Wednesday, March 9, 2011

NASA skeptical of meteorite alien life claim

NASA skeptical of meteorite alien life claim

Space agency keeps distance from NASA researcher claim of alien fossil find on meteorite

Meteorite shower on August 13, 2010 near Grazalema, southern Spain. (Getty Images)
 (CBS/AP) WASHINGTON - NASA and its top scientists are distancingthemselves from a space agency researcher who concludes that hefound alien bacterial life in meteorites that were collected manydecades ago.

Richard Hoover of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center inHuntsville, Ala., claims that he found fossils that look like theremnants of bacteria in at least two meteorites. His researchpaper, published online Friday in the Journal of Cosmology,concludes these must have come from outer space.

But his claim has been roundly disputed by other scientists. "There has been no one in the scientific community, certainlyno one in the meteorite analysis community, that has supportedthese conclusions," NASA Astrobiology Institute Director CarlPilcher told The Associated Press Monday. "The simplestexplanation for Mr. Hoover's measurements is that he's measuringmicrobes from Earth. They're contamination."

In the paper, Hoover states that chemical analysis makes itunlikely to be contamination. Instead, he wrote they are"indigenous fossils" from outer space rather than something foundon Earth.

Scientists inside and outside the space agency have criticizedand even ridiculed Hoover's study, his credentials and the journalitself. They say that Hoover works in solar physics and doesn'thave expertise in astrobiology.

Hoover and the editor of the journal have not responded toe-mails and phone messages from The Associated Press.
In a statement on the journal's web site, editor-in-chief RudySchild of Harvard University, called Hoover "a highly respectedscientist and astrobiologist with a prestigious record ofaccomplishment at NASA."

 On Monday, NASA issued a statement by Paul Hertz, chiefscientist in the science division, questioning the validity ofclaims that have not gone through peer review. NASA said Hooverfailed to advise the agency he had submitted the paper to theJournal of Cosmology after it failed to get published in a moreestablished peer-reviewed journal.

"NASA cannot stand behind or support a scientific claim unlessit has been peer-reviewed or thoroughly examined by other qualifiedexperts," Hertz said in the statement. "This paper was submittedin 2007 to the International Journal of Astrobiology. However, thepeer review process was not completed for that submission."

The Journal of Cosmology bills itself as peer-reviewed. In hisnote, Schild wrote that he has asked "100 experts" and "over 500scientists from the scientific community" to review the paper withtheir commentary to be posted online, after the paper was released.Typically, scientific journals obtain peer review before decidingwhether to publish new research.

The paper's findings were first made public by Fox News.

Pilcher said the cosmology journal "has published papers inwhich the authors assert that life could not possibly have startedon Earth and must have started in interstellar space 10 billionyears ago," he said. That theory is not one held by a majority ofmainstream scientists, he said.

Similar claims about life in a meteorite found in Antarcticawere made by other NASA scientists in 1996 and announced byPresident Bill Clinton on the White House front lawn. But they werenot backed up by follow-up research and remain in dispute. Backthen, NASA trumpeted the finding, but not so this time.

NASA astrobiologist David Morrison said Hoover's work falls farshort of good science.

"If Hoover wants to be taken seriously by the community ofastrobiologists, he needs to publish this in a real journal and torespond to the criticisms from other scientists," Morrison said inan e-mail and on a NASA web site. "That is the way scienceadvances."