Sooo... the humanist scientific angle is "We haven't a clue how it could have happened, we can't do an experiment to repeat the process , we just know it wasn't a god" because you can't do an experiment to test a god. Not only that, but because it happened on earth without a god, it must be easy. If it's easy then it must be happening all over the place!

      "not any use for making anything usefull [sic] like an mri scanner, anti virals, landing on the moon etc etc."

      What? The work of Damadian was essential to the invention of MRI. Damadian was a creationist!

      The first man on the moon was a deist!

      "its morals are also massively questionable in lots of it" Mate, God's morals are a theological issue, not a scientific one.

      I know it all seems clear to you, but you also appear biased.

      1. psychonaut

        Re: the good thing about science

        "Sooo... the humanist scientific angle is "We haven't a clue how it could have happened, we can't do an experiment to repeat the process , we just know it wasn't a god" because you can't do an experiment to test a god. Not only that, but because it happened on earth without a god, it must be easy. If it's easy then it must be happening all over the place!"

        you haven't actually addressed the question, simply restated it - i dont know how it happened so god must have done it. proves my point really. the humanist scientific angle is simply "we will try and find out"

        "What? The work of Damadian was essential to the invention of MRI. Damadian was a creationist!"

        so what? he could be a satanist for all i care. how did he discover what he did? by using divining rods or by using scientific method?

        "The first man on the moon was a deist!"

        so what? how did he get there? by reading the bible or by scientific process?

        "

        "its morals are also massively questionable in lots of it" Mate, God's morals are a theological issue, not a scientific one.

        I know it all seems clear to you, but you also appear biased."

        yes i am biased towards scientific explainations, because your book (one of many which claim to reveal the truth), which is supposedly the incontrovertible truth, is so full of holes, falsehoods and terrible morals that i wouldnt believe any of what it says.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Did this thing take any germs with it.... which is now being exposed to mutating cosmic rays.... andswimming around in cometary water..... growing..... dividing..... evolving......

  24. Marketing Hack Silver badge

    Wait a second....

    "then consulted the engineer who built it to unlock a secret extra power setting dubbed "desperation mode." "

    So the Philae lander came with a cheat code???

    Is there a cow level?

  25. Conundrum1885

    Re. Wait a second....

    Well, complex organics could *possibly* be deposited over billions of years by electrostatics from passing through various star systems so its possible that this is indeed how life on Earth started.

    Comets may have ended up with organics in the centre due to melting/freezing cycles so it is likely that simple organisms could have evolved during the liquid/slush phases.

    In fact, electrostatics combined with galactic cosmic rays could explain organisms like Deinococcus radiodurans which IIRC has been seriously considered as a possible extraterrestrial organism having seeded life during the Cambrian era and remained a virtual living fossil while its descendants colonized the Earth and evolved into us.

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