The Net Advance of Physics: ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHIES, No. 1

Meteorites and Comets: Organic Matter and Exobiological Hypotheses, 1834-1950

by Norman Redington and Karen Ræ Keck

First Edition, 1996 August 19.

NOTE: Please send us any references we may have missed.


J.J. Berzelius, 1834 Annalen der physikalisches Chemie 33:113.
Found humic acid in Alais carbonaceous chondrite; decided a biological origin unlikely.

M.F. Wöhler and M. Hörnes, 1859 Sitzber. Akad. Wiss. Wien, Math-nat. Kl. 34:7.
Examined Kaba fall in Hungary and found carbon compounds which they believed of biological origin.

S. Cloëz, 1864 Comptes Rendus 59:37.
Examined the Orgueil carbonaceous chondrite and found material comparable to peat and lignite.

C. Flammarion, 1864 La Pluralité des Mondes Habités (Didier, Paris).
An international popular-science bestseller which made extraterrestrial life an accepted topic of conversation among educated people in the XIX Century; carbonaceous chondrites are invoked as strong circumstantial evidence for life on other planets.

M. Berthelot, 1868 Comptes Rendus 67:849.
A theoretical paper seeking to explain presence of petroleumlike hydrocarbons in meteorites in terms of a reaction between metal carbides and water.

W. Thomson [Lord Kelvin], 1871 Nature 4:262.
An address to the British association for the Advancement of Science, describin g the current state of science and reflecting the speaker's anti-Darwinian views. At the end, suggests that life was seeded on Earth by meteorites: ``moss-grown fragments from the ruins of another world.''
Burke, 1986 says that this address was discussed unfavorably in the letters of Joseph Hooker to Charles Darwin, and was also criticized by T.H. Huxley.

J.K.F. Zöllner, 1873 Annalen der Physik 148:322.
Argues against Thomson that life could not survive heating on entry to the atmosphere, hence meteorites cannot explain the origin of life.

H. von Helmholtz, 1874 Nature 11:149.
Originally published in German edition of a book by William Thomson. Defends the future Lord Kelvin's philosophy of science and his stance on various issues, ranging from Weber's electrodynamics and the particle theory of light to panspermia, against criticism of J.K.F. Zöllner. Argues that meteoritic life could survive entry into the atmosphere if it were deep enough in the stone or if it gently blew off the surface before the stone reached the denser part of the atmosphere. Remarks that he independently proposed this idea a year before Kelvin.

W. Flight, 1877 The Eclectic 89:711.
A popular article in support of Thomson's meteorite panspermia theory.

C.W. Gübel, 1878 Sitzungberichten der math. phys. Classe, Ak. Wiss. München 101:14.
Reports an unsuccessful search for organic structures in thin sections of Kaba and Cold Bokkeveld stones.

O. Hahn, 1879 Die Urzelle (Tübingen, Laupp'schen)
Claims to have identified algae-like plant fossils in various rocks, including the Knyahinya ordinary chondrite and the Toluca iron.

O. Hahn, 1880 Die Meteorite und ihre Organismen (Tübingen, Laupp'schen)
Examined 20 meteorites, none of which were carbonaceous chondrites. Claimed to have found fossils of sponges, corals, and crinoids, especially in the Knyahinya ordinary chondrite. Considers possibility that meteorites are of catastrophic terrestrial origin (i.e. sedimentary rocks blasted into space) but prefers the extraterrestrial theory.

F. Birgham, 1881 Popular Science 20:83.
Reports alleged discovery of fossil multi-cellular invertebrates in stones of 1866 Knyahinya fall by Hahn and Weinland.

S. Meunier, 1881 Comptes Rendus 93:737.
Describes an attempt to create artificial minerals, including some resembling those in meteorites.

Anonymous, 1882 American Journal of Science 123:156.
States that Hahn's ``crinoids'' are pseudofossils similar to inorganic structure created in the laboratory by S. Meunier.

D.F. Weinland, 1882 Ueber die in Meteoriten entdecken Thierreste (Esslingen: Fröhner)
Verifies Hahn's claim of having discovered numerous invertebrate fossils in the Knyahinya ordinary chondrite.

J.L. Smith, 1882 Popular Science 20:568.
Attacks Hahn's claims. Has looked at many meteorites and never seen any fossils; there would be carbonate of lime present if the fossils were genuine, and in any case, meteorites are igneous, not sedimentary.

C. Vogt, 1882 Les Prétendus Organismes des Météorites (Georg, Geneva)
Attacks the work of Hahn and Weinland on the Knyahinya stone, saying the structures observed do not look biological.

S. Arrhenius, 1907 Scientific American 96:196.
Argues for direct propagation of life between planets by microbes hurled into near-planet space by storms, then propelled by radiation pressure. (No comets or meteorites required.)

P.E. Spielmann, 1924 Nature 114:276.
Denies existence of bitumen in meteorites, as claimed by Berzelius, et al.; argues that a hydrocarbon forms after the arrival on earth of the meteorite, by reaction of iron-nickel carbide with terrestrial water.

C.B. Lipman, 1932 American Museum Novitates # 588.
Reports that externally sterilized samples of ordinary chondrites, irons, and a howardite all yielded both cocci and bacilli within 48 hours.

C.B. Lipman, 1932 American Museum Novitates # 589.
Reports discovery of organic nitrogen compounds in ordinary chondrite samples.

M.A. Farrell, 1933 American Museum Novitates 645:1.
Attacks works of Lipman, attributing bacteria to terrestrial contamination.

N.H. Nininger, 1933 Popular Astronomy 41:214.
Attributes Lipman's results to terrestrial contamination.

S.K. Roy, 1935 ``The Question of Living Bacteria in Stony Meteorites.'' Field Museum, Geology, Series 4, 179-98.
Attack on C.B. Lipman's claim.

C.B. Lipman, 1936 Popular Astronomy 44:442.
Reports discovery of living bacteria in meteorites.

S.K. Roy, 1937 Popular Astronomy 45:499.
Points out Lipman had also ``found'' living bacteria in ancient terrestrial rocks and coal, but that other scientists had failed to verify this. Roy also tried to obtain living cultures from meteorites, but failed.

J.D. Buddhue, 1942 Popular Astronomy 50:561.
Attacks Lipman's claimed discovery of organic nitrogen compounds.

J.M. Hayes, 1967 Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 31:1395.
Extremely thorough review of all organic chemical analyses of meteorites 1900-1965, excluding specifically exobiological claims.

B. Nagy, 1975 Carbonaceous Chondrites (Elsevier, Amsterdam).
Contains material on XIX-Century life-in-meteorite controversies.