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  • Peter Occhiogrosso

Panspermia #2 - Peter Occhiogrosso

Picking up where we left off yesterday, the first book in English that addressed the modern theory of “directed panspermia” was published in 1966 as "Intelligent Life in the Universe," by I. S. Shklovsky (of the Soviet Academy of Sciences) and American astrophysicist Carl Sagan. The book itself has an intriguing history. For one thing, Sagan was virtually unknown at the time, 14 years before his PBS series “Cosmos” landed him on the cover of Time.

Shklovsky had actually attracted more attention in the world of astronomy than Sagan had. Having observed that the orbit of Mars’s internal satellite, Phobos, was decaying, he concluded that it must have an exceptionally low density. From that, the Soviet astronomer deduced that Phobos might be hollow—and, so, possibly of artificial origin. That interpretation has since been refuted by more detailed study, but by even suggesting an extraterrestrial origin of Phobos in 1959, Shklovsky created a stir. Sagan, then teaching at Harvard, agreed with Shklovsky’s theory that extraterrestrials had made contact with humans early in Earth’s history.

Shklovsky had published a book in 1962 entitled, in Russian, Вселенная, жизнь, разум (“Universe, Life, Intelligence”), and with Sagan’s help revised, expanded, and translated the book four years later and published it in the U.S. under the title "Intelligent Life in the Universe." It was the first comprehensive discussion of extraterrestrial life and the possibility of it having had an impact not only on our solar system but also on humanity itself. I’ll have more to say about thei origin of their extraordinary book, and its impact on both astrophysics and popular culture tomorrow.

PHOBOS Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona.

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