Origins of Life: Space Bacteria
Created 2/9/2003 - Updated 8/22/2004 

Did life on Earth come from outer space? Here we consider the strange idea that space is full of bacteria, that comets are the true breeding grounds of primordial life and that life on Earth is a result of a rampant space infection.


1. Starlight is Dimmed by Dust | 2. Organic Molecules | 3. Mass of Bacteria | 4. Two Weeks | 5. Comets | 6. Bacteria Surviving in Space | 7. Food and Water Inside Comets | 8. Life on Earth | 9. Bacterial Rain | 10. Red Rain in Kerala, India | 11. Other Red Rains. | 12. Gravity vs. Solar Radiation Pressure | 13. Sun's Magnetic Poles Stalled, More Dust, More Disease | 14. Sunspots and Disease | 15. NASA's Stardust Probe | 16. Conclusion

Starlight Dimmed by Dust

In every direction astronomers look with telescopes, they see starlight dimmed by bacteria sized dust between the stars. A size of about a thousandth of a millimeter across is the best guess at the size of interstellar dust due to the ability of particles this size to scatter starlight.

In 1978 Wickramasinghe conducted experiments in the laboratory that showed infrared light passed through dried bacteria was absorbed in a characteristic way between 2 and 4 micrometers. He then confirmed that the infrared spectrum of GC-IRS7 (a powerful infrared light source from the center of the Milky Way galaxy) matched this absorption. This may mean that space is full of dried bacteria, but how can this be?

Organic Molecules

Some interstellar clouds contain organic molecules like acetylene and acetaldehyde, known precursors of amino acids. Further, NASA Scientists were able to create the amino acids: alanine, glycine, and serine in a deep-space environment simulator.

Mass of Bacteria

Perhaps the truth about life on Earth is kind of gross. How much bacteria dead are we talking about here? Since interstellar dust accounts for 1/3rd of all the carbon in interstellar space, the mass of the grains in our galaxy can be calculated to be about ten million times the mass of our Sun. How could there be so much?

Two Weeks

With access to the right nutrients, a single bacteria can split into two bacteria in two to three hours. After four days, a single bacterium could produce a million million offspring, about the volume of a sugar cube. According to Marcus Chown's The Universe Next Door, "After another four days, its descendants could fill a village pond. After four days more, the volume of the Pacific Ocean. In less than two weeks, a single bacterium could have converted itself into a mass of bacteria equivalent to the mass of the entire Milky Way." Are there nutrients in outer space? Perhaps!


It is believed that orbiting our Sun beyond the farthest planet and extending a fair distance out to the nearest star, there are about 100 billion comets in a vast cloud known as the Oort Cloud.

If most of the other two hundred billion stars in our galaxy also have clouds of comets, there could be a mass 10 million times the mass of the Sun, enough material to feed the proposed amount of interstellar bacteria.

Collisions occasionally bump a comet out of the Oort cloud and send it into our solar system. As they near the sun, they melt and eject a multimillion mile long tail of debris. Halley's Comet, for example, visits the inner solar system every seventy six years.

During it's last visit, space probes revealed that the particles ejected were the same size as interstellar dust grains and that they absorbed light in the same way. As it turns out, pressure from the solar wind will push dead bacteria right out of the solar system. Comets, may be icy dust balls the size of small mountains. It is believed they form in the later stages of the collapse of a cloud of interstellar gas and dust which shrinks together under its own gravity.

If bacteria are not destroyed by space they could be incorporated into comets when the comets form.

Bacteria Surviving in Space

Bacteria can survive dehydration, extremely low temperatures and intense radiation. Extremophiles such as Deinococcus radiodurans, for example, can survive the radiation in the cores of nuclear reactors. The August 15 issue of the journal Science published a new record. Strain 121 grows at 121 degrees Celsius, or about 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Previously, Pyrolobus fumarii held the upper known temperature limit for life at 113 C (235 F). Arrhenius showed that bacterial spores exposed to near vacuum and temperatures as low as -196 degrees Celsius came back to life. According to Wickramasinghe only one in 100 million million interstellar bacteria needs to survive space in order to convert a large amount of a comet into microorganisms in a matter of days. Once inside the comet, bacteria need liquid water and organic materials to consume.

Food and Water Inside Comets

The surface of Halley's Comet was found by both the Giotto and the Vega probes to be black, as would be expected from a coating of organic material. Radioactive aluminum-26, which geologists find in meteorites, is incorporated into comets and would be hot enough to keep the inside of a comet liquid for several million years after the comet's birth. If the comet then freezes slowly, water would leave the bacteria slowly and they would be preserved in a freeze-dried state, ready to be born again when a solar wind blows them into another forming comet.

This cycle takes about three billion years "for a bacterium ejected from a comet to become incorporated in another comet when a new planetary system is born" a ccording to Wickramasinghe. With this model, life can be very difficult to create, but it only needs to arise once in a galaxy for it to spread everywhere.

NASA, on the other hand, seems somehow to already know that life can't exist inside comets because, "Temperatures in a comet nucleus ... rang(e) from -50 to -250 deg C, and must have remained extremely cold since the time the comet was formed, some 4.6 billions of years ago." If you read this NASA site's decription of the nucleus of comet Borrelly, you will see that by 'nucleus' they mean the entire 4 mile long solid part of the comet. It seems they aren't considering that inside the large solid nucleus, there may be a warm watery liquid center full of bacteria.

Life On Earth

About 3.85 billion years ago, the Earth had finally cooled down enough to have pools of liquid. At this time, the earliest possible time, life appears. We know this because living organisms concentrate the isotope carbon-12. When they die and become incorporated in rocks, which then have an unusually high concentration of carbon-12 compared to carbon-13. Rocks from 3.85 billion years ago show the fingerprint of life. Comets that struck the earth (and the moon) 3.85 billion years ago may have brought life. This is not a new idea. Aristarchus of Samos in the third century B.C. made the claim that life on earth was seeded from space.

Bacterial Rain

If bacteria form interstellar dust, then the Earth, like the rest of the solar system, is traveling through these bacterial clouds and some bacteria would enter our atmosphere. According to NASA, "it is important to know that about 40,000 tons of dust particles from comets and asteroids fall on Earth every year. A large fraction of this is cometary material ... This constant bombardment of Earth by the particles shed from comets has been going on for the more than three billions of years that life has existed on this planet, yet life has flourished." Could bacterial spores survive this entry? Perhaps they do. Puzzling simultaneous outbreaks of diseases across the globe, too rapid even in the age of air travel, might be explained by the fact that bacteria are in fact raining down from the sky.

Red Rain in Kerala, India

In the southern Indian state of Kerala a mysterious red rain fell in 2001. A paper by Louis and Kumar in at Mahatma Gandhi University dated Oct 5, 2003 states "Red coloured rain occurred in many places of Kerala in India during July to September 2001 due to the mixing of a huge quantity of microscopic red cells in the rainwater.

Considering its correlation with a meteor airburst event, this phenomenon raised an extraordinary question whether the cells are extraterrestrial.

... slow settling of cells in the stratosphere explain the continuation of the phenomenon for two months. The red cells under study appear to be the resting spores of an extremophilic microorganism. Possible presence of these cells in the interstellar clouds is speculated from its similarity in UV absorption with the 216.5 nm UV extinction feature of interstellar clouds." Read the rest of the paper here in .pdf format. The bar in the photo represents 10 micrometers. There was no nucleus visible, even after staining, but proteins were detected by a Xanthoproteic test.

Chemical analyses of the red cell samples showed the presence of carbon, silicon, calcium, magnesium, aluminum, iron, sodium and pottassium in addition to significant trace quantities (in parts per million) of phosphurus, titanium, chromium, manganese, copper and nickel. Yahoonews.

Other Red Rains

Red Rain in Nghe An, Vietnam.
A recent red rain lasted 30 minutes on July 29, 2003. "Scientists in Vietnam are baffled why red coloured rain fell from the skies last week over the central province of Nghe An. Water samples have been sent to laboratories in the provincial capital Vinh for further analysis, with results expected within a week." No word on the lab results.

Red Rain in Sicily.
According to William A. Corliss's compilation Strange Phenomena: A Sourcebook of Unusual Natural Phenomena (The Sourcebook Project, Glen Arm, MD: 1974, pp. G1-10) an analysis of a red rain which fell in Sicily on March 9th, 10th, and 11th, 1872 by O. Silvestri originally appeared in Chemical News, (25:300, June 21, 1872). The rain "was found to consist of 100 parts of red iron ochre, 75.1; carbonate of lime, 11.7; organic matter, 13.2." In this case--as in a number of others--the red rain was accompanied by meteoric dust, and this meteoric connection may be significant." Indeed. From strangemag.

Gravity vs. Solar Radiation Pressure

Since its launch in 1990, Ulysses has monitored how much dust enters the solar system from interstellar space. The sun's radiation pressure is a flow of ionized gas expanding away from its surface and extending out beyond the edge of the solar system. Data from Ulysses shows that the force of gravity pulling dust in is the same or a little less than the radiation pressure pushing it out.

Sun's Magnetic Poles Stalled, More Dust, More Disease

The sun's magnetic field weakens periodically during phases of the 22-year sunspot cycle. At these times, more grains of dust are able to leak into the solar system. Normally, the sun's magnetic poles shift from north to south every 11 years "like clockwork." Except now, the magnetic poles "have only rotated halfway and are now more or less lying sideways along the sun's equator" according to National Geographic. That a bit alarming. Here's why: "This weaker configuration of the magnetic field is allowing two to three times more stardust to enter the solar system than at the end of the 1990s." Coincidentally, there is also an alarming increase in diseases world wide.

Sunspots and Disease

At the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory in Penticton, Ken Tapping and colleagues compared historical records of flu pandemics and solar flare activity dating back to the early 1700s. They found a definite tendency for pandemics to occur during periods of solar maxima. A statistical simulation found the chance of the two cycles being randomly coincidental was less than 2%. (Can. J. Inf. Dis. 2001, 12, in press). The researchers didn't speculate on a cause.

NASA's Stardust Probe

NASA's Stardust Probe probe will return to Earth in the year 2006 with samples of interstellar dust. Are we star dust?


If bacteria from comets are the true source of life on Earth and if the evolution of bacteria to 'higher' forms over billions of years resulted in human life, then we are all 'extraterrestrial' results of a massive bacterial infection of outer space! This idea is almost too funny to be wrong.