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Comets seed life?


Hale Bopp

Early in the 13th century Robert Grosseteste studied the origins of sounds, the movements of planets, tides, eclipses and comets. His stunning insight that the Socratic method could be used to test the validity of observations, calculations, theories and conclusions will help to generate eight hundred years of scientific discovery.

In the 20th century, another British scientist, Fred Hoyle, theorized that life arrived on Earth via comets. Hoyle was famous for his contributions to stellar nucleosynthesis in the 1940s. He coined the term Big Bang (though he believed in a steady-state universe). His ideas about comets received less support until now.

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The amino acid glycine, a fundamental building block of proteins, has been found in a comet for the first time, bolstering the theory that raw ingredients of life arrived on Earth from outer space, scientists said on Monday.

As Instapundit quipped about today's story - "BUILDING BLOCK OF LIFE FOUND ON COMET. Fred Hoyle, call your office!"

When I think about it, I'm amazed that we can retrieve particles from the tail of a comet deep in the solar system, 242 million miles from Earth, never mind what we find. But Hoyle, who died in 2001, would have been pleased.

His own Socratic enquiry had left him, an atheist, "deeply shaken". In his book The Intelligent Universe (1983), he wrote -

Life as we know it is, among other things, dependent on at least 2000 different enzymes. How could the blind forces of the primal sea manage to put together the correct chemical elements to build enzymes?

Hoyle calculated that the likelihood of this happening was fantastically remote. Or as he colourfully put it -

The chance that higher life forms might have emerged in this way is comparable with the chance that a tornado sweeping through a junk-yard might assemble a Boeing 747. . .

He was, as the title of his book suggests, interested in the possibility of a guiding hand. Unlike most sceptics, he approached this idea through science, figures, facts.

His ideas about comets once provoked laughter, too.

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