Panspermia: The hypothesis that life exists throughout the universe and can survive the effects of travel through space. From Greek pan (all) and sperma (seed).
Research presented last week by Steven Brenner, president of the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution, at an international science conference supports the concept that microorganisms appeared on Mars billions of years ago before traveling, probably aboard meteors, to our own planet. “We are actually all Martians,” Brenner told attendees at the Goldschmidt Meeting in Florence, Italy.
From his Saturday post at Weekend Edition, NPR host Scott Simon took it from there, snickering a little at the word itself, which he called a phrase:
There is a scientific phrase for this: panspermia, which sounds a little like a new pharmaceutical advertised during pro-football games. But it's the fact that when asteroids slam into planets, they send up showers of matter that can be sent soaring through space as meteorites and land on other planets.
“Panspermia” first appeared in the fifth century BCE in the writings of the Greek philosopher Anaxagoras. Several 19th-century scientists appropriated the term and developed the modern concept; the word’s first appearance in English has been traced to an 1842 medical dictionary compiled by Robley Dunglison: “Panspermia, the theory of Dissemination of Germs, according to which, ova, or germs, are disseminated all over space, undergoing development under favourable circumstances.” A detailed hypothesis of panspermia was published in 1903 by a Swedish chemist, Svante Arrhenius. The theory lay dormant for much of the 20th century until being revived in the 1970s by Francis Crick (discoverer of the double helix) and Leslie Orgel.
There are a number of subtypes of panspermia, including radiopanspermia (life forms are propelled by radiation pressure), lithopanspermia (life forms are transported by rocks), and pseudo-panspermia (“the pre-biotic organic building blocks of life originated in space and were incorporated in the solar nebula from which the planets condensed and were further —and continuously— distributed to planetary surfaces where life then emerged” – via Wikipedia).