How did life begin on earth? What originated the myriad living forms of which man is the most sophisticated? Ever since Charles Darwin published his theories that man evolved from the ape, scientists have been delving further back into primeval history in an attempt to discover the origin of life itself.
The conventional view is that life emerged about 3,000 or 4,000 million years ago from what is termed ‘primordial soup’ and that flashes of lightning in the earth’s early turbulent atmosphere created the correct mixture of chemicals to produce primitive cells — the first forms of life.
But more recently, another answer to the mystery has been propounded. The man behind the theory is Sir Fred Hoyle, an arch debunker of accepted scientific dogma. Hoyle, who was the professor of astronomy at Cambridge Unfl university for 20 years, believes that life on earth began with a ‘dirty snowball.
Our remote ancestors, he says, were born in dust clouds floating around our galaxy. According to Hoyle, these clouds contained viruses and bacteria. Some of them were picked up by a comet which later burst into the earth’s atmosphere ‘seeding’ the dead planet with life-giving cells. The tail of a comet is made up of gas and dust, but its tiny head also contains ice particles life-giving water to nurture the bacteria it carries.
The theory was treated with disdain when Hoyle first expounded it in the 1940s. But since then, astronomers have turned up some strange finds in the dust clouds that float between the stars. These clouds contain chemicals crucial in the chain of life, including methylated spirits, formic acid, formaldehyde, and even something akin to neat gin. And recently there was an even greater boost for Hoyle’s theory. It was discovered that the gas cloud known as Orion Nebula contains cellulose a substance which, Hoyle claimed, makes up half of all living molecules.
If the professor’s theories are correct, they may explain a seemingly superstitious belief held in medieval times. In those days, a comet in the sky was regarded as a harbinger of plague and death. Could this have been light? Are bacteria transmitted by comets that enter the earth’s atmosphere? Could it be that the Great Plague was caused by a mere ‘dirty snowball’?