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Panspermia theory burned to a crisp: bacteria couldn’t survive on meteorite


Image by ESAFoton-M3 capsule

A number of evolutionists have become disillusioned with ideas that life could have evolved from non-living chemicals on Earth (i.e. via chemical evolution, sometimes called ‘abiogenesis’). So they hoped that with the whole universe to work with, life might have evolved elsewhere in the universe, and travelled to Earth. This is the theory of panspermia, from Greek πᾶς/πᾶν (pas/pan, all) and σπέρμα (sperma, seed), i.e. seeds of life are everywhere in the universe (see how one evolutionist ‘reasons’ to panspermia).

The classic form of panspermia is the theory that these seeds happen to hitch a ride on comets or meteorites (as opposed to ‘directed panspermia’ where the seeds are sent by aliens1). Yet a recent experiment has dealt a fatal blow to this theory, because it showed that they couldn’t survive the extreme heat on entering the earth’s atmosphere—and causes meteoroids to become meteors or ‘shooting stars’.2

Experimental disproof

Scientists at the Centre of Molecular Biophysics in Orleans, France, managed to simulate a meteorite entry by attaching rocks to the heat shield of a returning Russian spacecraft (FOTON M3 capsule) last month. These rocks were smeared with a hardy bacterium called Chroococcidiopsis—supposed to resemble a proposed germ on Mars. The rocks also contained microfossils.

After the spacecraft was retrieved, the microfossils survived, but the Chroococcidiopsis was burned black, although their outlines remained. Lead author Frances Westall says:

‘The STONE-6 experiment suggests that, if Martian sedimentary meteorites carry traces of past life, these traces could be safely transported to Earth. However, the results are more problematic when applied to panspermia. STONE-6 showed at least two centimetres (0.8 inch) of rock is not sufficient to protect the organisms during [atmospheric] entry.’2

Their original paper stated:

‘The Chroococcidiopsis did not survive but their carbonized remains did. Thus sedimentary meteorites from Mars could reach the surface of the Earth and, if they contain traces of fossil life, these traces could be preserved. However, living organisms may need more than 2 cm of rock protection.’3

The paper also had this typically cautious concluding remark:

‘However, because of a technological flaw, no conclusions can be drawn regarding the thickness of rocky materials needed to protect extant life during atmospheric entry.’

It turned out that there was:

‘burning of the back side of this particular sample owing, apparently, to the entry of heat and flames behind the sample. This occurred because the difference in composition between the carbon-carbon screws and the silicon phenolic material of the sample holder resulted in a space appearing between the screws and the screw holes. Thus, the Chroococcidiopsis cells were completely carbonised despite the 2 cm thickness of protective rock covering them.’

However, this didn’t stop the leading researcher asserting that 2 cm of rock was insufficient, both in a press release and in their abstract. A real rock is likely to have gaps larger than in the experiment.

Indeed, this experiment seems to understate the problems. The paper states:

‘Entry speed of the FOTON capsule was 7.6 km/sec, slightly lower than the normal meteorite velocities of 12–15 km/sec. It was possible to determine the minimum temperature reached during entry through the thermal dissociation of one of the space cement that occurs at a temperature of ~1700°C. Although the basalt control sample was lost, comparison with the results of the STONE 5 experiment indicates that the temperatures upon entry are high enough to form a fusion crust.’3

One must question whether little over half the speed is ‘slightly lower’. It’s worse because the frictional drag and kinetic energy are proportional to the square of the velocity; i.e. if the velocity is doubled, the drag and energy are quadrupled.4

This indicates that a real meteorite would heat up much more, requiring an even thicker shield.

Life from Mars?

This experiment also supports our rejection of the life from Mars hype in 1996, in that the atmosphere would likely fry any Martian meteoritic microbes. We also pointed out that life on Mars was more likely to have been blasted off from Earth in the first place, and this experiment indirectly reinforces this. I.e. the frictional drag is proportional to the atmospheric density,4 and the Martian atmosphere is < 1% as dense as ours. So planets with dense atmospheres are more likely to be sources than destinations for life.


Panspermia has now been shown to have a huge flaw. Since panspermia was a common last-ditch attempt to preserve materialism in the face of problems in chemical evolution on Earth, materialism itself has likewise taken yet another huge blow.

Published: 10 October 2008


  1. Crick, F. and Orgel, L.E., Directed Panspermia, Icarus 19:341–346, 1973. Return to text.
  2. Meteorite experiment deals blow to bugs from space theory, Physorg.com, 25 September 2008; physorg.com/news141539594.html, available at abc.net.au/news/2008-09-25/meteorite-experiment-deals-blow-to-bugs-from-space/521794. Return to text.
  3. Westall, F. et al., STONE 6: Sedimentary meteors from Mars, European Planetary Science Congress Abstracts 3, EPSC2008-A-00407, 2008. Return to text.
  4. Kinetic energy is given by E = ½mv2, where m is mass and v is velocity. Frictional drag force is given by fdrag = ½CρAv2, where ρ is the air density, A the cross-sectional area, and C is a numerical drag coefficient. Return to text.