Study Suggests Life Hitched Ride to Earth From Mars

An old theory that life hitched a ride to Earth from Mars is getting a new look.

The so-called panspermia hypothesis suggests life may have arisen on another planet, with bacteria traveling through space, hitching a ride on a piece of rock or other means, and eventually making its way to Earth, CBC News reported.

A new study by the Japanese space agency, JAXA, tested whether bacteria could survive the journey, the Canadian news outlet reported. The study was published in the journal Frontiers of Microbiology.

For the experiment, Deinococcal bacteria were used because of its tolerance for large amounts of radiation. They were placed in exposure panels outside the International Space Station for one, two and three years beginning in 2015.

Early results suggested the top layer of aggregates died — but provided a protective shield for the underlying bacteria. The new three-year experiment proved that protection lasted.

“Some think that life is very rare and happened only once in the universe, while others think that life can happen on every suitable planet. If panspermia is possible, life must exist much more often than we previously thought,” lead researcher Akihiko Yamagishi, a professor at Tokyo University, told CBC News.

Mars and Earth come relatively close together in their orbits every two years, which would allow time for transfer of bacteria, the news outlet noted. And in theory, RNA could have once existed on Mars before conditions for life arose on Earth and potentially traveled toward Earth bringing along RNA which began to seed the planet, the news outlet noted.

It’s far from a foregone conclusion, CBC News reported.

“Actually proving that it could happen is another thing, so I wouldn’t say that this is ironclad proof,”Mike Reid, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics who wasn’t involved in the Japanese study, told the news outlet. “It’s certainly leading in that direction.”

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