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 Oil on canvas, 36" x 48", August 2010

 Oil on canvas, 36" x 48", August 2010

by Edward Belbruno, Princeton University

Edward Belbruno is a mathematician and an artist. His paintings are in major collections and exhibited throughout the United States, and he regularly consults with NASA from his position as a cosmology researcher at Princeton University. He is also author of “Fly Me to the Moon” (Princeton University Press, 2007). Belbruno contributed this article to’s Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

One of the biggest questions in science is, “How did life first emerge on Earth?” There are many theories, but for the last decade, I have been particularly inspired by one: the lithopanspermia hypothesis.

Litho, from the Greek lithos, for stone, and panspermia from the Greek for “all seeds,” the hypothesis suggests life began on Earth more than 4 billion years ago as the planet was under constant bombardment from the rocky debris of the early solar system. But these weren’t just any rocks: They contained biogenic material, the organic molecules necessary to form the building blocks of life.

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