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Piglets in space! Earth’s toughest creature could be alive on the moon

A tiny creature, found in all regions of the earth, could be alive in space after a spacecraft carrying several thousand of them crashed into the moon.

Tardigrades, also known as water bears or moss piglets, are less than a millimetre long and can survive huge extremes of temperature from being boiled at close to 150c, to being frozen at almost absolute zero (-270c).

They are found across the globe, from mountain tops to deserts to Antarctic subglacial lakes and have been around for a very long time, with fossil specimens dating back 530 million years..

Several thousand of the eight-legged micro-animals were on board the unmanned Israeli spacecraft, Beresheet, as part of an experiment, when it lost control and crashed into the moon in April.

The US-based Arch Mission Foundation, which sponsored the tardigrades’ off-planet exploration, thinks they may have survived.


The organisation’s founder, Nova Spivack, told Wired magazine: “Our payload may be the only surviving thing from that mission.”

The reason for his optimism is the tardigrade’s ability to survive in extreme environments and suspend its metabolism through cryptobiosis, where the metabolic rate lowers to less than 0.01% of normal, water content can drop to 1% of normal, and they can go without food or water for more than 30 years, only to later rehydrate, forage, and reproduce.

Tardigrades are thought to be able to survive even complete global mass extinction events such as gamma ray bursts or large meteorite impacts, pressures about six times greater than those found in the deepest ocean trenches and ionising radiation at doses hundreds of times higher than would be lethal for a human.


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