Red Rain in India was Caused by a Microorganism from Europe, not Outer Space

The Color Out of Space: H.P. Lovecraft One of the first stories I’ve read from Lovecraft. It’s basically about this meteor that falls on some farm property, and everything slowly changes.  While you just chant the whole time “Leave! Move somewhere else!”, they can’t because something bigger is keeping them there. What I really love about Lovecraft is nothing is ever simple and there’s seldom a happy ending.

An unusual meteorological occurrence in India reminds me of my favorite H.P. Lovecraft story–“The Colour out of Space.”

H.P. Lovecraft published the classic science fiction/horror story, “The Colour Out Of Space,” in 1927.  The story is about a meteor that crashes in a farmer’s field and causes strange unnatural changes to all the plants, animals, and people living in the vicinity of the impact zone.   It’s remarkably prescient because the story precedes scientific knowledge of radiation poisoning, and the descriptions of the meteor’s effects bear a resemblance to nuclear fallout, though Lovecraft implies a supernatural explanation.  This work of literature directly influenced the movie, “Five Million Years to Earth,” still often aired on Turner Classic Movies, and Stephen King’s novel The Tommyknockers, his last book written while he was under the influence of cocaine and alcohol.  Some literary analysts make the claim the aliens taking over people’s minds in King’s novel is a metaphor for the drugs taking control of the author before he succumbed to treatment.  (I disagree with Stephen King when he later admitted he thinks this was a bad novel.  I rank it in the upper 25% of his creations.)  Lovecraft’s theme of an alien life form effecting life on earth permeates much of the science fiction/horror genre.  Yet, this idea is not solely confined to the realm of fiction.  Many scientists think life on earth originated in outer space, a concept known as Panspermia.  They believe non-photosynthetic microorganisms, living deep inside meteorites, crash landed on earth and later evolved into all the life forms now existing on the planet.  (The microorganisms would have to have been inside the meteorite because they couldn’t have lived on the surface in space nor could they have survived the friction heat generated by entering earth’s atmosphere.)  Proponents of Panspermia Theory thought they had strong supporting evidence when a strange red rain periodically fell in India for 2 months in 2001.  They examined the rain under a microscope and observed single-celled organisms that appeared to be multiplying but had no apparent DNA.  They assumed the organisms originated in a meteor that broke apart in the atmosphere, releasing the extra-terrestrial spawn.

There have been many incidents of red rain falling in India.  Some scientists proposed this as evidence of  Panspermia.

Genetic tests determined the rain got its color from a species of algae that originated in Austria.

However, a more detailed study of the organisms found in the red rain determined they were a species of algae that lives in symbiosis with a species of European lichen.  A DNA analysis identified the microorganisms as spores of Trentepohlian annulata.  Weather conditions sent airborne spores into clouds blown over the ocean, and they eventually fell as rain on India.  The algae recently colonized lichen growing on Indian rubber trees.  Though this study probably disappoints Panspermia proponents, it does illustrate an amazing case of an organism’s dispersal capability.  The same weather patterns periodically recur–red rain in India has been reported as recently as 2012 and as long ago as 1896.

There may be no hard evidence supporting the Theory of Panspermia, but there is a curious fact about microorganisms in space that lends support to the concept.  Astronauts often discover thick disgusting layers of biofilm growing inside space stations.  The microorganisms were introduced by accidental contamination.   A scientific study showed bacteria reproduce and grow more rapidly in zero gravity conditions, resulting in a greater biomass.  This is especially hazardous for astronauts because the human immune system completely shuts down in zero gravity.  Maybe it’s just a coincidence that simple one-celled organisms thrive in weightless conditions of outer space.  Or maybe they are so well adapted to zero gravity because it is the condition from which they originated.

References:

Bast, Felix; Jackson Adnankunju, and F. Stocker

“European Species of Subaerial Green Algae Trentepohlian annulata (Trentepohliales, Uluphyreae) Caused Blood Rain in Kerala, India”

Journal of Phylogen Evolution Biology Feb 2015

Wouseong, Kim; et. al.

“Spaceflight Promotes Biofilm Formation of Pseudonomous aeriginori

PLOS ONE 2013

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