By Walter Jayawardhana

Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe , acclaimed astrobiologist from Cardiff University ,Wales said the discovery of water on planet Mars combined with other discoveries point to the existence of life on the planet.

In an interview he said, “The discovery of liquid water on Mars combined with earlier discoveries of organic substances in a meteorite that came from Mars, and also of methane in the Martian atmosphere all point to the existence of life – contemporary life - on the “Red Planet”.

“I am not speaking of fossilized life but contemporary life,” he emphasized.
Scientists working on the findings of the spacecraft Phoenix, currently experimenting on Mars announced July 31 that the mission finally confirmed the presence of subsurface water ice in the north polar regions of Mars.

Professor Wickramasinghe , is the world’s leading proponent of Panspermia, which suggests that all planets including earth in the universe have been seeded for life by microbes from outer space. He recently said such life could even exist on the upper layer of the clouds of Venus and could be blown out to earth by solar wind. Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe and Dr Janaki Wickramasinghe (his daughter) of the Cardiff Astrobiology Center claim that Venus's clouds contain chemicals that exist with the presence of micro organisms. "Our research proposes that the two sisters, Earth and Venus may be biologically interconnected as well," Wickramasinghe added.

Speaking of earth’s other sister planet Mars, Chandra Wickramasinghe said, “ Even as early as 1976, when the two NASA space probes “Viking 1 and Viking 2” landed on Mars, experiments carried out in situ pointed strongly to the existence of active microbial life. In one experiment nutrient broth was poured onto a sample of Martian soil, and it frothed up so vigorously exuding carbon dioxide, that a positive detection of life might have been inferred. But when the NASA scientists looked for organic material, the detritus of living organisms, around the landing site, their experiments yielded negative or ambiguous results. So NASA cautiously concluded – no organics means no life detected. But 32 years on, my friend Gil Levin, who was Principal Investigator on this project maintains that life on Mars was indeed detected in 1976! The experiments of 1976 to detect the dead bodies and decomposition products of bacteria were simply not sensitive enough.”

The Cardiff University based astrobiology researcher is of the opinion hat the delay in announcing the discovery of life on Mars is more sociological and political rather than scientific. He said, “So why the reluctance to admit unequivocally the presence of contemporary life on Mars? I think there could be political and sociological considerations at work. Firstly, if life was already detected, then there is no need to spend vast sums of money to continue the search! Secondly, there is a lot of scientific interest nowadays in bringing back samples of Martian soil to Earth at the cost of 10’s of billions of dollars, and there is a lobby that says if microbes exist on Mars we should not be doing this! It could pose a biohazard. Planetary Protection and consequent litigation if infective organisms are brought back could constitute major concerns to the authorities.”

He argued, Over the past two decades organic molecules, including bio-chemicals, have been found to be widespread in the Universe. And of course there is also evidence for the widespread occurrence of the water molecule in cosmic dust clouds and on planets. The juxtaposition of organics and water, Wickramasinghe said, on a planetary object is nowadays argued as being a condition leading eventually to the beginnings of life. Yet, the process or processes by which non-living organic molecules turn into life are still unknown to science.

“The thesis of the ready emergence of life from organic molecules is in my view a mistaken remit of modern astrobiology. Much more likely, in my view, we are witnessing everywhere in the Universe, biology in action – living microbes as well as their detritus, and break up molecules in the form of interstellar organic molecules. This is the conclusion that consensus astrobiology is striving to avoid. But in the fullness of time the thesis of life everywhere it can survive will be as obvious to future generations as the sun being the centre of the solar system is obvious to the present generation.”


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