Cosmic Dust Could Form Inorganic Life, Study Suggests

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"[Given] a sufficient concentration of charged dust, the process of self-organization and growth can be triggered," Morfill said.

"My best guess as to where such systems could develop would be the quiet and benign environment inside interstellar dust clouds," he added.

The study appeared in the August issue of the New Journal of Physics.

Dust to … Life?

Other scientists are skeptical that space dust may form a kind of inorganic life. All life on Earth is considered organic, or carbon-based.

Several researchers declined to comment on the record but suggested the claim of lifelike behavior exhibited by the material was highly speculative.

(Read related story: "Alien Life May Be 'Weirder' Than Scientists Think, Report Says" [July 6, 2007].)

But Mihaly Horanyi, a plasma physicist at the University of Colorado, said the behavior of the structures is "amazing," regardless of whether they are classified as truly living.

"I trust that the physics is sound," Horanyi said. "You could reproduce these results experimentally.

"At some level the statement [that the structures may be forms of life] is almost tongue in cheek," Horanyi said.

"It's more a philosophical question—how do you define life?

"This is a very original, very intelligent paper that will trigger a lot of debate," Horanyi added.

Co-author Morfill said that such a debate was exactly the researchers' goal.

"It all comes down to a definition of life, and there the experts will need to come to terms with other issues as well," Morfill said.

"Since these are only definitions, which can be changed, I hesitate to call these systems life myself. I prefer to view our results as an interdisciplinary, thought-provoking trigger for further research."

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