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E.T. For Real: Cells From Red Rain Can Reproduce, May Be From “Out There”

In 2001 red-stained rain fell over India. Scientists found oddly non-Earth-like cells in it. Controversy ensued. Now it’s been revealed the cells can reproduce. Is E.T. already here?

red rain

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In 2001 red-stained rain fell over India. It was mysterious. Scientists found oddly non-Earth-like cells in it. Controversy ensued. Now it’s been revealed the cells can reproduce. Is E.T. already here?

For two months in 2001, on and off, red-colored rain fell over Kerala, southern India. One of the many people who observed the phenomenon was physicist Godfrey Louis–he collected a sample to work out where the color came from, suspecting desert dust, which is often responsible for vaguely biblical-seeming events like this.

Except Godfrey discovered something weird was responsible for the color: Biological cells, red in color, that bore no relation to blood cells and contained no DNA. Writing up the discovery in the journal Astrophysics and Space in 2006, Godfrey included the controversial, but scientifically plausible, suggestion that a comet had brought the cells to our solar system from the depths of space, and fragments had descended into Earth’s atmosphere as meteorites. The cells could have survived and seeded the clouds that formed the weird red rain.

To say this is a contentious theory is an understatement: Godfrey was asserting that extraterrestrial living entities had arrived on Earth from space. In a serious science publication. With proper, laboratory-based experiments.

This may or may not freak you out, depending on your level of skepticism, scientific education, or religiousness, and your confidence in the veracity (or lack thereof) of the initial claims. If so, then don’t read the next bit: In the intervening years Louis, in collaboration with scientists from around the world, has kept investigating the cells, and he’s just published a new paper about them. He’s discovered that while the cells are “inert” at room temperature, if you heat them to 121 Celsius, “daughter cells appear within the original mother cells and the number of cells in the samples increases with the length of exposure to 121 degrees C.”

Boil this scientific discovery down to its component parts and you get the following:

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  1. Red cells fell in rain for a short period.
  2. The cells appear unlike almost anything found on Earth.
  3. The cells can reproduce, under conditions that are slightly unusual for biological material.
  4. Clearly they’re meant as alien pods that, thanks to global warming, will soon activate and enslave the sweaty, heatstroked human race who can’t evolve fast enough to keep up.

Okay, we made up No. 4.

With recent evidence that simple microbes found in beer can live in the radiation-soaked vacuum of space for nearly two years, it now seems plausible that the red cells represent a form of life known as an extremophile. Earth-based extremophile entities, like the beer microbes, can live in seemingly impossible environments for extended periods. So Louis may have found evidence that E.T. exists, that he can reproduce, and that he’s already here on Earth. In the form of tiny red cells.

Peter Gabriel saw this coming ’86.

To keep up with this news, follow me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter.

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About the author

I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise. I've also got a PhD, and worked in such roles as professional scientist and theater technician...thankfully avoiding jobs like bodyguard and chicken shed-cleaner (bonus points if you get that reference!)

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