Like War of the Worlds in Reverse
Your bit of zany science for the day: Scientists suggest SARS came from outer space! Interestingly, this news brief is not from Weekly World News but from National Geographic. The idea here, as I have gleaned from my quick read, is that a group of scientists believe the SARS virus is morphologically different enough that rather than being a mutation of an existing virus, it comes from “outside” — which is to say, from space, possibly carried by a comet. These scientists also believe space viruses may have appeared before — they might have been the cause of the Influenza epidemic of the early 20th century, for example. It also raises the spectre of the idea that life (or at the very least, the building blocks thereof) ultimately did not originate on Earth, but landed here in very simple form through impacts and evolved from there.
It’s an interesting hypothesis, although I think it’s probably too elaborate an explanation for a virus that probably jumped from another animal species to ours. The fact that SARS is substantially different from other coronaviruses we know about doesn’t require that we postulate an arrival from space so much as it requires us to recognize that until a virus exhibits a detrimental effect on humans or one of our livestock animals, we probably simply don’t know it exists. This is one of those Occam’s Razor moments in which simplest explanation is probably more correct, and that pretty much dispenses with space viruses.
There is some mild irony here in that Toronto, which had recently been under a WHO travel advisory thanks to the presence of SARS, is home this year to the World Science Fiction Convention. Normally, the attendees of that convention would be exactly the folks you’d think would be thrilled to hear about space viruses. But in this case, they might be willing to make an exception.