Panspermia – the theory that life came to Earth on a comet or asteroid from another world – comes from the Greek words ‘pan’ (all) and ‘sperma’ (seed). That makes sense because the hypothesis suggests that the life form riding bareback on a space rock was microscopic, like the tardigrades which we already know can survive in space and that some panspermians propose may have indeed traveled here from abroad. Now a new theory proposes that not only were the microorganisms tiny, but so were their means of transit -- space dust particles. Could it be true that all we are is space dust in the cosmic wind?
In a paper published in a recent edition of Astrobiology, Professor Arjun Berera of the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Edinburgh looks at "hypervelocity space dust" – the sneeze-worthy massive cloud of particles that are constantly blowing into our atmosphere and quite possibly blowing right back out again with some passengers from Earth. The escape velocity is achieved by a sort of billiard ball effect of incoming particles slamming around the atmospheric table and knocking others in all directions – down, up and corner pocket.
This effect is nothing like the cloud you kick up when blowing the dust off of your tables before your parents visit. Berera and his researchers determined that space dust travels at 70 km a second (156,585.5mph). Assuming that tardigrades or other microorganisms could be carried by conventional winds or the cosmic billiard ball effect to a height of 70 km (43 miles) and that they can hang on to dust particles with their tiny feet or whatever appendages they have, they could be knocked out of the Earth ballpark and catch a ride on a cosmic wind shuttle to another planet, solar system or even a galaxy … assuming they can survive the trip. Based on how well bacteria survives on the outside of the International Space Station, don’t put it past them.
If you buy Professor Berera’s idea of hypervelocity space dust bearing gifts of life to Earth billions of years ago, then it’s safe to assume that it’s also happening right now. That big inhalation before blowing out your birthday candles could have started a colony of aliens deep in your lungs. You may not feel older but you may soon feel something worse than any flu congestion you’ve ever coughed up.
“The proposition that space dust collisions could propel organisms over enormous distances between planets raises some exciting prospects of how life and the atmospheres of planets originated. The streaming of fast space dust is found throughout planetary systems and could be a common factor in proliferating life.”
While Professor Berera buys into this dustpan-spermia theory, there are both scientific and religious doubters. There’s only one way to find out. Get our your microscope, kick up some dust and eliminate everything that doesn’t look familiar.