I was watching an old Ancient Aliens last night and there was a whole episode dedicated to how the "Gods" (aliens) were spreading disease/plagues.

A good portion of the show was dedicated to how aliens may be sending meteors to Earth with bacteria to spread disease.

Part of this was several scientists talking about an experiment with a rock set in orbit (forgive me that I don't have a link to this). Said rock had many forms of bacteria on it and after a certain amount of time they grabbed the rock and confirmed that some bacteria can survive space conditions.

Then there were other scientists saying that some forms of bacteria/virus may even get worse in zero gravity or space conditions - used salmonella as an example.

But my question is does this even matter? Wouldn't any bacteria or virus colonies on a meteorite just burn up in our atmosphere?


Any bacteria present in a meteor would not necessarily burn. According to the Bad Astronomer's "Bad Addendum" to another unrelated point, "A Meteoric Rise", meteors sure do get extremely hot, but that outside part usually ablates away, leaving the inner part that was extremely cold for who knows how long, which may not have warmed up much during the fall.

Bad Addendum: many people think that a meteorite, after it hits the ground, is very hot and glows red. Actually, meteorites found shortly after impact tend to be warm, but not hot at all! It turns out that it certainly is hot enough to glow while it is in the part of the atmosphere that decelerates it the strongest, but any part that actually melts will be blown off ("ablated") by the wind of its passage. That leaves only the warm part. Even more, the meteor is slowed down so strongly as it moves through the atmosphere that the impact speed is typically only a few hundred kilometers an hour at most. Only the very large (and we're talking meters across) meteors are still moving at thousands of kilometers an hour or more when they impact. Small ones aren't moving that fast at all. Not to say you'd want to be under one: a car in New York was struck by a small meteorite and had a hole punched through it, and the whole back end crushed in. Ouch!

This American Meteor Society resource seems also to indicate that meteorites can fall to the ground without being extremely hot.

  1. Are meteorites “glowing” hot when they reach the ground?

Probably not. The ablation process, which occurs over the majority of the meteorite’s path, is a very efficient heat removal method, and was effectively copied for use during the early manned space flights for re-entry into the atmosphere. During the final free-fall portion of their flight, meteorites undergo very little frictional heating, and probably reach the ground at only slightly above ambient temperature.

For the obvious reason, however, exact data on meteorite impact temperatures is rather scarce and prone to hearsay. Therefore, we are only able to give you an educated guess based upon our current knowledge of these events.

This study, "Bacterial Spores Survive Simulated Meteorite Impact", seems to indicate that it's possible, though unlikely, for a bacterium to survive the pressure shock from such an impact.

So it's plausible that an extremophile bacterium could somehow survive this impact by being on the inside of the meteoroid, surviving the ablation process as a meteor, and not even get warmed up to the surrounding atmospheric temperature when it crashes as a meteorite.

There is nothing to indicate that this has actually happened. But what a discovery it would be if something like this were to happen and be confirmed.


Svante Arrhenius was probably the first scientist to propose the idea of panspermia, that life may have come from, well, that black thing we all have over our heads at night, and all whatever hides behind that dotted blackness.

Since it is genuinely unknown how life appeared, I think your question cannot have any good answer. Yeah, maybe microgravity doesn't seem to be any problem to microbes. Au contraire, those little bugs seem to love microgravity and multiply, and mutate, even faster there than here.

That burning up of a rock in the atmosphere thing would've happened in many different ways, in different angles and speeds throughout the billions of years. The argument is that maybe once or twice... And maybe that's enough. You get a cold once and you got it.

  • $\begingroup$ So do how hot do meteors get and would anything last at that temperature? Are there meteors that hit that don't get hot or only get hot on certain parts? $\endgroup$ – blankip Sep 30 '14 at 20:55

While the surface of a meteor will indeed be pretty sterilised by re-entry, remember that a meteor also has an inside. If it doesn't burn up completely, then parts of the inside may remain cool enough for bacteria/viruses to survive.

The range of environmental conditions life can survive in is incredibly wide, so this is not impossible.


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