A paper came out of Cardiff University today claiming to have found algae fossils in samples of a meteorite that landed in Sri Lanka last December. At first glance, the claims are stunning: proof that life exists throughout the universe. But, sadly, the claims are also deeply flawed.
The analysis was carried out in part by Chandra Wickramasinghe, who, along with the Journal of Cosmology, has a questionable reputation around the science community. He is a proponent of panspermia — the idea that life originated in space — and has a history of claiming that, well, everything comes from space. Phil Plait, formerly of the Bad Astronomy blog, does an excellent job debunking Wickramasinghe’s earlier claims here.
So why is this latest discovery to good to be true? Some of the debunking goes as follows: Some of the “fossils” do not appear to actually be fossilised and are all known freshwater species found on earth; the sample may have been contaminated by fresh water; the rock itself could be of Earth, simply struck by lightning; no one’s actually sure the rock is from that meteorite; and the fossils would have had to go through an evolutionary history remarkably similar to Earth’s.