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SCIENTIFIC A MERIC A N 65 Most scientists have long assumed that life on Earth is a homethe earliest living cells emerged as a result of chemical evolution on our planet billions of years ago in a process called abiogenesis. The alternative possibility— that living cells or their precursors arrived from space — strikes many people as science fiction. Developments over the past decade, however, have given new credibility to the idea that Earth’s biosphere could have arisen from an extraterrestrial seed.

Edward Witten in Advances in Theoretical and Mathematical Physics, Vol. 2, pages 253–291; 1998. org/abs/hep-th/9802150 Gauge Theory Correlators from Non-Critical String Theory. S. Gubser, I. R. Klebanov and A. M. Polyakov in Applied Physics Letters B, Vol. 428, pages 105–114; 1998. org/abs/hep-th/9802109 The Theory Formerly Known as Strings. Michael J. Duff in Scientific American, Vol. 278, No. 2, pages 64–69; February 1998. The Elegant Universe. Brian Greene. Reissue edition. W. W. Norton and Company, 2003.

The equivalence provides a new way to understand properties of black holes, which require a suitable melding of quantum mechanics and gravity. The mathematics of the theory has not yet been rigorously proved, but it seems useful in analyzing a recent experimental high-energy physics result. SCIENTIFIC A MERIC A N at the even tinier scale delineated by the Planck length (10 –33 centimeter), quantum principles imply that spacetime itself should be a seething foam, similar to the sea of virtual particles that fills empty space.

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