Red Queen Revisited.

11 June 2006

Still running to stand still. A number of wonderous and strange "science stories" have been popping up: tales of insular dwarf dinosaurs, red rain carrying extraterrestrial microbes, and the rediscovery the world's most-appendaged millepede after an 80 year hiatus.

The new mini-sauropod is named Europasaurus:

Figure by Octavio Mateus.

The abstract is at Nature. Some had claimed the miniature dinosaur bones, some of which were found in Germany in the 19th century, might have belonged to a juvenile sauropod. Histologic studies show that they actually come from small-bodied adults who may have shrunk in response to limited island resources, a mechanism proposed for dwarf Mammoths found on the Channel Islands of Califorina for the recently described toy-breed hominid Homo floresiensis from the Indonesian island of Flores. Afarensis has a detailed analysis in two posts.

The purportedly panspermic monsoons hit India back in 2001. At 500x the replicating "cell-like" structures found in the rain look like this:

Photography by Godfrey Louis.

The story comes from an article published in the Springer journal Astrophysics and Space Science with the eyebrow lifting title "The Red Rain Phenomenon of Kerala and its Possible Extraterrestrial Origin". Among other claims, the "exobes" reportedly lack DNA and are capable of thriving at temperatures as high as 600˚ F. The authors, Godfrey Louis and A. Santhosh Kumar, write like pure and/or applied physicists, not micro- or "astro"biologists and ultimately hedge their claim,

In the context of a suspected link between a meteor airburst event and the red rain, the possibility for the extraterrestrial origin of these particles from cometary fragments is discussed (2006).

There is a pretty convincing refutation by Ian Goddard . Goddard cites an official report by the Government of India identifying the unusual red microbes as belonging to a genus of "aerial algae" known as Trentepohlia. If you find all of this rather Fortean, you might be interested to know that Charles Fort himself investigated "red rain" in the early 20th century.

The real astrobiologists are too busy studying terrestrial microbialites, like the 3+ billion-year-old ones featured on the cover of the current and aforementioned issue of Nature:

No reports yet of stromatolites falling from the sky.

Nature is also the place to go to read about Illacme plenipes, recently rediscovered in San Benito county, California.

At 750 legs, this guy almost puts truth to the lie of the "millipede" moniker.

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