Category : Editorial
Researchers from Indian Space Research Organisation and the Inter University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics seem to hove stumbled on to what can possibly be extraterrestrial microbes in the higher reaches of the atmosphere. If their findings ore borne out by further experiments, it will certainly be a leg-up for exobiology, the study of the possibility of life elsewhere in the cosmos (See Career-Exobiology - December 2000 issue of Biology Today). Scientist always look forward to the discovery of alien life-be it in a Martian meteorite found here on the Earth, or on some other planet in space - with a mixture of anticipation and anxiety. The excitement, of course, springs from anticipating the first ever encounter with extraterrestrial life. But then there is also the very real and frightening possibility of such life fuming out to be some kind of virulent and deadly microbes.
This is a major worry for space agencies like NASA who go to great lengths to ensure that astronauts are proper quarantined when they return from space journeys. After his historic moon voyage, Neil Armstrong actually had to fill in an agriculture, customs, immigration and public health declaration on board Apollo 11 that might lead to the spread of disease, he wrote : "To be determined".
Exobiologists nevertheless continue their search. Recent discoveries of fossilised worms in a meteorite from Mars and even more exciting data from the 1 976 Viking space probes (which actually confirmed the presence of Martian micro - organisms, but was overlooked and kept aside for 25 years by careless scientists) have been good news for the exobiologist, Apart from adding to this list, the India teams's discovery is also the first direct evidence in support of the "panspermia theory" which suggests that outer space seeded the earth with primitive life forms over four billion years ago.
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