Alien Lifefall In Red Rain On India?

By Douglas Chapman

The laboratory of Godfrey Louis at the School of Pure and Applied Physics at the Mohatma Gandhi University in Kottayam, Kerala, southern India, has sample jars containing reddish and cloudy rainwater. Inside are some mysterious thick-walled red cells, speculated to come from outer space. Their origins were and are mysterious. In summer 2001, from July to September, red rainshowers had fallen over some of Kerala, as if blood were falling.

Nearly half a decade later, Godfrey Louis published, in the peer-reviewed journal Astrophysics and Space Science, his hypothesis that the water samples taken in 2001 included outer space microbes. In his and research student A. Santhosh Kumar's long work with the samples, it had been found that in the rainwater there were red-tinted cell-like structures about 20 microns in size that apparently lacked DNA. In spite of this, the "cells" reproduced in profusion — even in superheated water.

Dr. Louis, who is a solid-state physicist, speculated that they were of extraterrestrial nature and had hitchhiked on a comet or meteorite which had broken up in Earth's upper atmosphere, whereupon the structures mixed with rain clouds. Supporting evidence for this chain of events was an airburst sonic boom — which occurred before the first of the red rains — in Changanassery (a.k.a. Changanacherry) on July 25, 2001.

Chandra Wickramasinghe, one of the co-authors of the present theory of panspermia, was sent samples by Dr. Louis. Professor Wickramasinghe and his colleagues at the Cardiff Centre for Astrobiology, Cardiff University, are replicating Louis's experiments. Wickramasinghe intends to publish findings in 2006. Some of them appeared in summer 2006 updates to his Centre's website.

What Are The Particles?

While, in the past, blood rains have been theorized to be things like fungal spores and bat blood cells, those have DNA and do not tend to thrive in extremes (like the superheated water in which the apparent lifeforms were made to reproduce). In the present instances, no traces of bat blood and guts were found in the rainwater. Also lessening likelihood of a local fungal source was that whatever caused the red coloring did not come from trees or rooftops. Collecting vessels out in the open had also caught the red rains (though others have offered explanations of why this could be so). Questions about DNA's presence or absence remained open, as did those about extreme environments.

Professor Wickramasinghe announced having some transmission electron micrographs of the (apparently) DNA-less red "cells" cut in the middle, which revealed "daughter cells" within the larger cells. Dr. Milton Wainwright, a research associate of the Cardiff Centre as well as a microbiologist at the University of Sheffield, tried to confirm this absence of DNA, but a preliminary test came back positive, indicating its possible presence after all. This had not shown up in the earlier DNA test that used the Ethidium Bromide dye fluorescence technique — which had indicated the non-presence of DNA in the cells. The Cardiff Centre for Astrobiology's Cardiff University website as of August 2006 mentioned that the cells tested positively for DNA when DAPI staining methods were used on the cells and "daughter cells." This identification of DNA was still uncertain, according to the Centre, and further work was to be done on extracting DNA.

Earlier announcements were revealed to be mistaken. High resolution electron microscopy eventually showed that there were indeed structures within the cells as well as holes in cell walls. One cell had large enough holes that the cytoplasm may have drained out.

There are other mysteries as regards their nature that have yet to be resolved, though. For example, the particles have yet to decompose — even after more than four years — despite not being refrigerated.

Given all these perplexities, there is much to study. Louis and Wickramasinghe have planned experiments to test the cells for certain carbon isotopes — to see if they fall within the terrestrial norm. This is par for the course for the latter scientist (who is an expert on interstellar material and a disciple of the late Sir Fred Hoyle), as a major theme of his work has been the detection of processes of life in space. In a Kottayam press conference in late May 2006, he enthused on the similarity of the red particles to cells.

On his own home page, Dr. Godfrey Louis speculates that "...the cells may represent an alternate form of life from space."

Disputes In The Scientific Community

This possibility was, of course, heavily disputed in the scientific community. The history of this controversy between 2001 and 2006 is informative.

While at first, the red rains had been thought to have been colored by meteor dust, a study commisioned by the Government of India's Department of Science and Technology came to findings that the rains had been given their color from aerial algae spores. Two Centre for Earth Science Studies (CESS) scientists (Dr. S. Sampath and Dr. V. Sasi Kumar) had on the 26th and 29th of September 2001 visited Changanassery to collect water samples and to talk with and survey residents. At that early time, the CESS preliminary hypothesis had been that the red rain had been caused by fine dust from the explosion of a meteorite.

The algae spore conclusion followed from further work, which was done by scientists of both the CESS and the Tropical Botanical Garden and Research Institute (TBGRI), who published in November 2001 that the spores had been grown into algae of the genus Trentepohlia. The spores of this genus are known to be able to survive very harsh conditions. The same November report found in the water no dusts of desert, volcanic or even meteoric origin — and desert dusts have been one accepted explanation for colored rains.

Eventually, work by Godfrey Louis and A. Santhosh Kumar caused further interest. In a 2003 paper intended for Nature publication, they detailed many elements of their long-championed panspermia ideas. In the abstract for this paper they detailed how the disintegration of a comet holding "a dense collection of red cells" would settle to Earth surface over two months, and how the cells appeared to be "the resting spores of an extremophilic microorganism."


Not long after, the SciScoop Science News Forum featured postings discussing this. One "barakn" (N. Barak), in a May 3, 2004 posting, noted that one aspect was highly debatable — in that it was said to be shown that "a few large cells could be processed into more smaller cells using high heat and pressure" which was not, in fact, necessarily a biological process or even evidence of a metabolism at work. In another posting that day, Barak took Louis to task for not being forthcoming enough about his methods.

Later in 2004, there was some interesting commentary in SciScoop by the aforementioned V. Sasi Kumar — posting as "vsasi" on September 20, 2004 — who wrote about his experience of being the first scientist to be told of the red rain and to collect a quantity of it. He disputed a Barak comment that Louis should return to the study of crystals, and bemoaned that biologists were not not showing any serious interest in the case. He praised Godfrey Louis's success in casting attention on a not-yet-explained phenomena.

SciScoop was not the only forum to feature the controversy. Dr. Louis and A. Santhosh Kumar had noted in their 2003 paper that the fact that 85% of the red rain fell within ten days after the sonic boom would be consistent with how particles would settle after a cometary breakup. An independent researcher named Ian Williams Goddard did not feel this to be realistic and wrote to The Why Files website to question the notion — since he thought that light aerosols at the high altitude would be blown over a much larger area during that time period. His website at demonstrates the process by which spores can be distributed.

Controversies abound, as they always do, about claims that life may not have originated on Earth. Solid proof will be hard to come by.


Popular Science on CNN.COM,, 6/2/06

"The red rain phenomenon of Kerala and its possible extraterrestrial origin," Godfrey Louis & A. Santhosh Kumar, Astrophysics and Space Science, Vol. 302, pages 175-187, 2006 (published online first on the date 04 April 2006),

"Cometary panspermia explains the red rain of Kerala," Godfrey Louis & A. Santhosh Kumar, paper to be submitted to Nature, October 5, 2003,

The Hindu,, 5/31/06

The Hindu,, 7/31/01

"Coloured Rain: A Report on the Phenomenon," S. Sampath, T. K. Abraham, V. Sasi Kumar and C. N. Mohanan, Centre for Earth Science Studies, PB No. 7250, Thuruvikkal PO, Thiruvananthapuram 695031, India, Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute, Pacha, Palode, Thiruvananthapuram, India, November 2001

Home Page of Dr. Godfrey Louis,

Red rain in Kerala — Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia,

Chandra Wickramasinghe — Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia,

The Why Files,, 6/22/06

SciScoop Science News Forum,

World-Science,, 1/5/06

"Analysis of Red Rain of Kerala," Cardiff Centre for Astrobiology,

SpringerLink — Article,

"Possible Causal Mechanism of Kerala's Red Rain," Goddard's Journal,, 3/22/06

See the "Red Rain" section of the Strange Magazine website for further examples of red rains — and explanations ranging from Charles Fort's "teleportative seizures" to Lewis Spence's stories of fairy traditions regarding mid-air battles between Little People. Also check out Strange Magazine Number 4 for the article "Lifefall" by the present writer, which covers much of the history of panspermia.

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