(MENAFN - Arab News) On March 24, the first signatory to this letter delivered a lecture on the subject of astrobiology at the College of Applied Sciences in Nizwa, Oman. Present in the audience was the curator of the Muscat Planetarium, Dr. Marwan Shwaiki.
The main thrust of the lecture was that life is a cosmological rather than a merely terrestrial phenomenon.
The evidence for life outside of the Earth continues to accumulate with the continuing discovery of organic compounds in interstellar dust clouds and comets. Structures resembling fossilized bacteria have been discovered in meteorites and bacteria and spores have been recovered from the high stratosphere of the Earth. Much more work remains to be done, and projects requiring only relatively modest resources could establish these results beyond doubt.
Many scientists are now beginning to accept the idea that viruses and bacteria are the fundamental units of evolution. Therefore it is quite reasonable to infer that the biological evolutionary processes that operated during the early epochs of our planet are still present.
Arguably they might still manifest themselves in some human diseases such as influenza. That these viruses (or at any rate parts of their genomes) are incident from space is no mere wild speculation, for the absorption and emission lines of the spectra of many interstellar clouds appear to dovetail with those of known terrestrial viruses and bacteria. We believe that academic institutions in the Middle East have their part to play in this exciting new area of astronomy - astrobiology.
Each day, about 100 metric tons of meteoric debris enter the Earth's atmosphere. Some of this material escapes the ravages of the atmosphere and falls intact to the ground. As a great deal of the planet's surface is covered in desert, it is reasonable to assume that a large proportion of meteoric debris is lying in the Arabian deserts. If some of this debris could be recovered, it could be analyzed for fossil bacteria.
The desert may also be a good venue from which to launch balloons to catch comet dust from the troposphere and search for microbes from space. It is our hope that interest in this relatively new area of science can be aroused and that young people contemplating a career in science will think seriously about areas related to astrobiology.