Moss Piglets: First Interstellar Travelers?

Guest post by David Middleton

Tardigrades

Why does this sound like the plot to a SyFy Channel movie or a plot line from a Douglas Adams novel?  What if they arrive in the Alpha Centauri system and are mistaken for Invaders from Earth?  Or return to Earth as mutated giant Grizzly Water Bears?

People are gearing up to spread life from our solar system out into the cosmos. But the first life-forms to make that journey won’t be human beings, or even critters most folks would recognize. Instead, scientists plan to send tiny, chubby, pinch-faced tardigrades on the first living journey out past the Oort cloud (the ring of icy debris around our solar system) and into interstellar space.

Why tardigrades? Well, if you’ve heard anything about these eight-legged, dirt-dwelling “water bears” before, it was probably because they’re ridiculously resilient against ravages of the universe — ravages both foreign and domestic to our planet. Boiling doesn’t kill them. Neither does extreme pressure nor extreme cold. A study published online July 14 in the journal Scientific Reports suggests that even Earth-pummeling asteroids, nearby supernova blasts and powerful interstellar bursts of gamma radiation would fail to wipe the buggers out.

That hardiness, along with their small size — reaching only about a millimeter (0.04 inches) long — makes tardigrades ideal candidates to make a first cruise outside the solar system. These moss piglets, as they’re sometimes adoringly called, join C. elegans, a kind of mulch-dwelling nematode, as finalists to surf laser beams at relativistic speeds (or those approaching the speed of light) astride wafer-size spacecraft toward the far edge of the solar system, Space.com reports. The outer-space trip on laser-fueled wafers was borne out of NASA’s Starlight program, whose aim is to use photons to push tiny objects at extreme fractions of the speed of light toward neighboring stars. [7 Huge Misconceptions About Aliens]

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Moss Piglets in Space!

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I always thought that there was a tiny Abraham Lincoln statue on the reverse side of a penny… And all this time, it was a Tardigrade!

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Matt

Has anyone seen the new Star Trek series? Tardigrades actually have kind of a prominent role. I shit you not.

Bob boder

“Has anyone seen the new Star Trek series?”

Main Character good, the show is awful total destruction of the star trek universe that spawned it. Huge treky from the very begin can’t even watch it it is that bad.
As for the Movies, like the characters but the destruction of Vulcan was beyond stupid and the fact that it takes about 2 seconds to get from earth to Klingon kind of ruins that majesty of space that shows portrayed, but thats JJ Abrams, he blew up Corisunt in star wars as well and had a weapon that could shoot across huge portions of space to destroy a planet, and you could also see the streak from totally different worlds traveling through space, ridiculous, the absolute worst and clueless director ever.
Which explains why Griff likes the show, ridiculous catastrophic events with zero scientific underpinnings right up his alley!

Mumbles McGuirck

Until I saw “Batman vs Superman” I did not realize that Gotham and Metropolis are just across the river from each other. Like NYC and Newark. And both antagonists had mothers named “Martha”. Talk about cheap plot devices!

Hope these bugs don’t come across any intelligent lifeforms with the means to retaliate. They might deem it an attempt to destroy their DNA and replace it with ours.

With this sample they can mix it with their cells to see who eats whom. If our DNA is stronger their best policy would be a pre-emptive strike. If theirs is dominant then they just need send us a present with loads of their bugs and they will in time take over. I wouldn’t gamble on it being a draw.

JohnKnight

“Hope these bugs don’t come across any intelligent lifeforms with the means to retaliate. They might deem it an attempt to destroy their DNA and replace it with ours.”

Prolly more likely to think we are trying to cause them to die laughing . . if they can figure out what we actually did . . interstellar confetti . .

Twobob

You earthlings are so ugly!

Bruce Cobb

Oh yeah? You space aliens are so ugly, whem yo mamas dropped you off at school, they got a ticket for littering!

Tom in Florida

Yeah, space aliens are so ugly when they hang their heads out the car window they get ticketed for mooning.

Twobob

“We’re the good looking ones, you should see the AGW alarmists.”

Sweet Old Bob

But …Two Bob …..we taste so good !

Bruce Cobb

A moss piglet would make a great Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon.

Pamela Gray

Now wait a minute. There are so many possible unforeseen consequences here. Some good some not so good. Who the hell okayed this?

Southrider

Tardigrades from space??? Cripes! Lovecraft was right!

Hmmm. About all that digging in the South Pole ….

Bob boder

they came here from Mars in the first place, well maybe?

The Original Mike M

There’s a Gary Larson “Far Side” cartoon locked up in this topic dying to emerge!

“20 million years later the tardigrades ….”

Walter Sobchak

Cue the envirowhackos worried about contaminating the environment of some planet 11 light years away.

Don K

Interesting critters tardigrades. Been around, little changed, since the Middle Cambrian at least. They are tiny, most have no hard parts, and they don’t preserve well, so they could be older. Taxonomists apparently spend their evenings arguing about the relationships between tardigrades, onychophora(velvet worms),lobophora, and arthropoda — all very ancient lineages.

“These moss piglets”

A little lipstick and makeup is, apparently, all these piglets need to become interstellar superstars.

There is apparently no intention to test:
A) whether moss tardigrades would be invasive pests to struggling embryo pools of life?
B) Whether tardigrades survive extreme temperatures, well in excess of boiling temperatures and far less than Earth’s versions of extreme cold?
C) Any actual verification of sending experiments to the Oort cloud is remotely successful?

One also wonders if these researchers have considered that boiling temperatures, 212°F, 100°C is the temperature at sea level atmospheric pressure.

Water at extreme cold Space temperatures, e.g. -445&degF, 2.7°K, -27.56°C; either boiled away immediately or sublimates away a trifle slower..
There is a strong possibility that water bound within molecules common to life, will also be lost to space’s vacuum.

“Water at extreme cold Space temperatures, e.g. -445&degF, 2.7°K, -27.56°C

My fumble fingers apparently missed or deleted a key portion of the temperature; my bad.
That should read

“Water at extreme cold Space temperatures, e.g. -445&degF, 2.7°K, -270.56°C

The story being commented on here is bad science. tardigradia is an entire phylum with three classes, 24 families, and over a thousand distinct species already identified. While collectively hardy, no one tardigrade species harbors all the attributes mentioned for space travel.

Nothing some intelligent crossbreeding can’t fix.

Guys, I admittedly have to get out of pure science debunk mode, and into humorous spoof mode. Not an easy transition.

Steve Zell

The tardigrades probably do have to breathe oxygen and reject carbon dioxide to survive. If they were sent out into space in a “wafer” full of normal air, eventually they would consume all the oxygen and be left in a wafer full of nitrogen and carbon dioxide, and suffocate. By the way, carbon dioxide solidifies at -56.6 C (-69.8 F), so that when the tardigrades get out into interstellar space, too far from any star (including the sun) to keep them warm, they would be frozen into their exhaled breath.

The other unanswered question is–where would they be sent? If the goal is to send Earthly life to some other habitable planet, if it left the solar system, the “wafer” would be much more likely to crash into a star and be incinerated, than to land on a planet.

But at least such an experiment would prove that “pigs” can fly.

I kind of agree with you. A lot of these stories are just clickbait or maybe funding bait. I don’t believe the wafer space probe plan is even realistic. Sending junk to other stars for no reason other than to say we did it is dumb and a waist of money. There is no possibility of information being sent back to earth, not even confirmation of success, let alone useful data.

Merovign

Oh, look, the Oort cloud’s not hypothetical anymore. OR IS IT!?! (dunh dunh dunh)

Actually one of the funky things about tardigrades is how they look so much like something Lovecraftian.

Good point. The fact is the Oort cloud is still hypothetical/theoretical. Maybe they should focus on exploring our own solar system before sending useless wafers to others.

Julian Flood

This made me cheer. Tardigrades are one of my favourites, so much so that a story about them is in one of my collections of short stories on Amazon. They are perfect space travellers — if I had my druthers I’d like to see them discovered on comets, together with photosynthetic algae as a food source, You could shut down the whole ecosystem for millions of years and then fire it up as it approached the Sun.

JF

McComberBoy

I’m reminded of an Isaac Asimov short story called the Misbegotten Missionary aka Green Patches. An alien hive mind life form tries to hitch a ride to earth on a space ship by replacing and mimicking a component on the ship. The colonization was cut short because the life form chose to mimic a wire in the door circuit. When the door was opened on earth…zap. No more Tardigrade!

pbh

Albert

If we shoot them into space, it’s possible that over millions of years they will evolve into huge creatures, learn to time travel and come back and eat us next week. What then?

eyesonu

That may be what happened in the movie “Tremors”

Resourceguy

I don’t think it would pass the non-GMO test.

Wharfplank

The waterbears live amongst us…

eyesonu

I think they (Tardigrades) are cute. Would it be possible to selectively breed or genetically modify them into a cat sized lap pet? Then cross breed with a real cat and call them “Tardicats”.

eyesonu

To blast the cute little Tardigrades out into space to surf laser beams at relativistic speeds to another star opens new and exciting possibilities involving quantum mechanics.

Consider the possibility that these little cuties are reflected back to their point of origin here on earth and through their quantum space travel are now 30 feet long (think movie “Tremors”). Therein lies the conundrum, Schrodinger’s Cat. How would we know it’s here if we can’t see it? Maybe that’s why the big man-eating worms in “Tremors” lived underground: so they can’t be seen!

Peta of Newark

It is just sooooooooooooo fantastically childish – you have just got to laugh and simply wonder ‘why’

Occasionally, when in wicked mode or pondering the monumental dumbness that is Climate Science I come to the conclusion that us humans, despite our constant assertions to the contrary, are in fact getting ever dumber and more stupid.
(I may try donning my ‘Empathy Hat’ and blame it on the brain numbing effect of eating glucose but eating glucose was/is a truly dumb thing to do anyway)

Why.

Did not ‘Ancient Greeks’ or folks of that era invent some quite complicated mathematics, trigonometry and the like – used to build some pretty impressive structures that are still standing now.
Maybe 3,000 or 4,000 years ago?

Then at 2,000 years we got The Romans.
Their contribution was plumbing. Not fantastically clever in its own right but incredibly good and useful stuff.

Then now.
What have we ‘invented’ in the Great, Good, Intelligent and Useful department?
TV, smartphones and Interwebz don’t count, far too ephemeral. Even antibiotics – no new ones for 40+ years and what we have don’t work anymore

I’d suggest that our ‘contribution’ to The Great Human Adventure is ‘learning to count using decimal system’
(For most of us anyway. Actually, the acre-foot is a useful measure – if you’d only made it the hectare-metre. sigh)

So, 4,000 years ago = complicated mathematics
2.000 years ago = plumbing
Now = counting in Base 10 (fingers and toes)

If that’s not retrograde (or even Tardigrade ha ha ha), what is?