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No. 80: Mar-Apr 1992

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Life-creation from a different perspective

The preceding discussion of life's origin at hydrothermal vents was penned by an oceanographer. Astronomers, it seems, prefer different scenarios. C. Chyba and C. Sagan, in a major review article in Nature, see a two-fold problem: (1) identifying the source of the raw materials; and (2) identifying the source(s) of energy required for the synthesis of complex organic chemicals. First, they point to the steady drizzle of tiny, organic-rich particles drifting down to earth from cometary debris. These particles, which even carry spacesynthesized amino acids down to the earth's surface, seem likely chemical precursors of life. However, the atmosphere is also a potential source of prebiotic chemicals -- providing energy sources are available. Chyba and Sagan suggest as sources: lightning, ultraviolet radiation, and the shock energy derived from meteorite/asteroid/comet impacts. Together these energy sources, especially ultraviolet light, might synthesize thousands of tons of complex organic compounds each year.

(Chyba, Christopher, and Sagan, Carl; "Endogenous Production, Exogenous Delivery and Impact-Shock Synthesis of Organic Molecules: An Inventory for the Origins of Life," Nature, 355:125, 1992. Also: Henbest, Nigel; "Organic Molecules from Space Rained Down on Early Earth," New Scientist, 2. 27, January 25, 1992.)

Comment. Little is said in either of the above articles about the nature of and impetus for that final elusive step from organic chemicals to the simplest life forms. Everyone assumes that it happened, but did it? One can always imagine a universe in which matter, energy, and life have always existed.

From Science Frontiers #80, MAR-APR 1992. 1992-2000 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