It's been one of humanity's burning questions throughout history: where did life come from? Given what we now know of the origin of the universe and the history of our planet, and it’s easy to see how life might have originated not from our own planet but from elsewhere the universe where it then came to Earth somehow. There are many competing theories about how this could have happened: impacts of asteroids carrying organic molecules, tiny microbes propelled by radiation, or even that garbage dumped by aliens could have accidentally led to life on our planet. Of course, there’s also the theory of “directed” panspermia which argues life could have been sent here purposefully by an incredibly advanced civilization as a means of spreading the seed of life throughout the universe. As outlandish as that sounds, Breakthrough Initiatives scientists have already proposed such an idea using tiny probes carrying modified bacteria which carry human DNA, and we're still basically just cavemen who learned how to make stuff. 

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What could go wrong?

Whether or not any of the panspermia theories is actually true or not is one thing, but scientists in Canada have now found that life could indeed originate from space. Their research discovered that organic molecules can form in space out of regular ol' space dirt, thanks to the ever-present power of cosmic radiation. The researchers placed small films of methane and oxygen ice - the same ices found on comets, asteroids, and cosmic dust - into a cold vacuum to simulate space, then bombarded the ice with the same low-energy electrons found in ultraviolet light, cosmic rays, and other forms of radiation common to space. The electrons ionized the matter in the ices, forcing reactions to occur which led to the creation of several organic molecules thought to be potential “building blocks” of life including acetic acid, formaldehyde, and methanol.

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But didn't an asteroid also likely kill the dinosaurs? The cosmos giveth, and the cosmos taketh away.

In their published study, the researchers claim this specific effect of cosmic radiation could be the ‘spark’ which led to the first life in our solar system and perhaps beyond:

This radiation-driven molecular synthesis may indeed represent a driving force in the original biogenesis of the molecular building blocks of life in our own solar system and, due to the ubiquitous nature of matter and radiation, may represent a key element in molecular biogenesis throughout the universe.

While far from being proof once and for all that we are actually just the reeking byproducts of alien garbage, this research at least confirms that life could have originated from space, even on small icy hunks of rock or cosmic dust particles hurtling free through the cosmos. But, while I don't mean to disparage the significance of this discovery, I have to wonder: didn’t literally everything technically come from space too after the Big Bang? Even if life originated on Earth, isn't the matter which composes our planet technically "from space"? Aren’t we in space right now? Sure, we might be tethered to the surface of this planet, but we’re still riding on it as it hurtles through space at 19 miles per second in giant ellipses around the Sun, oblivious to the movement and destination of our vessel like ants circling the drain atop an old waffle some alien flushed down his weird alien toilet. 

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Besides, one solar system's trash is another solar system's treasure.

So don’t go joining that crazy UFO cult just yet. They might say the mothership is coming back, but they also all wear Keds. Never trust the cults with Keds.

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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