by Linda Moulton Howe
South of Bombay, the
state of Kerala, India, is in the southwestern tip
of the country bordered on the west by the Arabian Sea. Its capital
Thiruvananthapuram. Map © by mapsofindia.com.
June 15, 2006 Cardiff, Wales, U. K.
There was a most provocative title in the April 4, 2006, journal
Astrophysics and Space Science. It reads:
“The Red Rain Phenomenon
of Kerala and Its Possible Extraterrestrial Origin.”
Kerala is called "God's own country" and is situated on the Malabar
Coast in southwestern India. Besides attracting tourists to its
beautiful beaches and lush trees where exotic wildlife live, the
land supports companies which grow tea, coffee, rubber, cashew,
pepper, cardamom, vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon.
Five years ago in July to September 2001, several red-colored rains
fell over Kerala. Before the first of several rains over two months,
people said they heard a loud boom. Then red rain fell and stained
white T-shirts. Residents wondered what was happening? News of the
red rain mystery reached Dr. Godfrey Louis, a Professor of Pure and
Applied Physics at Mahatma Gandhi University in the city of Kottayam
in the state of Kerala. He collected many test tubes full of the
red-colored rain water and put some of the odd liquid under a
He told me by phone in early June that when he first saw the red
rain magnified, he was struck by the beautiful rust color of what
seemed to be living cells. The cell diameters averaged 10 microns, a
little bigger than a human blood cell which is about 7 microns.
Red adult "mother" cells and clear, or white, "daughter" cells in
Kerala red rain water,
magnified under a microscope by a power of 1000. Average size of
Kerala red rain cells are 10 microns.
Compare to normal red blood cells below, which average 7 microns in
© 2006 by Louis Godfrey, Ph.D., Mahatma Ghandi University, India.
Normal vertebrate erythrocytes, or red blood cells,
average 7 microns in diameter. Photomicrograph courtesy Wikipedia.
Wikipedia: "Red blood cells are the most common
type of blood cell and are the vertebrate body's principal means of
delivering oxygen from the lungs or gills to body tissues via the
blood. Red blood cells are also known as RBCs or erythrocytes (from
Greek erythros for "red" and kytos for "hollow", with cyte nowadays
translated as "cell").
Vertebrate erythrocytes consist mainly of hemoglobin, a complex
molecule containing heme groups whose iron atoms temporarily link to
oxygen molecules in the lungs or gills and release them throughout
the body. Hemoglobin also carries some of the waste product carbon
dioxide back from the tissues. (In humans, less than 2% of the total
oxygen, and most of the carbon dioxide, are held in solution in the
blood plasma). A related compound, myoglobin, acts to store oxygen
in muscle cells.
The color of erythrocytes is due to the heme group of hemoglobin.
The blood plasma is straw-colored alone, but the red blood cells
change colors due to the state of the hemoglobin: when combined with
oxygen the resulting oxyhemoglobin is scarlet and when oxygen has
been released, the resulting deoxyhemoglobin is darker, appearing
bluish through the blood vessel walls. The keeping of oxygen-binding
proteins in cells (rather than having them dissolved in body fluid)
was an important step in the evolution of vertebrates; it allows for
less viscous blood and longer transport ways of oxygen.”]
Temperature and Pressure Experimentation
with Red Rain Cells
Over several months, Dr. Louis began experimenting with different
temperatures to see if the cells would respond.
As the temperature
rose, he saw more activity. Eventually he got up to 300 degrees
Celsius, which is about 600 degrees Fahrenheit. He also increased
the pressure to 300 pounds per square centimeter. It is assumed that
normal Earth life would die at such a high temperature and pressure.
But the red-walled cells in the Kerala rain water seemed to thrive.
During his experimentation with temperatures and pressures, Dr.
Louis studied the cells under a microscope.
As he watched, the cells
produced smaller cells internally that were colorless, or whitish.
He began calling those new, little cells “daughters” of the original
“mother” cells. Once he counted as many as fifteen daughter cells
bud inside one of the adult “mother cells.”
As the daughter cells
grew, their cell walls also became red and eventually, the daughter
cells erupted through the wall of the mother cell. This is clearly a
process of replication. In normal Earth biology, replication of cell
life requires the presence of DNA. But Dr. Louis could not find
evidence of DNA in the proliferating cells inside his test tubes.
The controversy he knew would be provoked if he reported living
cells that had no DNA, he told me recently, is why he kept his
research of the red Kerala rain water to himself. But in January of
2006, he contacted the respected astrophysicist and astrobiologist,
Chandra Wickramasinghe at Cardiff University in Wales. Soon Dr.
Wickramasinghe had some vials of the red rain water to study. Dr.
Wickramasinghe also sent some of the vials to biologists at
Sheffield University in England.
And Dr. Louis sent more of the red
rain water to scientists at Cornell University in the United States
for isotopic ratio studies of the elemental composition of the red
rain water. Elements confirmed so far are hydrogen, silicon,
carbon, and aluminum. The search is now on for phosphorous, which
must be present if there is DNA. Scientists are also looking for
definitive proof that there is – or is not – DNA in the mysterious
replicating cells from the Kerala red rain.
This week I talked with Dr. Chandra Wickramasinghe at his Cardiff
University laboratory. Dr. Wickramasinghe specialized in the study
of interstellar dust during his Ph.D. and S.C.D. work at Cambridge
University in England. He is now Professor of Applied Mathematics
and Astronomy and Director of the Cardiff Centre for Astrobiology at
Cardiff University in Cardiff, Wales, U.K.
I asked him if he agreed
with Dr. Godfrey Louis that the red rain cells are a totally new
extraterrestrial life form?
Chandra Wickramasinghe, Ph.D. and S.C.D., Cambridge University,
Prof. of Applied Math and Astronomy and Director of the Cardiff
Centre for Astrobiology, Cardiff University, Cardiff, Wales, U.K.
still have many mysteries that have to be resolved. I don’t know how
they will be resolved. So far, there is no question that these are
biological cells. That is something that was queried by some people
who thought it might be artifacts of some kind. But they certainly
have all the characteristics of biological cells. They have cell
walls; they have some evidence of replication. Within the “mother”
thick-walled cells, there are “daughter” cells being produced. We
have so far not been able to definitely say whether there is DNA or
not, which is very interesting.
So, my position at the moment is still one of some puzzlement
because I have no doubt that the rain fell from the skies. I have
just returned from Kerala, India, for a short visit to talk with
Godfrey Louis and his collaborators. I’m more convinced now there
really was an important natural event that has to be explained.
In this instance, there are thousands of tons of biological material
that was involved in just the small area of Kerala. It’s not clear
how much more extensive that region of rainfall was. For instance,
if it extended westward from Kerala, you have the Indian Ocean and
then all the way to the Sahara. So you might have a huge area that
was involved with this red rain.
COULD I ASK FOR CLARIFICATION? DO YOU MEAN THAT IF YOU PUT TOGETHER
ALL OF THE RED CELLS IN THE WATER THAT WAS DESCRIBED AS FALLING OVER
A COUPLE OF MONTHS THAT THERE WOULD BE TONS OF THIS?
There would be hundreds of tons at minimum. So, think of lifting
that kind of tonnage of material from the Earth, it’s not very easy
to understand how that could have happened.
One of the theories that has not really been substantiated in any
significant way was that this red rain consisted of lichen blown off
the trees in and around Kerala and went into the sky and fell down
over the region. Now, we’ve got samples of the lichen. I brought
with me (back to Cardiff) samples of the lichen and my students are
analyzing the lichen situation, comparing the lichen spores with the
red rain, and it does not seem to be near the red rain in appearance
Cardiff University Microscope Images
of Kerala Red Rain Cells
This photomicrograph (scale bar is 300 nanometers) shows "a cell
with shrunken membrane containing
'daughters' - two have well-defined cell walls, while the third
(paler) structure (lower right) might be a further
daughter in the process of development." Photomicrograph courtesy
Three Kerala red rain cells "about 3 micrometers in diameter, with
thick cell walls
and a variety of nanostructures within a membrane, but with no
identifiable nucleus. Apparent
holes in the cell wall are real. The cell on the right has larger
holes and might have lost
its cytoplasm." Photomicrograph courtesy Cardiff University.
Comparison to Yeast Cells
[Editor’s Note: Earthlink.net reports about yeast cell replication:
“Cell Separation (Budding) in Yeast Cells. The cell core migrates to
the cell wall of the yeast cell. It splits up and forms a daughter
cell. The daughter cell multiplies in the same way while it is still
growing and tied to the mother cell. A colony develops. Later, the
daughter cell separates from the mother cell. The multiplication
process continues for as long as the conditions for multiplication
This is depicted in Figure 2. As can be seen, a parent
cell grows a protuberance, this swells as the bud forms, a neck
develops between the parent cell and the bud, and they separate. The
process starts again and, in ideal conditions, a cell can reproduce
itself in 20 minutes so that numbers increase from one to two, then
to four, to eight, to 16, and so on. If the numbers are plotted on a
graph, the line would take an exponential form."
"Sporulation Spores form once the nutrients of a solution are used
up. The yeast becomes dormant and feeds on its reserve material.
When the nutrient solution and the yeast cells dry out, the cell
core separates and forms spores. The spores are insensitive to heat
and cold. The slightest breeze carries them anywhere. Under dry
conditions, the spores can live forever. When spores fall into a
nutrient solution, they germinate into yeast cells. Each yeast cell
can give rise to four spores.”]
WOULDN’T YEAST AND LICHEN HAVE OBSERVABLE AND IDENTIFIABLE DNA?
They certainly would and it’s very easy to locate the DNA and to
amplify it. We haven’t done that yet. We need to amplify the lichen
DNA and try again to amplify DNA, which I think has to exist in
these red cells and find some similarities or dissimilarities.
I DID TALK WITH DR. LOUIS A WEEK AGO. HE SEEMS TO BE RELATIVELY
DEFINITE THAT THERE IS NO DNA AND THAT HE IS DEALING WITH A
COMPLETELY NEW KIND OF REPLICATION THAT HE DOES REFER TO AS
‘EXTRATERRESTRIAL,’ INCLUDING THE ‘MOTHER CELLS’ IN WHICH THEY
DOCUMENTED WHAT HE CALLS THE ‘DAUGHTER CELLS.’ HE SAYS AS MANY AS 15
DAUGHTER CELLS IN ONE MOTHER CELL HAVE EMERGED.
Yes, we have substantiated that statement. There is already a
replication cycle in the whole sample we have. There are some cells
that have two or three daughter cells. Some have more than that.
What I have to conclude at the moment is that I’m not sure his
claims for no DNA will hold up to rigorous scrutiny. He likes to
think there is no DNA and one of the arguments is that his own
replication experiments was carried out under high pressure at 300
degrees Celsius. At that temperature normally, you would not expect
any fragile molecule like DNA to survive.
But I explained to him (Dr. Godfrey Louis) and I think he’s aware of
this, that the combination of high temperature and very high
pressure would prevent the break up of even a fragile molecule.
Implication If No DNA in Kerala Red Rain Cells?
IF THERE IS NO DNA IN ALL OF THE RED RAIN CELLS, THEN IT MEANS THAT
YOU HAVE SOME FORM OF REPLICATING LIFE THAT IS NOT UNDERSTOOD AT
Absolutely! That I find very – if that’s the case, it’s very
exciting. But as far as we know, all life depends on DNA. There has
to be some pattern-holding template in life because replications
mean that patterns are held.
BUT ISN’T DNA ONLY KNOWN ON THE EARTH AND WE COULD BE DEALING WITH
EXTRATERRESTRIAL LIFE THAT HAS A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT METABOLISM AND
PROCESS OF REPLICATION?
If that is the case, then it’s amazing that these cells look so
close to a living terrestrial cell. They have all the trappings of
terrestrial cells – cell walls and there is slime around them, which
is no doubt proteinaceous. There are certainly proteins in the
cells. So the proteins have to be coded in some way. There is no
known mechanism that we have on the Earth in terrestrial biology for
coding proteins except with DNA.
HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO IDENTIFY WHAT MAKES THE CELLS RED WHEN THEY
No, we haven’t. We’ve looked, but it’s not a heme-related blood
would be the obvious thing to go for and look for a heme-related
molecule and we haven’t found that. It is a pigment of some kind and
we have not gone as far as identifying the pigment.
SO, RIGHT NOW EVEN THE RED COLOR IN THE CELLS IS UNIDENTIFIED?
Are Kerala Red Rain Cells More Active
in High Temperatures and Pressures?
DR. GODFREY SAID THAT WHEN THE WATER WAS COLLECTED AND HE WAS
LOOKING IN HIS LAB ORIGINALLY, THE ‘MOTHER CELLS’ THAT HAD THE RED
WALLS WERE VERY QUIET AND STILL. IT WAS ONLY WHEN THEY BEGAN
EXPERIMENTING WITH DIFFERENT TEMPERATURES, THAT THEY BEGAN TO GET
THE ODD REPLICATION ACTIVITY, WHICH HE SAID WOULD ONLY BEGIN AT 300
DEGREES CENTIGRADE, WHICH IS ABOUT 600 DEGREES FAHRENHEIT. THAT IS A
TEMPERATURE AT WHICH NO EARTH LIFE THAT WE KNOW WOULD SURVIVE TO
REPLICATE AT 600 DEGREES F. HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO REPRODUCE THAT
No, we haven’t been able to reproduce that. We are trying to get
some equipment to try. He certainly is right in saying that there is
no known replication cycle that’s been discovered for Earth
organisms that can live at 600 degrees F. 300 degrees Celsius. But
no one knows what Earth organisms would do if you put them at
pressures of, I think, 300 atmospheres and 300 degrees Celsius.
That’s an open question as to whether microorganisms could survive
at very high temperatures and very high pressures.
But I have to say that the replication happening only at 300 degrees
F. supposes a difficulty for me because I have seen in our
laboratories, his red rain cells already in a variety of states of
replication, of potential replication. There are cells without
daughter cells. There are cells that have one, two, three, four,
five daughter cells. And there are cells that appear to be in the
process of erupting and unleashing the contents of the progeny
(daughter cells.) So where did this replication take place? It
certainly didn’t happen here, we didn’t put it under 300 degrees C.
in the laboratory or high pressure. So, that replication has been
And my present thoughts on this are that there was an injection of
extraterrestrial microorganisms that took place at the time of the
first sonic boom, when it was over Kerala. There was a small
fragment of comet carrying microorganisms that were unleashed into
the clouds (by the explosion in the troposphere). But these
microorganisms then had to undergo some kind of replication cycle in
the clouds, inside the terrestrial clouds, with nutrients from the
Earth, lifted up from the trees or whatever. This had to continue
for at least four or more weeks at least.
WHAT YOU ARE SAYING IS THAT THE TEMPERATURES THEN WOULD NOT BE AS
HIGH AS 300 DEGREES C. THERE. AND IN YOUR LABORATORY, YOU HAVE SEEN
THIS REPLICATION GOING ON AT NORMAL ROOM TEMPERATURE?
Yes, replication taking place at a very, very slow rate. The fact
that we cannot see it happening over a short time period does not
mean it is not happening. These red rain samples we have, have been
in little tubes for nearly 5 years! Very slow replication might be
taking place in the rainwater that is contained in these vials that
Godfrey Louis has given us.
IF THEY HAD BEGUN IN AN EXPLOSION OF COMETARY MATERIAL IN THE
TROPOSPHERE AND THEN THERE WAS REPLICATION IN THE CLOUDS, THE
TEMPERATURE THERE WOULD NOT BE AT 300 DEGREES CELSIUS?
The temperature in the clouds could vary. In the region above the
troposphere, it could go to very high temperatures. In the
troposphere, the temperatures are not much above the boiling point
of water (212 degrees F.) generally. So, you get a range of
temperature conditions, but certainly not 300 degrees Celsius and at
YOU ARE SAYING THERE IS STILL REPLICATION OF MOTHER CELLS TO
DAUGHTER CELLS THAT COME OUT AT LOWER TEMPERATURES AND PRESSURES?
I’ve got to make that case because I find the cells in the vials are
alive. They respond to stimuli in the sense that if you put them
near stains biologists have used to determine the viability of the
cells and these are viable cells. They have very fragile structures
within them that could not – if they were just lying around without
metabolizing for five years, and then they would be dead. So, there
is an exchange of material between the rainwater and the nutrients
in the rainwater and the cells taking place within the test tubes, I
Are Kerala Red Rain Cells A New
Extraterrestrial Life Form?
WHAT IF THIS IS AN EXTRATERRESTRIAL LIFE FORM THAT DOES NOT HAVE DNA
IN IT, BUT CAN REPLICATE AT ALL THESE DIFFERENT TEMPERATURES AND
What if? That’s a big if, but I think if that is proven, then we
have a totally new life form that we know nothing about. I don’t
like to deal with things we know nothing about. We have a desire to
anchor our knowledge to known facts and this becomes difficult to do
that. It’s almost like saying there is silicon-based life and things
AS AN ASTROBIOLOGIST, ISN’T THE ENTIRE GOAL OF ASTROBIOLOGY TO LOOK
FOR LIFE IN OTHER PLACES OF THE UNIVERSE WITHOUT EXPECTING IT TO BE
EXACTLY LIKE EARTH LIFE?
That’s the aim of some astrobiologists. But I think I have argued
for a couple of decades that life everywhere is thoroughly mixed.
Even if life started on the Earth 4 billion years ago, that same
life would have spread to hundreds of millions of new star-forming
systems that our Solar System encountered in its progress around the
center of the Milky Way galaxy.
WHAT YOU MEAN IS PANSPERMIA – THAT YOU WOULD BE LOOKING AT ALL LIFE
IN THE UNIVERSE AS SEEDED FROM EXACTLY THE SAME KIND OF DNA?
From the same kind of
DNA and interconnected in a very profound way,
BUT WHAT IF THAT IS NOT THE WAY THE UNIVERSE WORKS?
If it is not the way the universe works, then I think we have to
take the – have an open mind and explore the red rain particles as
though it was a new discovery of a new form of life.
HAS THERE BEEN ANY EPIDEMIOLOGICAL STUDY OF THE KERALA REGION TO SEE
IF THERE WAS ANY INCREASE IN DISEASE OR ANY IMPACT FROM HUNDREDS OF
TONS OF THIS MATERIAL COMING DOWN ON THAT REGION?
We did meet up with various people and we asked if there was any
adverse effects noted and the answer was no, they did not notice
anything. That doesn’t mean that there was at a sub-clinical level
or something. There wasn’t anything disastrously dreadful happened
following from it.
PHILOSOPHICALLY, WHY DO YOU TAKE THE POSITION THAT ALL LIFE IN THIS
VAST UNIVERSE WOULD HAVE THE SAME DNA?
Because I think we are part of a connected – this solar system
formed from material that recycled through many stars, material that
was recycled through many interstellar clouds. We know there are
hundreds of billions of these clouds and they are chockablock with
organic material. So, I think that we are connected in Earth
material with a much bigger universe. So, I take the view that we
are part of a connected chain of beings that exists that reaches
from the Earth all the way to the most distant parts of the cosmos.
IF THESE RED RAIN CELLS TURN OUT TO BE A COMPLETELY NEW ALIEN
EXTRATERRESTRIAL FORM OF LIFE, WHAT WOULD THE IMPLICATIONS BE FOR
The connected chain of life, is still the main thread through the
universe. But then, there is a continual process by which new life
forms are also generated. That we have not interacted with those new
life forms, with those strange life forms, and this is the first we
Perhaps by August or September 2006,
Dr. Wickramasinghe and his
Cardiff and Sheffield colleagues hope to have more information about
two major questions:
1) Do the Kerala red rain cells have DNA?
2) Could the red rain cells be an unidentified form of yeast or
lichen cells from Earth?
If the answer is "no" to the above two questions,
What can be
learned about extraterrestrial cells that don't fit the hypothesis
of panspermia, in which all life in the universe would be seeded
from the same DNA?
And if the red rain cells came to Earth in ice
from a comet that perhaps made the one sonic boom heard by Kerala
residents in July 2001, where did the comet get the red cells?