Extraterrestrial Life Above Wakefield, UK? Don't Hold Your Breath
Researchers from the University of Sheffield in South Yorkshire, England, say they've detected evidence of extraterrestrial life in the stratosphere above Wainwright. They sent a balloon 17 miles above the Earth's surface (commercial planes fly at an altitude of about 6.5 miles), to see what was floating around up there. On its way back down, they say, the balloon picked up some "alien" hitchhikers in the form of tiny, unicellular organisms. The scientists say the particulate matter couldn't have come from Earth and was brought here from outer space, indicating the existence of life beyond our little oasis.
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Milton Wainwright, a professor at the University of Sheffield's Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, helmed the research team that sent the balloon into the stratosphere, Earth's second atmospheric layer. The balloon brought back a few diatoms -- basic forms of algae -- that Wainwright says couldn't have originated from Earth.
"We're very, very confident that these are biological entities originating from space," Wainwright told The Independent. According to the paper, Wainwright is 95 percent sure the specks of matter came from somewhere else.
It should be noted that some of the particles were covered in cosmic dust, signifying their stellar roots. But does that mean alien life isn't too far behind?
On his profile on the university's website, Wainwright includes a photo of the balloon he sent into the stratosphere. It looks like a giant mosquito net tapered at the bottom. A caption reads: "A balloon used to sample the stratosphere for microbes in an attempt to demonstrate neopanspermia- the view that life (microbes) are continually arriving to Earth from space."
Neo panspermia is the hypothesis that the seeds of life on Earth were brought here from space. It holds that our planet's higher life forms evolved from extraterrestrial genetic programs. A popular blueprint for this theory is that meteorites carrying organic matter from somewhere outside the solar system crashed into earth, splash landing into our planet's primordial soup and spawning life.
Wainwright's work was published in the Journal of Cosmology, a publication with a questionable track record. As the International Business Times notes, the journal has, in the past, published research that had dubious methods and faulty claims.
There's also plenty of skepticism out there that the diatoms Wainwright's balloon picked up came from outer space. A violent volcanic eruption could spew such particles into the atmosphere, although it would have to be a pretty large eruption and there hasn't been one of that magnitude in three years.
"So the logic is as follows: We can't explain it, therefore aliens," Discovery News quips. "Wainwright's team may have found evidence of alien biology, but coming to such grand, extraordinary conclusions without the supporting extraordinary evidence and repeated, verified experiments, is an affront to the scientific method."
Until there's more evidence that the particulates came from outer space, we're calling this pseudoscientific "alien encounter" a flight of fancy
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