Earth may have helped create alien life on multiple other planets, experts say

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Earth may have helped produce alien life on multiple other planets, experts believe.

Long before astronauts took to the stars tiny bacteria is thought to have been whisked 150km into orbit by high-speed vertical winds.

The micro-organisms would have been trapped in hypervelocity space dust and sent across vast distances to alien worlds where they delivered life.

Life on Earth could have begun via the same method with the arrival of organic matter from elsewhere, boffins believe.

A study by Professor Arjun Berera (corr), from the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Edinburgh, notes the biosphere – the parts of the Earth where life is known to exist – was previously thought to extend to an altitude of 77km.

That was the highest point at which fungal spores have been found.

But samples of dust from the outside of the International Space Station – which orbits at 400km – have been found to contain DNA from several kinds of bacteria similar to those discovered around the Barents Sea, where the Gulf Stream meets the icy Arctic. Studies suggest this biological material settled on the ISS while it was in orbit rather than having been carried into space by it or visiting astronauts.

Professor Berera's paper says vertical winds can blow at speeds of up to 150 metres per second particularly in geomagnetic storms near the Earth's poles.

His team calculated small bacteriasized particles could be blown up to at least 120km into the air by these winds and reach greater altitudes.

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At about 150km space dust whizzing into the Earth's atmosphere has enough momentum to facilitate the planetary escape of biological particles.

The study says that raises the possibility of life transfer from and to nearby planets. Such events would be rare but over millennia may have astrobiological significance.

The professor said: "All it takes is maybe a few biological particles to escape to maybe seed life. If a biological particle escaped Earth and it landed on something that was conducive to life, biology tends to grow quite easily.

"Even if the probability of an escape event happening is quite low, like once every 50 years, if you think about long geological timescales there are a lot of events of potential life transfer that could happen from this mechanism.’’

His study says the process would be even easier on Mars where gravity is weaker and the atmosphere thinner.

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