Some Pertinent Issues for Interstellar Panspermia Raised after the Discovery of 1I/'Oumuamua

Steven J. Desch, Alan P. Jackson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

Abstract

The interstellar objects 1I/'Oumuamua and 2I/Borisov confirm the long-held expectation that bodies from one stellar system will be carried to another, allowing, in principle, interstellar panspermia. Life might be transferred between stellar systems, depending on the nature of the bodies and how they escaped their systems. 2I/Borisov appears to be a comet, with no more likelihood of carrying life than Solar System comets. In contrast, the nature of 1I/'Oumuamua has been difficult to determine. We review various hypotheses for its origin, including ejection of N2 ice from the surface of an exo-Pluto, formation in a molecular cloud by freezing of H2, and a derelict solar sail of alien construction. Of these, the N2 ice fragment hypothesis is uniquely falsifiable, plausible, and completely consistent with all observations. The possibility of interstellar panspermia would be made more probable if 'Oumuamua originated on a dwarf planet rather than a comet, although substantial challenges to transfer of life would remain. Of proposed mechanisms for interstellar panspermia, transfer of life via rocky meteoroids is perhaps less improbable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1400-1413
Number of pages14
JournalAstrobiology
Volume22
Issue number12
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2022
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Comets
  • Interstellar objects
  • Panspermia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science

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