Can life spread from one world to another ?
Scientists have long speculated over what processes might give rise to life on other worlds.
One of these, a process known as panspermia, involves life from one planet being transported to another on chunks of rock that have been propelled in to space during violent asteroid collisions.
Taking this concept one step further, a team headed up by Henry Lin of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics has put forward the idea that, if panspermia does occur, then it should be possible to track the spread of life through the stars like we might track the progress of a virus.
“Life could spread from host star to host star in a pattern similar to the outbreak of an epidemic,” said co-author Avi Loeb. “In a sense, the Milky Way galaxy would become infected with pockets of life.”
To track this theoretical expansion of life the scientists created a computer model that could simulate how the seeds of life might travel between the stars and take root on habitable worlds.
“In our theory clusters of life form, grow, and overlap like bubbles in a pot of boiling water,” said Lin.
With no real-world examples of panspermia to study the research remains for now more of a thought exercise, but within the next few decades the team believes that it may ultimately be possible to use a system just like this to study from afar how life might spread throughout the cosmos.