In a controversial paper published in the March issue of the Journal of Cosmology, scientists from Cardiff University with colleagues from Sri Lanka and the United States are claiming that they have found algae microfossils in samples of a meteorite that landed in the Sri Lankan province of Polonnaruwa in December, 2012.
“A bright yellow fireball that turned green as it travelled across the sky was observed by several eyewitnesses in the North Central Province of Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka on December 29, 2012,” the team wrote in the paper. “Local police officials responded immediately by collecting samples and submitting them to the Medical Research Institute of the Ministry of Health in Colombo, Sri Lanka.”
Sri Lankan researchers obtained over 628 samples, of which only three were found to be possible meteorite fragments.
“Preliminary optical microscopic studies of deep interior samples extracted from the stones revealed the presence of a wide range of 10-40 μm-sized objects with a morphology characteristic of siliceous microalgae known as diatoms.”
One of the original samples was then sent to Cardiff University for analysis. The fragment was portioned for the scanning electron microscopy (SEM), oxygen isotope analysis, compositional analysis by X-Ray diffraction and elemental analysis.
“Preliminary inspection of a few of the SEM images revealed the presence of a number of highly carbonaceous biological structures. Some of these were deeply integrated in the surrounding mineral matrix indicating they could not have been recent biological contaminants.”
The energy X-ray analysis data revealed a lack of detectable nitrogen. “This provides clear and convincing evidence that these obviously ancient remains of extinct marine algae found embedded in the Polonnaruwa meteorite are indigenous to the stones and not the result of post-arrival microbial contaminants,” the team wrote.
“I think the discovery of an unequivocal microbial structure such as a diatom, deeply trapped in the rock matrix, proves beyond doubt that this life existed in the parent comet from which the meteorite was derived,” senior study author University of Buckingham researcher Dr N. Wickramasinghe told Sri Lanka’s the Island news site.
“The highly intricate and woven patterns on the outer shells of diatoms are impossible to generate by any other process than biology. The cosmic ancestry of humans becomes ever more securely established.”
Bibliographic information: Jamie Wallis et al. 2013. The Polonnaruwa meteorite: oxygen isotope, crystalline and biological composition. Journal of Cosmology, vol. 22, pp. 10004-10011