March 5, 2009 | David F. Coppedge

Are You Cereous?  Life Came from an Asteroid?

Ceres is an icy asteroid way out in space that has a lot of ice.  The DAWN spacecraft is heading there.  When it arrives in 2015, maybe it will find out if a substantial part of the water is in liquid state under an ice crust.  Say the word water, and some think… life. reported that an astrobiologist has a new idea: life started on Ceres and then moved to Earth.  Believe it or not, it’s a radical new theory Joot Houtkooper told the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life conference in Florence, Italy.  Ceres may be small, but its H2O molecules add up.  He figures that “The total volume of all this water is something like 40 times greater than all the oceans on Earth.”  OK so far, now what?  Well, he figures that the core of Ceres may have rock, and the rock may have radioactive elements, and the radioactive elements may heat the rock and produce hydrothermal vents.  How could life not be far behind?  “…if life is not unique to the Earth and could exist elsewhere, then these icy bodies are the places where life may have originated.”
    Now he has the problem of getting it to Earth.  Here’s how the story goes.  During the Late Heavy Bombardment, Earth got sterilized.  Smaller icy bodies like Ceres might have survived unscathed.  Life originated there, then fragments of rock blasted from it traveled toward the inner solar system.  Fragments from small Ceres would be more likely to reach escape velocity, you see.  He calculated that Earth is in a favorable position to reach the Ceres deliveries, and that is how you and I got here.
    “The thought of Earth being seeded with life from Ceres and creatures existing there today is certainly fascinating, but Houtkooper admits that it is more science fiction than science fact until evidence can be provided,” the article ended.  “This is naturally difficult to obtain, as Ceres is a small and distant world.”

See what happens when storytellers are allowed into the science lab?  This makes Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs sound scholarly.  Contest: see if you can top this.  Make up the wackiest theory for the origin of life you can, and see if you can get to publish it.  Tell them you’re an astrobiologist.  You could be one, too, because the only job requirements are life membership in the Darwin Party and a vivid imagination.

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