A fascinating book that addresses the most fundamental questions there can be. How did life on Earth originate? Is life unique to Earth? If not, how did life begin? Where did it come from? What existed before the beginning of life? Or was there indeed a beginning to the Cosmos at all? And how might life on Earth end?
Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe, in this account of his pioneering work as an astronomer, sees cosmic dragons or comets with their magnificent tails of cosmic dust as being both that life giving force and equally destroyers of life.
Scientists in the past have tended to regard life on Earth as unique, and to separate it from the wider universe. In his groundbreaking work, Professor Wickramasinghe with his colleagues, in particular Sir Fred Hoyle, began to question these beliefs. Why should matter on Earth be different from the matter that makes up other planets and indeed stars? Once great clouds of interstellar dust had been discovered, it was then a question of trying to find out what these were made of.
Recently it has been found that this dust contains complex organic molecules, and structures indistinguishable from desiccated bacterial material. Could comets, that were formed in the early days of our planetary system, have harboured a sprinkling of viable microbes in warm watery pools at their centres, the author asks, and could life on Earth, once a dead planet, have been sparked by the fallout from a comet’s tail, or even the collision with a comet? The first half billion years of Earth’s history was riddled with comet impacts.
Comets could not just be a life-giving force, they could bring death as well. Encounters with comets could lead to our planet being shrouded in a veil of dust from time to time, causing ice ages and ecological catastrophes. On a less dramatic scale similar events darkened and chilled the world and caused the great famine that marked the sixth century AD. And might such events too have brought hitherto unknown epidemics? Might our lives – Earthly life – ultimately come to be extinguished by a collision with a comet or asteroid?
But perhaps the greatest question of all is whether or not there is intelligent life outside the Earth. If comets brought us life, then the same could have happened on other habitable planets in the galaxy. One day we shall make contact with alien life forms, and no matter how strange they may seem we could be related. Do our cousins exist out there in the big wide cosmos? If so, the Cosmic Dragons are their friends or foes as they are ours, and our genetic ancestors still lurk among the stars.
“He builds carefully to his quietly astonishing conclusion…alien life must certainly exist on other planets.”
“I think that Chandra’s theory is crazy enough to be true, and I’m more and more convinced now that life has spread throughout the universe probably by the very mechanism he proposes.”
Arthur C. Clarke
“We are witnessing a transition from outrageous heresy to orthodox scientific belief.”
Sir Fred Hoyle
“It will undoubtedly be the most important and mind-blowing discovery in the history of science.”
‘The New Scientist’