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Credit: Getty Images/Sebastian Kaulitzki/Science Photo Library

Tardigrades take one small step on the moon after Israeli lunar lander crash

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Aug 7, 2019

There is no life on the moon, or at least was no life on the moon, until SpaceIL’s Beresheet lander ventured out there and had an unfortunate crash. And then the invaders started creeping into the moon dust.

Wait? What invaders? Are we in the middle of some ‘50s sci-fi-horror radio broadcast? Hardly. The most indestructible animal on Earth (and possibly the known universe) may look like a microscopic version of some backup alien from Star Wars, but a DVD-sized object full of them was part of Beresheet’s science payload. That object is actually a lunar library, made of thin sheets of nickel, that is thought to have survived the crash, along with the DNA samples and tardigardes inside.

Tardigrades are the next best thing to immortal. They can survive any extreme environment, from deserts to glaciers, and perhaps now a space rock with freezing temperatures and almost zero atmosphere. Temperatures between -458 degrees Fahrenheit and 304 degrees Fahrenheit are no problem for them. Radiation won’t kill them right away. Able to stand up to some 74,000 times the pressure of Earth's sea level, they very likely survived when Beresheet experienced an unexpected glitch that killed the engine and found the spacecraft head-butting the moon at 310 mph.

Being deprived of water or even oxygen is far from a death sentence for these creatures, who enter a state of suspended animation called cryptobiosis. While their metabolisms shut down and their bodies dehydrate, they only seem dead.

You want to see something that will blow your mind? If you ever get your hands on a dehydrated tardigrade, submerge it in water, and in a couple hours it will be like nothing ever happened. That’s right, it’s going to be creeping and crawling as if it never lost consciousness.

The tardigrades on board Beresheet were dehydrated, and there is more water than we ever thought hidden on the moon. If they don't happen to be near any lunar ice deposits, they can just chill for another couple of years until the NASA moon mission planned for 2024 touches down. Astronauts could feasibly throw a few in a glass of water and see what happens.

There’s just one thing about the tardigrades now hanging out on the moon. Unfiltered solar UV radiation or intense temperature fluctuations could take them down if they ended up above the moon’s surface, but if they somehow made it below the surface, the instant sunblock and subzero temperatures could mean they’re going to be chilling there a while.

If Earth experienced another monster asteroid impact like the one that wiped out the dinosaurs, the planet would probably be swarming with tardigrades. Creepy.

(via Business Insider)

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