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No. 46: Jul-Aug 1986

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Halley's comet infected by bacteria?

"Halley's comet is coated with organic molecules. Two astronomers working with the Anglo-Australian Telescope, David Allen and Dayal Wickramasinghe, have found strong evidence in an infrared spectrum of the comet, taken two weeks ago. The spectrum, spanning the wavelengths 2-4 micrometres, shows a prominent feature centred at 3.4 micrometres which the two astronomers attribute to emission by carbon-hydrogen bonds in a solid."

Chandra Wickramasinghe (Dayal's brother) states that the emissivity of Halley's comet matches exactly the emissivity of bacteria as observed in the laboratory. This observation supports the Hoyle-Wickramasinghe suggestion that comets transport life forms around the universe. Of course, more conservative scientists contend that rather complex organic molecules can be synthesized in space abiogenically. These molecules might account for the observations.

(Chown, Marcus; "Organics or Organisms in Halley's Nucleus," New Scientist, p. 23, April 17, 1986.)

Comment. This article seems to be accompanied by a bit of scientific revisionism. In response to this discovery, one English scientist remarked that these results, "...only confirm what everyone has always suspected." Now, it is true that comets have long been termed "dirty snowballs" but until very recently no one has maintained that comets are covered with dark, organic sludge.

Reference. In category ACO23 in our catalog The Sun and Solar System Debris, we discuss in depth the blackness of cometary nuclei. For more information on this book, visit: here.

From Science Frontiers #46, JUL-AUG 1986. 1986-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987