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No, the coronavirus didn't come from outer space

Glowing meteor, fireball entering Earth's atmosphere.
Glowing meteor, fireball entering Earth's atmosphere.
(Image: © Shutterstock)

No, the new coronavirus didn't come from outer space. We promise. 

With the coronavirus pandemic continuing to spread around the globe, people are panicked, and they're looking for answers and explanations. One wild theory that has made its way around the web is that the virus came from space. 

Spoiler alert: The virus did not come from space.

Recently, Chandra Wickramasinghe, known for his work in astronomy and astrobiology, spread the idea that the virus was living on a comet and a piece of that space rock may have fallen to Earth during a brief fireball event over China in October 2019. He further implied that comets carrying viruses may have caused outbreaks in the past as well. 

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In the past, Wickramasinghe has asserted that another disease, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) also came from space. He even co-wrote a book with Fred Hoyle in the 1970s called "Diseases from Space" and, for decades, has tried to prove that diseases like SARS or influenza have come from space. 

However, scientists have rebuked Wickramasinghe's suggestions that any such illness might have extraterrestrial origins, and his ideas have largely been considered pseudoscience or "bad science." 

It would be unprecedented to discover that a virus could survive the radiation it would be exposed to on such a long journey through space (never mind the trip back to Earth) and still be able to infect humans after it landed, astrobiologist Graham Lau, who hosts NASA's "Ask an Astrobiologist" series, told Space.com. However, while it would be an incredibly unique and groundbreaking finding if this were true, Wickramasinghe simply does not have evidence to support his claims, Lau said.

"It's one of those cases where extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence," Lau told Space.com. "Even though it's an interesting idea, we just don't have any reason to embrace that idea right now.

"I think it's important for scientists to point out pseudoscientists or bad science," Lau added. "If this was real, it'd be great, but we just can't allow ourselves to jump to the feel-good conclusion without doing our due diligence as scientists." 

More: Coronavirus outbreak shakes space industry: Here's the effects so far

Additionally, from what we know about the new coronavirus, called SARS-CoV-2, it lines up with what we know about terrestrial viruses. The virus is responsible for the disease COVID-19, which has infected more than 187,000 people globally, according to the New York Times.

"If this thing had some different kind of biomolecule in it that's different from life as we know it," Lau said, then there might be reason to investigate whether the virus had extraterrestrial origins. However, even in that case, there could be Earthly explanations, he added.

Wickramasinghe's claim ties into the theory of panspermia, a longstanding but not proven theory which poses that life on Earth originated with help from microorganisms and biological material from outer space, Lau said. And while there is not yet concrete evidence that panspermia has occurred here on Earth or is even possible, theoretically, it could happen, he said. 

Theoretically, biological materials could survive on a space rock, lie dormant and continue to survive if they were properly shielded from the radiation in space and survive the process of impacting Earth, Lau said, noting that scientists have found organic molecules such as amino acids inside meteorites. 

However, despite these theoretical possibilities, there is no credible evidence to show that the new coronavirus came from outer space, he added. 

Follow Chelsea Gohd on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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  • Brandon Lee
    I can't believe this is even a thing. Of course it didn't come from space. Covid-19 is just a new virus out of a family of coronaviruses.

    Georg Carlin said it best about average people...
    Reply
  • BrenAW
    Considering all humans do not really know about so many things, saying "you promise" it didn't is pretty bold.
    Reply
  • Truthseeker007
    Well if we are going to be realistic everything has come from space. Space was here before Earth and things didn't just miraculously appear on Earth. It got here from space. Unless you believe some god created everything on Earth. :D

    If you use Occam's Razor more than likely it was created in a lab with the help of the study of bats and because of their strong immune systems compared to other mammals many viruses that are detrimental to the human race can be created by using bats. It only takes a little science to make the virus leap from the bat to humans.
    Reply
  • Truthseeker007
    Brandon Lee said:
    I can't believe this is even a thing. Of course it didn't come from space. Covid-19 is just a new virus out of a family of coronaviruses.

    Georg Carlin said it best about average people...

    Georg Carlin is one of my favorites. If he was still alive today I am sure he would say this has something to do with the controllers of the world and this didn't just happen by accident. He knew how the system worked.
    Reply
  • MikeF
    Yes, and stones don't fall from the sky!

    27 Feb 2020
    "How has Coronavirus spread? There is reason to doubt that person-to-person contagion sufficiently explains it. Some recent cases followed no apparent exposure to a human carrier. Passengers on a cruise ship, confined to quarters, caught the virus at an unaccountably high rate. The worldwide spread seems too rapid. To advocates of panspermia, another unproven theory should not be automatically dismissed. Perhaps the virus is originally airborne, having arrived from space with cometary dust. If so, perhaps the cruise passengers were exposed to a heavy concentration of airborne viruses at sea, before lockdown. If the incubation period can be as long as 14 days, the high number stricken after lockdown makes more sense.

    Interestingly, the flu often seems to come from China — Hong Kong Flu, Asian Flu, and now COVID-19. Hoyle and Wickramasinghe had an intriguing hypothesis to explain this. Viral particles landing as cometary dust from above the atmosphere could take a year or more to drift down to Earth's surface. Wind turbulence can speed this up. The jetstream is obligated to bounce high in the stratosphere over the Himalayas, Earth's tallest mountain range. Downwind, the jetstream would descend onto the plain of China. There viral particles from space would likely first make landfall."
    Reply
  • Kevan Hubbard
    I'm reminded of the 1971 sci-fi film 'the Andromeda strain'in which a strange and deadly virus is brought to Earth by a satellite.i don't think we've seen anything like coronavirus since the flu of 1918?the death toll in Italy is formidable so many and in such a short time.it mostly likely came from Earth and is a mutation from an animal virus.hard to see how a virus could survive in space.uva and uvb can kill virus's down here but in space they'd encounter far more potent uvc light plus they rock it is on has to come through the atmosphere with the great heat which produces shooting stars.
    Reply
  • Torbjorn Larsson
    Admin said:
    No, the new coronavirus didn't come from outer space. We promise.

    No, the coronavirus didn't come from outer space. We promise. : Read more

    The idea is uninformed about biology. Infections coevolve with their hosts, or jump species. COVID-19 has already evolved as shown in public websites, and all viruses rely on the shared genetic machinery of cells.
    Reply
  • Torbjorn Larsson
    BrenAW said:
    Considering all humans do not really know about so many things, saying "you promise" it didn't is pretty bold.

    We do know 99.9 % of the universe on large scale, i.e. cosmology describing the universe, we "know it all" in some sense which earlier generations did not (a 2 decades old knowledge). But specifically here we know that cells and all viruses share a common genetic machinery, that is the best tested observation of all of science with a factor 10^2000+ higher likelihood than several common ancestors. That is a promise, near as science can do.

    On the other hand, it is pretty bold - and mistaken - to wave the strawman of not knowing everything as a reason to not know anything.
    Reply
  • Torbjorn Larsson
    Truthseeker007 said:
    Well if we are going to be realistic everything has come from space. Space was here before Earth and things didn't just miraculously appear on Earth. It got here from space. Unless you believe some god created everything on Earth. :D

    If you use Occam's Razor more than likely it was created in a lab with the help of the study of bats and because of their strong immune systems compared to other mammals many viruses that are detrimental to the human race can be created by using bats. It only takes a little science to make the virus leap from the bat to humans.

    That one conspiracy theory is dumb does not mean another isn't. COVID-19 is a natural zoonosis as all other, by the same simplicity argument, and especially conspiracy theory - despite some conspiracy being real - is always the most unlikely alternative. (Because people make them up, and prefer to make them up so they can't be tested.)

    Live evolved on Earth of course, it evolved so rapidly here that had to coevolve with the geology in the beginning - it evolved in alkaline hydrothermal vents, which are rare in space. :-D
    Reply
  • Torbjorn Larsson
    MikeF said:
    Yes, and stones don't fall from the sky!

    27 Feb 2020
    "How has Coronavirus spread? There is reason to doubt that person-to-person contagion sufficiently explains it. Some recent cases followed no apparent exposure to a human carrier. Passengers on a cruise ship, confined to quarters, caught the virus at an unaccountably high rate. The worldwide spread seems too rapid. To advocates of panspermia, another unproven theory should not be automatically dismissed. Perhaps the virus is originally airborne, having arrived from space with cometary dust. If so, perhaps the cruise passengers were exposed to a heavy concentration of airborne viruses at sea, before lockdown. If the incubation period can be as long as 14 days, the high number stricken after lockdown makes more sense.

    Interestingly, the flu often seems to come from China — Hong Kong Flu, Asian Flu, and now COVID-19. Hoyle and Wickramasinghe had an intriguing hypothesis to explain this. Viral particles landing as cometary dust from above the atmosphere could take a year or more to drift down to Earth's surface. Wind turbulence can speed this up. The jetstream is obligated to bounce high in the stratosphere over the Himalayas, Earth's tallest mountain range. Downwind, the jetstream would descend onto the plain of China. There viral particles from space would likely first make landfall."


    Nice quote!

    Well, intriguing only if you like pseudoscience and making stuff up.

    Such as the common epidemic/pandemic spread, where it can only travel wide if it does so unobserved. Typically for every tested infected then 10 untested are at large during the spreading phase.
    Reply