For years it has been a hotly debated topic among the scientific community: can life transfer between planets in the form of meteors and planetary fragments traveling from one solar system to the next? While most scientists have long thought of it to be a small possibility new research reported by ScienceDaily indicates that it may be much more likely to have occurred long ago than we may have originally thought.
The debate first made its major public debut back in 1996 when fossilized remains of bacteria were determined to have been found rock samples obtained from Mars, bringing to head the possibility of real life "Martian" life forms. Still, the relative proximity of Earth to Mars could means this is still an actual probability due to fragments passing between the planets (or even potentially developing independently on each planet), but what about the possibility of extraterrestrial life going between solar systems all together?
Researchers at Princeton University, the University of Arizona and the Centro de Astrobiología (CAB) in Spain have been looking into whether or not this could actually occur and have come to a startling discovery they will be announcing on September 25 the at 2012 European Planetary Science Congress:
Yes, it can.
Throwing previous fragmentation models out the window, these research teams slowed down experiments done by other scientists to roughly half of their original estimates and determined that not only is it possible but it's highly likely that life (at least in the form of microorganisms) traveled either to or from Earth during its early stages of development from neighboring solar systems.
How is this research different?
Previously most scientists believed that solid material like meteorites or planetary fragments would travel relatively quickly between systems, even in their early stages of development, as as such there was as low as a 0.0001 percent chance of anything actually being picked up by a neighboring star system. By slowing down the model to take into account solar system development and slower travel speeds (all quite likely as our sun and planets are truly taking shape) this new research indicates there could be as high as a 0.05 to 0.12 percent chance of matter going between planets, with an estimated 100,000,000,000,000 (that's 100 trillion) rock transfers occurring between our solar system and our closest neighboring system before our sun migrated out to its current place in our galaxy.
This process of life traveling from one system to the next is known as "lithopansmeria", and if verified could shake the scientific world as it means we truly may not be alone out there in the universe (and may come from other planets ourselves!)
Naturally the researchers anticipate encountering a bit of skepticism and conflicting ideals when they present their findings at the conference, however are confident in their readings and are willing to put themselves and their reputations on the line to inform the world about what this may mean for mankind as a whole.