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Scientists skeptical of alien life claim

Scientists dispute the claim by a NASA researcher that this giant bacterium Titanospirillum velox is alien bacteria life. Scientists dispute the claim by a NASA researcher that this giant bacterium Titanospirillum velox is alien bacteria life. (Riccardo Guerrero/ Journal of Cosmology via Reuters)
Associated Press / March 8, 2011

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WASHINGTON — NASA and its top scientists are distancing themselves from a space agency researcher who concludes that he found alien bacterial life in meteorites that were collected many decades ago.

Richard Hoover of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., claims that he found fossils that look like the remnants of bacteria in at least two meteorites. His research paper, published online Friday in the Journal of Cosmology, concludes these must have come from outer space.

But his claim has been roundly disputed by other scientists.

“There has been no one in the scientific community, certainly no one in the meteorite analysis community, that has supported these conclusions,’’ Carl Pilcher, director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, said yesterday. “The simplest explanation for Mr. Hoover’s measurements is that he’s measuring microbes from earth. They’re contamination.’’

In the paper, Hoover states chemical analysis makes it unlikely to be contamination. Instead, he wrote they are “indigenous fossils’’ from outer space rather than something on earth.

Scientists inside and outside the space agency have criticized Hoover’s study, his credentials, and the journal itself. They say that Hoover works in solar physics and does not have expertise in astrobiology.

Hoover and the editor of the journal have not responded to e-mails and phone messages.

In a statement on the journal’s website, editor-in-chief Rudy Schild of Harvard University, called Hoover “a highly respected scientist and astrobiologist with a prestigious record of accomplishment at NASA.’’

Yesterday, NASA issued a statement by Paul Hertz, chief scientist in the science division, questioning the validity of claims that have not gone through peer review. NASA said Hoover failed to advise the agency he had submitted the paper to the Journal of Cosmology after it failed to get published in a more established peer-reviewed journal.

“NASA cannot stand behind or support a scientific claim unless it has been peer-reviewed or thoroughly examined by other qualified experts,’’ Hertz said in the statement. “This paper was submitted in 2007 to the International Journal of Astrobiology. However, the peer review process was not completed for that submission.’’