Thursday, July 12, 2012

Watermelon Rain?

In Chicago it is almost summer
but I’m wondering if next winter’s snows
will be colorful watermelon snows.

Ever since I learned about the phenomenon of watermelon snow it has sounded very cool to me. I’ve wondered if I’d ever get a chance to see red snow around Chicago.

Now I’m wondering if I might someday get the chance to see watermelon rain.

There is some controversial science going on right now, apparently involving labs all around the world. Some fringe websites have started doing reports on some of the research, but right now to my eyes Wikipedia has the most detailed and trustworthy summary of everything.

Today I’m going to quote from the Wikipedia page, link to one science reporter, and also speculate about this a little myself.

I’m talking about what Wikipedia calls the Red Rain in Kerala.

The Kerala red rain phenomenon was a blood rain (red rain) event that occurred from July 25 to September 23, 2001, when red-coloured rain sporadically fell on the southern Indian state of Kerala. Heavy downpours occurred in which the rain was colored red, staining clothes pink. Yellow, green, and black rain was also reported. Colored rain had been reported in Kerala as early as 1896 and several times since then.

It was initially thought that the rains were colored by fallout from a hypothetical meteor burst, but a study commissioned by the Government of India concluded that the rains had been colored by airborne spores from locally prolific terrestrial algae.

It was not until early 2006 that the colored rains of Kerala gained widespread attention when the popular media reported that Godfrey Louis and Santhosh Kumar of the Mahatma Gandhi University in Kottayam proposed a controversial hypothesis that the colored particles were extraterrestrial cells.

At a fringe science website called “Earthfiles” well-respected reporter Linda Moulton Howe interviewed one of the scientists from India in her posting: Fluorescence Mystery in Red Rain Cells of Kerala, India.

Linda Moulton Howe’s posting is very interesting and contains a lot of detail. However I’m not going to quote from it because it leaves out some details, too. The scientists from India and elsewhere who are stressing that they have not found any DNA in cells associated with the red rain phenomenon, which are typically believed to be well-understood algae of one kind or another, are passionate believers in a theory called Panspermia, the belief that life is relatively common throughout the cosmos and through various natural processes can travel even interstellar distances. Panspermia is interesting in itself, but I feel it is a whole different topic than the red rain.

Wikipedia addresses the DNA issue of the red rain at some length:

Hypothesis' authors – G. Louis and A. Santosh – admitted no explanation on how debris from a meteor could have continued to fall in the same area over a period of two months, despite the changes in climatic conditions and wind pattern spanning over two months. Samples of the red particles were also sent for analysis to Milton Wainwright at Sheffield University and Chandra Wickramasinghe at Cardiff University. Wickramasinghe reported in December 2006 that "work in progress has yielded positive for DNA, however, this identification is not yet fully confirmed, and might be considered equivocal". The absence of DNA is key to Louis and Kumar's hypothesis that the cells were of extraterrestrial origins. The team then reported in 29 August 2010 in the non-peer reviewed physics archive "" that they were able to have these cells "reproduce" when incubated at high pressure saturated steam at 121 °C (autoclaved) for up to two hours. So their conclusion is that these cells reproduced, without DNA, at temperatures higher than any known life form on earth is able to. The cells, however, were unable to reproduce at temperatures that earthly cells do. The team also observed the cells using phase contrast fluorescence microscopy, and they concluded that: "The fluorescence behaviour of the red cells is shown to be in remarkable correspondence with the extended red emission observed in the Red Rectangle Nebula and other galactic and extragalactic dust clouds, suggesting, though not proving an extraterrestrial origin." The controversial conclusion of Louis et al. is the only hypothesis suggesting that these organisms are of extraterrestrial origin.

Regarding the "absence" of DNA, Louis has not reported the use of any standard microbiology growth medium to culture and induce germination and growth of the spores, basing his claim of "biological" growth on light absorption measurements following precipitation by supercritical fluids. Louis' only attempt to stain the spore's DNA was by the use of malachite green, which is generally used to stain bacterial endospores, not algal spores, whose primary function of their cell wall and their impermeability is to ensure its own survival through periods of environmental stress. They are therefore resistant to ultraviolet and gamma radiation, desiccation, lysozyme, temperature, starvation and chemical disinfectants. Visualising algal spore DNA under a light microscope can be difficult due to the impermeability of the highly resistant spore wall to dyes and stains used in normal staining procedures. In order to stain the spores' DNA, which is tightly packed, encapsulated and desiccated, spores must first be cultured in suitable growth medium and temperature in order to induce germination.

So this is all very interesting stuff. It is on-going research, so findings are coming in a little at a time. And since the topic of Panspermia has become a contentious one, all reports need to be taken with a grain of salt. Some scientists will be tempted to over-state results, some scientists will be tempted to down-play results. But time will tell.

Strange stuff has been falling out of the sky for as long as there has been recorded history, and folklore of “falls” has existed since even before records have been kept. I’ve posted about such things.

Parsimony And Aberrant Forms

I want to mention two thoughts I have on this topic.

The accepted cause of red rain is spores, similar to the cause of watermelon snow. And that makes perfect sense. I don’t feel any strong imperative to disbelieve this.

However, if the scientists from India are correct in their observations of strange characteristics of the cells from the red rain, then it will become reasonable to ask where these strange cells come from.

Scientists who believe in Panspermia have done a lot of speculating about meteor and small comet input into the Earth’s atmosphere as driving causes of interesting terrestrial biology issues. I’m not going to dwell on this belief now, but it is reasonable and carefully thought-out. However it is still an open question if it actually happens.

Believers in Panspermia have to account for why something like red rain seems to recur at specific places. The traditional explanation is that the Earth passes through, for instance, specific debris from fragmented comets as regularly occurring meteor showers and similar passages through specific debris streams may cause red rain. That is reasonable, but it does not explain why specific places on Earth would be singled out. The Earth certainly passes through specific debris streams, but not always with exactly the same planetary orientation.

I’ve always wondered if scientists might be looking in the wrong direction. In fact, in the exactly opposite direction to where they should be looking.

Thomas Gold has written extensively on what he termed the deep, hot biosphere. And, of course, scientists have extensively studied deep ocean hydrothermal vents. The high pressures and high temperatures within the Earth seem to be rich with odd life forms and these life forms are often consistent with the extreme characteristics associated with speculations about life forms that might arrive in comets or meteors.

If odd life forms are venting up from deep within the Earth, the vents may very well be occurring at specific locations, so it would be expected, then, for red rain to fall at one or another location repeatedly.

I personally strongly suspect if the accepted explanation for red rain—algae and spores of some kind—turns out to be false, then the real explanation might require scientists to look inward, to the deep, hot biosphere. (And even if the accepted explanation is true, these interesting algae and other odd life forms may have originated in and be most common in an exotic environment like the deep, hot biosphere, and they may enter our environment predominantly though venting from below. Time and research will tell.)

Hot Red Earth, Cold Blue Jazz

Clouds Want To Be Close To Us


There is one other thing I want to mention.

Many people aren’t aware of it, but nanotechnology has actually started to turn up in consumer products. For instance, nano-silver particles are used in some sunscreen products. (And this is happening, it is worth mentioning, as a strange medical condition called Morgellons syndrome is puzzling many healthcare professionals.) If nanotechnology is turning up in consumer products, it is reasonable to wonder what is happening in black ops labs around the world. If strange cells are found replicating without DNA, it is worth remembering that very smart people for many years have been warning about so-called Grey Goo.

Maybe Grey Goo is red.

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