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Chandra Wickramasinghe

Chandra Wickramasinghe
Chandra Wickramasinghe at the University of Buckingham
Born Nalin Chandra Wickramasinghe
(1939-01-20) 20 January 1939 (age 77)
Colombo, British Ceylon
Citizenship British
Fields Astrobiology
Institutions Cambridge University
University College Cardiff
University of Cardiff
University of Buckingham
Alma mater Royal College, Colombo
University of Ceylon (BSc)
Cambridge University (PhD, ScD)
Doctoral advisor Template:If empty
Known for Organic composition of cosmic dust
Notable awards Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge University (1963–1973)
Vidya Jyothi (1992)

Nalin Chandra Wickramasinghe (born 20 January 1939) is a Sri Lankan-born British mathematician, astronomer[1] and astrobiologist. He is currently Visiting By-Fellow, Churchill College, Cambridge, England 2015/16;[2] Professor and Director of the Buckingham Centre for Astrobiology at the University of Buckingham, a post he has held since 2011;[3] Affiliated Visiting Professor, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka;[4] and a Board Member and Research Director at the Institute for the Study of Panspermia and Astroeconomics, Ogaki-City, Gifu, Japan.[5] Chandra Wickramasinghe has written 24 books about astrophysics and related topics; he has made frequent appearances on radio, television and film, and he writes extensive online blogs and articles.

His research interests include the interstellar medium, infrared astronomy, light scattering theory, applications of solid-state physics to astronomy, the early Solar System, comets, astrochemistry, the origin of life and astrobiology. A student and collaborator of Fred Hoyle, the pair worked jointly for over 40 years[6] as influential proponents of panspermia.[7][8] In 1974 they proposed the hypothesis that some dust in interstellar space was largely organic.[9]

In 2003, in a letter to The Lancet,[10] Wickramasinghe hypothesized that elementary living organisms like the lichen-forming alga spores present in the red rain in Kerala are of extraterrestrial origin,[11] and that pathogens as the SARS virus arrived on Earth from deep space carried in asteroids and comets.[12][13] However, in 2003 this "scientific" hypothesis lacked the necessary evidence required by the medical community with their "evidence-based" tradition for medical hypotheses. Consequently Wickramasinghe was subject to considerable attack in The Lancet letters in subsequent editions.

In his role as media communicator, he has appeared on BBC Horizon, UK Channel 5 and the History Channel. He was featured on the 2013 Discovery Channel program "Red Rain".[14][15] He has a long association with Daisaku Ikeda, president of the Buddhist sect Soka Gakkai International, that led to the publication of a best-selling dialogue with him, first in Japanese and later in English, on the topic of Space and Eternal Life.[16]

Education and career

Wickramasinghe studied at Royal College, Colombo, the University of Ceylon (where he graduated in 1960 with a BSc First Class Honours in mathematics), and at Trinity College and Jesus College, Cambridge, where he obtained his PhD and ScD degrees.[17] Following his education, Wickramasinghe was a Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge from 1963 to 1973, until he became professor of applied mathematics and astronomy at University College Cardiff. Wickramasinghe was a consultant and advisor to the President of Sri Lanka from 1982 to 1984, and played a key role in founding the Institute of Fundamental Studies in Sri Lanka.

After fifteen years at University College Cardiff, Wickramasinghe took an equivalent position in the University of Cardiff, a post he held from 1990 until 2006.[18] After retirement in 2006, he incubated the Cardiff Center for Astrobiology as a special project reporting to the President of the University. In 2011 the project closed down, losing its funding in a series of UK educational cut backs. After this event Wickramasinghe was offered the opportunity to move to the University of Buckingham as Director of the Buckingham Centre for Astrobiology, University of Buckingham where he has been since 2011. He maintains his part-time position as a UK Professor at Cardiff University. In 2015 he was elected Visiting scholar, Churchill College, Cambridge, England 2015/16.[2]

He is a co-founder and Board member of the Institute for the Study of Panspermia and Astroeconomics, set up in Japan in 2014,[19] and the Editor-in-Chief of a publication they produce, the Journal of Astrobiology & Outreach.[20]


In 1960 he commenced work in Cambridge on his PhD degree under the supervision of the late Sir Fred Hoyle, and published his first scientific paper "On Graphite Particles as Interstellar Grains” in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1962.[21] He was awarded a PhD degree in Mathematics in 1963 and was elected a Fellow of Jesus College Cambridge in the same year. In the following year he was appointed a Staff Member of the Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge. Here he continued to work on the nature of interstellar dust, publishing many papers in this field,[22] that led to a consideration of carbon-containing grains as well as the older silicate models.

Wickramasinghe published the first definitive book on Interstellar Grains in 1967.[23] He has made many contributions to this field, publishing over 350 papers in peer-reviewed journals, over 75 of which are in Nature. In 1974 he first proposed the hypothesis that some dust in interstellar space was largely organic,[24] and followed this up with other Nature papers attempting to confirm the hypothesis.[25] Hoyle and Wickramasinghe further proposed a radical kind of panspermia that included the claim that extraterrestrial life forms enter the Earth's atmosphere and were possibly responsible for epidemic outbreaks, new diseases, and genetic novelty that Hoyle and Wickramasinghe contended was necessary for macroevolution.[26]

Chandra Wickramasinghe had the longest-running collaboration with Fred Hoyle. Their publications on books and papers[22] arguing for panspermia and a cosmic hypothesis of life are controversial and, in particular detail, essentially contra the scientific consensus in both astrophysics and biology. Summarizing his career, Wickramasinghe stated:

My most significant astronomical contribution was to develop the theory of organic grains in comets and in the interstellar medium. This was done during the 1970s and 1980s, and it is now accepted by everyone almost without remembering its origins! I feel I also played a part in the birth of the science of astrobiology.

Hoyle–Wickramasinghe model of panspermia

Throughout his career, Wickramasinghe, along with his collaborator Fred Hoyle, has advanced panspermia, the belief that life on Earth is, at least in part, of extraterrestrial origin.[27] The basic propositions[28][29][30] of the Hoyle–Wickramasinghe model of panspermia include the assumptions that dormant viruses and desiccated DNA and RNA can survive unprotected in space;[31] that small bodies such as asteroids and comets can protect the "seeds of life", including DNA and RNA,[32][33][34] living, fossilized, or dormant life, cellular[35][36] or non-cellular;[32][33][34][35][37][38][39][40] and that the collisions of asteroids, comets, and moons have the potential to spread these "seeds of life" throughout an individual star system and then onward to others.[37][40] The most contentious issue around the Hoyle–Wickramasinghe model of the panspermia hypothesis is the corollary of their first two propositions that viruses and bacteria continue to enter the Earth's atmosphere from space, and are hence responsible for many major epidemics throughout history.[41][42][43]

Towards the end of their collaboration, Wickramasinghe and Hoyle hypothesized that abiogenesis occurred close to the Galactic Center before panspermia carried life throughout that galaxy,[44] and stated a belief that such a process could occur in many galaxies throughout the Universe.[45]

Although scientists in North America, Europe and Russia are now testing many aspects of panspermia,[46][47][48][49][50][51][52][53][54][55][56] Wickramasinghe stated that evidence on the existence of extraterrestrial life is overwhelming,[57] and that "The fact that this conclusion is not widely known or publicised is entirely a function of state control of scientific paradigms, of a kind reminiscent of the behaviour of totalitarian political regimes."[27]

Detection of living cells in the stratosphere

An image of a clump of microorganisms from 41 km fluorescing on application of a carbocyanine dye (indicating viability) is shown in the left panel, and scanning electron microscope image of a similar clump is shown on the right panel.

On the 20 January 2001 the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) conducted a balloon flight from Hyderabad, India to collect stratospheric dust from a height of 41 km with a view to testing for the presence of living cells. The collaborators on this project included a team of UK scientists led by Wickramasinghe. In a paper presented at a SPIE conference in San Diego in 2002 the detection of evidence for viable microorganisms from 41 km above the Earth's surface was presented.[58] However, the experiment did not present evidence as to whether the findings are incoming microbes from space rather than microbes carried up to 41 km from the surface of the Earth.

In 2005 the ISRO group carried out a second stratospheric sampling experiment from 41 km altitude and reported the isolation of three new species of bacteria including one that they named Janibacter hoylei sp.nov. in honour of Fred Hoyle.[59] However, these facts do not prove that bacteria on Earth originated in the cosmic environment. Samplings of the stratosphere have also been carried out by Yang et al. (2005,[60] 2009[61]). During the experiment strains of highly radiation-resistant Deinococcus bacterium were detected at heights up to 35 km. Nevertheless these authors have abstained from linking these discoveries to panspermia. Wickramasinghe was also involved in coordinating analyses of the red rain in Kerala in collaborations with Godfrey Louis.[62]

Extraterrestrial pathogens

Hoyle and Wickramasinghe have advanced the argument that various outbreaks of illnesses on Earth are of extraterrestrial origins, including the 1918 flu pandemic and certain outbreaks of polio and mad cow disease. For the 1918 flu pandemic they hypothesized that cometary dust brought the virus to Earth simultaneously at multiple locations—a view almost universally dismissed by external experts on this pandemic.[63]

On May 24, 2003 The Lancet published a letter from Wickramasinghe,[64] jointly signed by Milton Wainwright and Jayant Narlikar, in which they hypothesized that the virus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) could be extraterrestrial in origin instead of originating from chickens. The Lancet subsequently published three responses to this letter, showing that the hypothesis was not evidence-based, and casting doubts on the quality of the experiments referenced by Wickramasinghe in his letter.[65][66][67] A 2008 encyclopedia notes that "Like other claims linking terrestrial disease to extraterrestrial pathogens, this proposal was rejected by the greater research community.".[63] In a comprehensive review of the subject Gabriela Segura commented that[68] "the concept of astral bodies grazing the Earth's atmosphere or impacting Earth directly, depositing microbes and viruses on Earth which may combine with Earthly microbes producing new strains of viruses and contributing to evolution and diseases, is daunting to say the least."


On December 29, 2012, several eyewitnesses saw a fireball[11][69] in Polonnaruwa Province, Sri Lanka at 18:30 on December 29, 2012. The green fireball was observed to disintegrate into fragments that fell to the earth near the villages of Aralaganwila and Dimbulagala and in a rice field near Dalukkane. The inferred northeast to southwest trajectory was determined[who?] from eyewitness observations and a distribution of stones recovered from a strewn field of >10 km.[citation needed] Police records indicate "reports of low level burn injuries from immediate contact with the fallen stones and subsequent reports of a strong aroma".[11][not in citation given] Witnesses reported that the newly fallen stones had a strong odour of tar.[citation needed] Local police officials immediately collected samples and submitted them to the Medical Research Institute of the Ministry of Health in Colombo.[citation needed]

The rocks were subsequently sent to the University of Cardiff in Wales for analysis, where Chandra Wickramasinghe's team analyzed the object and claimed that they contained extraterrestrial diatoms. In the period January to March 2013, five papers were published in the fringe Journal of Cosmology outlining various results from teams in the United Kingdom, United States and Germany.[70][not in citation given][71][not in citation given] Independent experts in meteoritics, however, stated that the object found by Wickramasinghe and his team, owing to a porousness not found in other confirmed meteorites, was not of extraterrestrial origin,[72][73] but rather a fulgurite created by lightning strikes on Earth.[74] Experts in diatoms complemented the statement, saying that the organisms found in the rock represented a wide range of extant terrestrial taxa, confirming their earthly origin.[72]

Wickramasinghe and collaborators responded, using X-ray diffraction, oxygen isotope analysis, and scanning electron microscope observations, in a March 2013 paper asserting that the rocks they found were indeed meteorites,[75] instead of being created by lightning strikes on Earth as stated by scientists from the University of Peradeniya.[74][76]

Participation in the creation-evolution debate

Wickramasinghe and his mentor Fred Hoyle have also used their data to argue in favor of cosmic ancestry,[77][78][79][80][81][82] and against the idea of life emerging from inanimate objects by evolution.[83]

Wickramasinghe attempts to present scientific evidence to support the notion of cosmic ancestry and "the possibility of high intelligence in the Universe and of many increasing levels of intelligence converging toward a God as an ideal limit."[84]

During the 1981 scientific creationist trial in Arkansas, Wickramasinghe was the only scientist testifying for the defense, which in turn was supporting creationism.[83][85] In addition, he wrote that the Archaeopteryx fossil finding is a forgery, a charge that the expert scientific community considers an "absurd" and "ignorant" statement.[86][87]

Honours and awards


  • Interstellar Grains (Chapman & Hall, London, 1967)[23]
  • Light Scattering Functions for Small Particles with Applications in Astronomy (Wiley, New York, 1973)[88]
  • Solid-State Astrophysics (ed. with D.J. Morgan) (D. Reidel, Boston, 1975)
  • Interstellar Matter (with F.D. Khan & P.G. Mezger) (Swiss Society of Astronomy and Astrophysics, 1974)[89]
  • The Cosmic Laboratory (University College of Cardiff, 1975)[90]
  • Lifecloud: The Origin of Life in the Universe (with Fred Hoyle) (J.M. Dent, London, 1978)
  • Diseases from Space (with Fred Hoyle) (J.M. Dent, London, 1979)[91]
  • Origin of Life (with Fred Hoyle) (University College Cardiff Press, 1979)[92]
  • Space Travellers: The Bringers of Life (with Fred Hoyle) (University College Cardiff Press, 1981)
  • Evolution from Space (with Fred Hoyle) (J.M. Dent, London, 1981) ISBN 978-0-460-04535-3
  • Is Life an Astronomical Phenomenon? (University College Cardiff Press, 1982) ISBN 9780906449493
  • Why Neo-Darwinism Does Not Work (with Fred Hoyle) (University College Cardiff Press, 1982) ISBN 9780906449509
  • Proofs that Life is Cosmic (with Fred Hoyle) (Institute of Fundamental Studies, Sri Lanka, Memoirs no.1, 1982)[93]
  • From Grains to Bacteria (with Fred Hoyle) (University College Cardiff Press, 1984) ISBN 9780906449646
  • Fundamental Studies and the Future of Science (ed.) (University College Cardiff Press, 1984) ISBN 9780906449578
  • Living Comets (with Fred Hoyle) (University College Cardiff Press, 1985) ISBN 9780906449790
  • Archaeopteryx, the Primordial Bird (with Fred Hoyle) (Christopher Davies, Swansea, 1986) ISBN 9780715406656
  • The Theory of Cosmic Grains (with Fred Hoyle) (Kluwer, Dordrecht, 1991) ISBN 9780792311898
  • Life on Mars? The Case for a Cosmic Heritage (with Fred Hoyle) (Clinical Press, Bristol, 1997) ISBN 9781854570413
  • Astronomical Origins of Life: Steps towards Panspermia (with Fred Hoyle) (Kluwer, Dordrecht, 2000) ISBN 9780792360810
  • Cosmic Dragons: Life and Death on Our Planet (Souvenir Press, London, 2001) ISBN 9780285636064
  • Fred Hoyle’s Universe (ed. with G. Burbidge and J. Narlikar) (Kluwer, Dordrecht, 2003) ISBN 9781402014154
  • A Journey with Fred Hoyle (World Scientific, Singapore, 2005) ISBN 9789812565792
  • Comets and the Origin of Life (with J. Wickramasinghe and W. Napier) (World Scientific, Hackensack NJ, 2010) ISBN 9789812814005
  • A Journey with Fred Hoyle, Second Edition (World Scientific, Singapore, April 2013) ISBN 9789814436120
  • The search for our cosmic ancestry, World Scientific, New Jersey 2015, ISBN 978-981-461696-6.


  • Hoyle, F. and Wickramasinghe, N.C., 1962. On graphite particles as interstellar grains, Mon.Not.Roy.Astr.Soc. 124, 417-433[21]
  • Hoyle, F. and Wickramasinghe, N.C., 1969. Interstellar Grains, Nature 223, 450-462 doi:10.1038/223459a0
  • Wickramasinghe, N.C., 1974. Formaldehyde polymers in interstellar space, Nature 252, 462-463[94]
  • Wickramasinghe, N.C., Hoyle, F., Brooks, J. and Shaw, G., 1977. Prebiotic polymers and infrared spectra of galactic sources, Nature 269, 674-676 doi:10.1038/269674a0
  • Hoyle, F. and Wickramasinghe, N.C., 1977. Identification of the λ2,200A interstellar absorption feature, Nature 270, 323-324[94]
  • Hoyle, F. and Wickramasinghe, N.C., 1977. Primitive grain clumps and organic compounds in carbonaceous chondrites, Nature, 264, 45-46[95]
  • Hoyle, F. and Wickramasinghe, N.C., 1977. Polysaccharides and infrared spectra of galactic sources, Nature 268, 610-612[96]
  • Hoyle, F. and Wickramasinghe, N.C., 1979. On the nature of interstellar grains, Astrophysics and Space Science 66, 77-90 doi:10.1007/BF00648361
  • Hoyle, F. and Wickramasinghe, N.C., 1979. Biochemical chromophores and the interstellar extinction at ultraviolet wavelengths, Astrophysics and Space Science 65, 241-244 doi:10.1007/BF00643503
  • Hoyle, F., Wickramasinghe, N.C., S. Al-Mufti et al., 1982. Infrared spectroscopy over the 2.9-3.9μm waveband in biochemistry and astronomy, Astrophysics and Space Science 83, 405-409 doi:10.1023/A:1002417307802
  • Hoyle, F., Wickramasinghe, N.C., S. Al-Mufti, 1982. Organo-siliceous biomolecules and the infrared spectrum of the Trapezium nebula, Astrophysics and Space Science 86, 63-69 doi:10.1007/BF00651830
  • Hoyle, F. and Wickramasinghe, N.C., 1983. Bacterial life in space, Nature 306, 420 doi:10.1038/306420a0
  • Hoyle, F. and Wickramasinghe, N.C., 1986. The case for life as a cosmic phenomenon, Nature 322, 509-511[97]
  • Hoyle, F. and Wickramasinghe, N.C., 1990. Influenza – evidence against contagion, Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 83. 258-261[98]
  • Napier, W.M., Wickramasinghe, J.T, Wickramasinghe, N.C., 2007. The origin of life in comets, International Journal of Astrobiology 6(4), 321-323 doi:10.1017/S1473550407003941
  • Rauf, K. and Wickramasinghe, C., 2010. Evidence for biodegradation products in the interstellar medium, International Journal of Astrobiology 9(1), 29-34 doi:10.1017/S1473550409990334
  • Wickramasinghe, N. C., 2010. The astrobiological case for our cosmic ancestry, International Journal of Astrobiology 9(2), 119–129 doi:10.1017/S1473550409990413
  • Wickramasinghe, N.C., Wallis, J., Wallis, D.H., Schild, R.E. and Gibson, C.H., 2012. Life-bearing planets in the solar vicinity, Astrophysics and Space Science 341.2, 295-9 DOI: 10.1007/s10509-012-1092-8
  • Chandra Wickramasinghe, A Journey with Fred Hoyle: The Search for Cosmic Life, World Scientific Publishing, 2005, ISBN 981-238-912-1
  • Janaki Wickramasinghe, Chandra Wickramasinghe and William Napier, Comets and the Origin of Life, World Scientific Publishing, 2009, ISBN 981-256-635-X
  • Chandra Wickramasinghe and Daisaku Ikeda, Space and Eternal Life, Journeyman Press, 1998, ISBN 1-85172-060-X

See also


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  29. ^ Wickramasinghe, C. (2010). "The astrobiological case for our cosmic ancestry". International Journal of Astrobiology 9 (2): 119–129. Bibcode:2010IJAsB...9..119W. doi:10.1017/S1473550409990413. 
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