I am getting a very poor impression of astrobiology

I received email from one of those astrobiologists, the people behind the Journal of Cosmology, in this case Carl H. Gibson. I was…amused.

Dear Professor Meyers:

I understand you have some problem with our interpretation of Richard Hoover’s article proposed for the Journal of Cosmology. I certainly hope you will write up your comments for publication in a peer review, along with the article.

Attached is an article that might interest you on the subject of astrobiology. Have you written anything in this area?


Ah. He understands that I had some problem with Hoover’s article. I think if he takes a slightly closer look at what I wrote, he might be able to notice that I think the whole article was a creaky, broken cart loaded with rotting donkey bollocks. I thought it was perfectly clear, but I guess I have a thing or two to learn about expressing my opinions unflinchingly.

No, I haven’t published anything in the field of astrobiology. It’s not my area of interest at all, and I don’t seem to meet any of the qualifications, all of which involve being an engineer, a physicist, or a crackpot. I’m only a biologist.

I do have to thank Dr Gibson for the very interesting article he sent along. It was quite the silliest thing I’ve read in days … which is saying something, given the kind of stuff creationists like to throw over the transom. I had no idea the field was such a mucking ground for foolishness.

The paper is titled, “The origin of life from primordial planets”, by Carl H. Gibson, Rudolph E. Schild, and N. Chandra Wickramasinghe, and you can find it in the International Journal of Astrobiology 10 (2): 83-98 (2011), if you’re really interested. Almost all of it is physics and cosmology, and it’s way over my head, so that part could be absolutely brilliant, and these guys really could be shaking up the entire discipline of cosmology and I wouldn’t be aware of it. So let me just grant them that part of their story, although to be honest, the parts that I do understand make me really, really suspicious.

Anyway, they’re pushing a new cosmological model called HGD (hydro-gravitational-dynamics) in opposition to the standard ΔCDMHC model (that stands for dark energy cold-dark-matter-hierarchical clustering). They really like their acronyms, which made the paper a hard slog, but my impression is that they’re arguing that planets formed first out of turbulence in cosmic gases, congealing into dark clumps that were home to life first, and then colliding together to form stars. I have no way to tell if the physics is BS, other than that it isn’t any part of the standard models I’ve read in popular physics books, but the basic premise is that first masses condensed, then life evolved, then stars formed. Yeah, seriously.

The onset of prebiotic chemistry and the emergence of life templates as a culmination of such a process must await the condensation of water molecules and organics first into solid grains and thence into planetary cores. Assuming the collapsing proto-planet cloud keeps track with the background radiation temperature, this can be shown to happen between ~2-30 My after the plasma to neutral transition. With radioactive nuclides 26Al and 60Fe maintaining warm liquid interiors for tens of My, and with frequent exchanges of material taking place between planets, the entire Universe would essentially constitute a connected primordial soup.

Life would have an incomparably better chance to originate in such a cosmological setting than at any later time in the history of the Universe. Once a cosmological origin of life is achieved in the framework of our HGD cosmology, exponential self-replication and propagation continues, seeded by planets and comets expelled to close-by proto-galaxies.

That’s right. Life arose 14 billion years ago. They say it again in the abstract: Life originated following the plasma-to-gas transition between 2 and 20 Myr after the big bang, while planetary core oceans were between critical and freezing temperatures, and interchanges of material between planets constituted essentially a cosmological primordial soup.” We’ve also got a diagram.


That is awesomely weird. So, somehow, life evolved under the bizarre physical conditions of the early universe, under conditions completely unlike anything on earth, survived the formation of stars, incredibly low population densities, extreme variations in temperature and radiation, and drifted through space for billions of years to finally settle on the relatively warm, wet, thick oceans of ancient Earth, and found itself right at home.

And this is somehow a better explanation than that life arose natively.

Why? All they’ve got to justify this nonsense is the long discredited views of Hoyle and Wickramasinghe that 4½ billion years is not enough. And their alternative explanation is that the Big Bang produced a universe-spanning interconnected soup in which evolution occurred.

In view of the grotesquely small improbability of the origin of the first template for life (Hoyle & Wickramasinghe 1982) it is obvious that it would pay handsomely for abio- genesis to embrace the largest available cosmic setting. The requirement is for a connected set of cosmic domains where prebiology and steps towards a viable set of life templates could take place and evolve. In the present HGD model of cosmology the optimal setting for this is in events that follow the plasma-to-gas transition 300000 years after the big bang. A substantial fraction of the mass of the entire Universe at this stage will be in the form of frozen planets, enriched in heavy elements, and with radioactive heat sources maintaining much of their interior as liquid for some million years. The close proximity between such objects (mean separations typically 10-30 AU) will permit exchanges of intermediate templates and co-evolution that ultimately leads to the emergence of a fully fledged living system. No later stage in the evolution of the Universe would provide so ideal a setting for the de novo origination of life.

Never mind. I don’t think any serious biologist has any significant problems with the probability of life originating on this planet, but I think we’d all agree that the ancient planetary nebula was an even more hostile environment than the Hadean earth. I think their team needs some more competent biologists contributing — they may have the “astro” part down, but the “biology” part is looking laughable.

I do hope there is intelligent life in astrobiology, and that there are better qualified scientists who will take some time to criticize the cranks in their field.