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Study Suggests ‘Seeding’ by Extraterrestrial Compounds

THE WASHINGTON POST

A sudden proliferation of living things on Earth 500 million years ago coincided with an increase in meteor and comet impacts on the moon, providing new evidence that exotic organic compounds from space may have played a role in the evolution of life on our planet, a new study suggests.

A chemical analysis of lunar “soil” picked up by Apollo 14 astronauts indicates that impact rates from meteors, comets and interplanetary debris increased nearly four-fold beginning about 400 million years ago. That corresponds -- very roughly -- with the period of lush and rapid diversification of animal types on Earth known as the “Cambrian explosion.”

The new report, reported in Friday’s issue of the journal Science, adds new evidence supporting a theory that life may have originated here after Earth was “seeded” by extraterrestrial chemicals in a process called panspermia.

Although life on Earth seems to have originated nearly 4 billion years ago, single-celled organisms prevailed for most of that time. The forms of complex life were extremely limited until about 650 million years ago, when within a 150-million-year period scores of new body designs suddenly emerged. At least a dozen of the great categories of the animal kingdom arose in that period, including segmented worms, animals with hard outer skeletons and jointed limbs, creatures with rudimentary spinal cords, and many more.

The new report means “you have to really take seriously the possibility of two things,” said Paul R. Renne, a geophysicist with the University of California at Berkeley and the director of the Berkeley Geochronology Center. “One is that even small objects (crashing into Earth) would have had some impact on life. Not an extinction-level event, but enough to create environmental stress that results in adaptation and diversity.” The other is that the basic building blocks of life arrived from outer space.

Spy Leaked Details of NATO Bombing to Yugoslavs, BBC Reports

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- LONDON

A spy within NATO leaked details of allied bombing raids to the Yugoslav government during the first two weeks of last year’s military campaign against President Slobodan Milosevic, a British Broadcasting Corp. television documentary reports, citing a U.S. Air Force investigation.

NATO, U.S. and British officials immediately denied the report, a preview of which appeared in Thursday’s edition of the Guardian newspaper and on the BBC Web site, .

The documentary, which will air Sunday on the BBC, asserts that an Air Force investigation found that the Yugoslav government was given highly sensitive “air tasking orders,” including the targets to be hit, flight paths and the timing of surveillance flights and bombing sorties.

When the alliance’s military commander, U.S. Gen. Wesley K. Clark, ordered that the number of people allowed to see the air tasking orders be reduced -- from about 600 to around 100 -- the impact on the Serbs’ knowledge “was immediate,” the Air Force reportedly learned.