It seems to be generally believed that the new coronavirus came from a Wuhan animal market or a Wuhan laboratory. But there’s also the possibility that it came from outer space.
Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe, of the Cardiff Centre for Astrobiology – a body founded by Cardiff University and the University of Wales College of Medicine – has long held that many plagues have an extraterrestrial origin.
He believes that huge amounts of micro-organisms land on Earth every day, including a tonne of bacteria. Given this, the chances would be that many surprise outbreaks of disease came from space.
The recent paper by Huang et al (1) and the commentary by Cohen in Science (2) highlights many unusual aspects of the outbreak of nCoV-2019. The evidence demonstrates that many cases of disease (about 30% of case reports) arose in locations unconnected with the Wuhan seafood and meat market, and the total tally continues to increase. Phylogenetic analyses of nCov-2019 sequences show little by way of sequence variation thus indicating low mutation rates thus approximating closely to what would be expected for a pure culture (3, 4). This fact combined with epidemiological data points to little or no human-to-human transmission thus far (e.g. see the latest report by the Australian Department of Health, 5). In any case current data suggest that the human-to-human spread rate is unusually low, and may be dependent on proximity and dose of virus delivered at very close quarters. The “lethality” or “death rate” from his or any other epidemic disease increases in older patients with pre-existing conditions so wider global estimates yield a death rate at 3% of infected. These basic facts now appear agreed.The traditional explanation of the new epidemic of nCoV-2019 that it jumped from bats (possibly via snakes) to humans and then spread by human to human contact mutating at a high rate is thus at odds with the data at present.
Combining all the available facts we cannot rule out a viral in-fall event targeting the Wuhan province and the wider region around it as an explanation as a first cause of the epidemic. This would fit with the admittedly heterodox view of viral pandemics first proposed by Hoyle and Wickramasinghe as far back as 1978 (6, 7, 8, 9). This concept accords with the theory of cosmic biology for which growing evidence have recently been reviewed by Steele et al (10,11). This theory posits a sporadic input of cosmic bacteria and viruses that has the potential to interact with evolving terrestrial life forms.
In the case of the current Corona virus pandemic in China it is interesting to note that an exceptionally bright fireball event was seen on October 11 2019 over Sonjyan City in the Jilin Province of NE China (See Fig.1). It is tempting to speculate that this event had a crucial role to 2 play in what is now unfolding in throughout China. If a fragment of a loosely held carbonaceous meteorite carrying a cargo of viruses/bacteria entered the mesosphere and stratosphere at high speed ~30km/s, its inner core which survived incandescence would have got dispersed in the stratosphere and troposphere. The fall time through the atmosphere of 1-10 micrometre-sized solid particles could range from a few months to well over a year on the basis of straightforward calculations (e.g. in the appendix of ref. 6). Because dispersal at ground level depends on the vagaries of meteorology and precipitation the deposition of virus at ground level is expected to be patchy in regard to both time and place. This is certainly consistent (thus far) with what has happened in relation to the new coronavirus epidemic between November 2019 and the present day (3 February 2020). Following the initial deposition of infective particles in a small localised region (e.g. Wuhan, Hubei province, China) particles that have already become dispersed through over a wider area in the troposphere will fall to ground in a higgledy-piggledy manner and this process could be extended over a typical timescale of 1-2 years until an initial inoculant of the infective agent would be drained. This accords well with many new strains of viruses including influenza that have appeared in recent years (9)
How might an airborne virus spread from an impact site in China? What are the prevailing winds in China?
The prevailing winds blow across southern China from the southeast. Further north they blow in from the west. Cold air pours down from Siberia in the winter. Warm air comes up from Southeast Asia and the South China Sea in the summer.
Wuhan is in central China, so the winds will blow from the west. An airburst over Wuhan (30º N) would result in deposition downwind in South Korea (40º N) and Japan (36º N). Jet stream would then carry it eastward to Seattle (47º N), LA (34º N), New York (41º N). And then eastwards across the Atlantic ocean to Spain (40º N), Italy (42º N).
It would be like a viral Chernobyl. It takes the average 177 kph jet stream about a week to go 30,000 km around the world at latitude 40º N, and countries under the jet stream would receive the highest viral deposition. The polar jet stream (blue) is most commonly found between latitudes 30° and 60°. And it’s along this corridor that the largest outbreaks seem to be happening.