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"Andromeda Strain 2" - Is a Pandemic from Space Possible?

Andromedastrain2The A&E Cable Network is teaming up with Ridley Scott (Black Hawk Down, Gladiator) and Tony Scott (Man on Fire, Top Gun) to recreate the Michael Crichton thriller “The Andromeda Strain” as a 2008 four-hour miniseries.

A deadly bacteria – code named The Andromeda Strain - is let loose after a U.S. government satellite that was designed to find upper-atmosphere microorganisms for germ warfare crash-lands in Arizona.

The crash unleashed a mutating bacteria triggering a lethal plague that wipes out an entire town leaving only two survivors - an old man and an infant – to provide clues to immunizing the population. As the military tries to contain the spreading disaster, only a hastily assembled team of scientists can hope to find a cure and stop the Andromeda Strain from spreading.

Is an Andromeda-strain type pandemic from outer space a possibility, or science fiction?

Sir Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe of the University of Wales at Cardiff have published research that shows how previous periods of high sunspot activity coincided with flu pandemics.

The researchers say that the virus, or a trigger that causes it, is deposited throughout space by dust in the debris stream of comets, which are thought by many researchers to harbor organic material. As Earth passes through the stream, dust and perhaps the virus enters our atmosphere, where it can lodge for two decades or more, until gravity draws it down to the Earth's surface.

Ionized gas from solar flares is channeled to Earth along magnetic field lines. The flow of charged particles emanating from the sun generates electrical fields across the stratosphere, accelerating the down-flow of virus or triggering mechanisms.

They cite previous global epidemics as evidence that human contact does not account for the spread of influenza, including the sudden appearance of SARS in China, and other mysterious modern epidemics like the Plague of Athens and the influenza pandemic of 1917-19. The 1918 outbreak occurred on the same day in Bombay and Boston, yet took another three weeks to spread to New York. This occurred, Hoyle and Wickramasinghe argue, because the virus can float down in patches.

The Hoyle and Wickramasinghe theory was savaged by physicist Christopher Barrington-Leigh, of Standford University, an acclaimed authority in the upper atmosphere and lower ionosphere: "There is scant evidence of any science going on here. According to the authors, solar activity 'will undoubtedly assist in the descent of charged molecular aggregates,' but this is unphysical and unfounded."

Other researchers noted that comet dust may harbor organic matter, and even that it could transport it into Earth's atmosphere. But during a fiery entry, the organic matter's survival is questionable.

Matthew Genge, of the Department of Mineralogy at the London Natural History Museum, has estimated that if you live to be 5,000 years old, you'll likely encounter one comet dust particle.  Genege noted that "Comet dust particles constantly rain from the skies -- around a hundred thousand billion particles per year -- and some of these will fall on people,"

"Although these chemicals are the basic building blocks of DNA and thus life, they are far from being viruses," Genge concluded in an interview with Space.com. "Coughs and sneezes are thus unlikely to be a sign of a close encounter with a tiny visitor from space."

"I think it is completely nuts," Dr. Anne Bridgen, a molecular virologist at the University of Ulster, told Reuters news agency. SARs "...has a lipid (fatty) coat on the outside and it would tend to dry out in an atmosphere such as space."

The Ghost Map, a disease-non-fiction thriller by Steven Johnson (watch the spell-binding video linked below) tells the story of a cholera outbreak in 1854 Victorian London.

The cholera outbreak itself was arguably the deadliest in London's history -- it literally decimated the western side of Soho, killing more than ten percent of the population there in a matter of eight days -- but it is most famous for the map that the physician and epidemiologist John Snow made of the outbreak, a map that eventually helped convince the world that cholera was in fact a waterborne illness, and not transmitted via the air as the then-dominant miasma theory maintained.

Posted by Casey Kazan

Related Galaxy posts:

The Ghost Map

Hot Zone: Scientists Unlock Secret of 1918 "Spanish Flu" Pandemic

Future Present -Science Fiction as Prelude

Link 1

Link 2


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