The novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) has infected more than 210,000 since its discovery last November. Because the virus has never been seen before in humans, there is no known cure and it has killed more than 8,000 people.
Scientists have known of human coronaviruses since the 1960s but only seven have been discovered, including SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2.
Virologists speculate many more undiscovered strains are carried by wild animals but one scientist has gone even further with his theories.
According to Chandra Wickramasinghe, an astrobiologist at the Buckingham Centre for Astrobiology, the coronavirus came to us from space.
Professor Wickramasinghe has alleged the virus was dispersed over China, the pandemic’s epicentre, when a meteor fell towards Earth in October.
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The astrobiologist told Express.co.uk in February: “The sudden outbreak of a new coronavirus is very likely to have a space connection.”
The idea is not novel and is known in astronomy as panspermia – the theory life is being spread across the universe on fast-moving asteroids and comets.
Some scientists even speculate life on Earth was kick-started when a rock carrying the necessary building blocks crashed into our homeworld.
But the “extraordinary” claims about coronavirus have been challenged by another scientist who thinks it would be physically impossible for the virus to survive on a space rock.
Astrobiologist Graham Lau, who hosts NASA’s Ask an Astrobiologist series, told Space.com the theory is unlikely.
He said: “It’s one of those cases where extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence
Graham Lau, astrobiologist
“Even though it’s an interesting idea, we just don’t have any reason to embrace that idea right now.
“I think it’s important for scientists to point out pseudoscientists or bad science.
“If this was real, it’d be great but we just can’t allow ourselves to jump to the feel-good conclusion without doing our due diligence as scientists.”
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Although there is no evidence to suggest the coronavirus came from space, there is a lot to show it originated here on Earth.
Coronaviruses are a family of zoonotic pathogens that affect both humans and animals alike.
Some coronaviruses affect humans but our knowledge of these threats is still limited.
The known human coronaviruses are 229E, NL63, OC43, HKU1, MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2.
The first four viruses are the most common and commonly infect people around the globe.
The remaining three are much more dangerous and have been known to infect in the past through contact with infected animals.
In 2002, for instance, an outbreak of SARS is believed to have originated in bats and Asian civet cats.
Mr Lau said: “If this thing had some different kind of biomolecule in it that’s different from life as we know it.”
Chinese authorities have recently traced the first SARS-CoV-2 infection on November 17, 2019, to a 55-year-old from Hubei Province.
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