Moss Piglets: First Interstellar Travelers?

Guest post by David Middleton


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, 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]


Read more on Live Science

Moss Piglets in Space!

Feature Image

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!

66 thoughts on “Moss Piglets: First Interstellar Travelers?

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

        • I think Griff’s science fiction recommendations are probably safe… He is a Douglas Adams fan after all.

          • Hey! The Day After Tomorrow is one of my favorite bad science fiction movies… Right up there with Armageddon and 2012.

          • David Middleton

            I must admit I like the Day After Tomorrow. Good old fashioned adventure romp. Difference is, Griff believes it.

            I also like Snowpiercer, demonstrating what life might be like with global cooling and left wing attitudes.

          • Reality is stranger than science fiction…

            “The American scientific film “the Day After Tomorrow”, which demonstrated “the breath-taking catastrophe brought to mankind by climate change”…

            The First International School on Climate System And Climate Chang (ISCS)
            [Date: 2004-11-19]  [Author:Yan Zhang,Yiming Liu]

            The First International School on Climate System And Climate Chang (ISCS), sponsored by China Meteorological Administration (CMA) and co-sponsored by the Office of IPCC Working Group I, State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs and National Natural Science Foundation of China, was held in CMA from August 23 to September 1, 2004. It received extensive attention from the meteorological departments and relevant scientific research institutions. More than 16o students including young researchers, doctoral candidates and master degree candidates specialized in climate system and climate change research took part in the study. They are from over 40 organizations, such as the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Ministry of Science and Technology, Ministry of Education as well as CMA National Climate Centre, Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences (CAMS) and eight meteorological institutes, National Satellite Meteorological Centre, seven Regional Meteorological Centres, provincial meteorological bureaus, etc.

            Fifteen world famous experts from countries including France, Germany, South Korea, Japan, U.S.A., Canada and China, were invited to serve as the lecturers of ISCS. They were: Dr. Jean Jouzel from France, Vice-Chairman of IPCC Working Group I; Dr. Robert Delmas from France, Director of the Laboratory of Glaciology and Geophysics and Environment; Dr. Ulrich Cubasch from the Meteorological Institute in Free University Berlin; Dr. In-Sik Kang, Director of the Climate Environment System Research Center of Seoul National University; Dr. Akio Kitoh, Director of the Climate Research Division of the Meteorological Research Institute in Japan Meteorological Agency; Dr. John Ogren and Dr. Zhanqing Li from U.S.A; Dr. Daniel Rosenfeld from Israel; Dr. Chung-Kyu Park and Dr. Won-Tae Yun from Korean Meteorological Agency; as well as some renowned scientists in China, namely, Prof. Ding Yihui, Dr. Dong WenJie, Prof. Lin Er’Da , Prof. Pan Jiahua, Mr. Chen ZhenLin.


            This session of School includes 45 teaching hours altogether and most of them were conducted in English. The wonderful lectures given by Chinese and foreign experts attracted great interest of the participants. During the session, the students were also invited to watch the American scientific film ” the Day After Tomorrow”, which demonstrated “the breath-taking catastrophe brought to mankind by climate change”, and visit the GAW station in Shangdianzi, Miyun District, Beijing and the Great Walls in Simatai and Gubeikou.


            Beijing Climate Center

      • Just bear in mind it is the recent film star trek universe, not the TV star trek universe…

        The 2 intro episodes are a bit big screen but then it settles down and yes, there’s a tardigrade in it!

      • hotscot – I also read the science journals.

        I just link to articles which have a simpler summary – and also link to the science papers.

        which journal of record covers the skeptic viewpoint?

      • Griff,

        “I just link to articles which have a simpler summary”

        You link to, and plagiarise the Guardian frequently although, to be fair, I haven’t seen you do either recently. But how can you possibly imagine it’s a reasonable source to cite? Their articles are a comprehensive lesson on misdirection by omission, not simplification.

        And you know full well that with the exception of a few small organisations like the GWPF and Heartland, there are few sceptical groups because they’re not funded by unlimited government resources.

        However, with the body of evidence available from this, and other sceptical blogs, there is a considerable body of evidence to refute the insane claims on climate change peddled by the likes of the Guardian.

      • Griff’s main problems is his difficulty in separating science fiction like Star Trek from actual real science.

        Basically everything he/she posts is laced with fiction, but very little science.

      • My question, “Is Climate Chang on the faculty of the Beijing Climate Center? And why didn’t his parents just call him ‘Sue’?”

      • New Star Trek Discovery is some fun dross for when you want turn off your mind for a while.

        But griff, it isn’t real, and you need to turn your mind back on afterwards.

      • David Middleton
        November 7, 2017 at 5:36 am

        Ok David….Oort Cloud is not a real thing yet as far as I can tell, is simply a hypothetical construct.
        Neils Oort Cloud is no more than a hypothesis at this point David.

        Strange yes, but that how it is, even when considering the great feat of astrophysics with detection and detailed explanation of Krono stars and Jupiter black asphalt or bluish or pink unicorny like, still no much about very close to home, indeed thing like the Oort Cloud….sad and strange yes… but hey that is the greatness and stealth of our astrophysics,,, can tell you with clarity and certainty about Black holes, Dark matter, thousands of light years or further more way in space about objects there, but no much about Oort Neils Cloud…..bizarre indeed…

        Not mentioning here the string theory universes and multi dimensional universes and the entropy versus universal expansion…..still no much or any thing about the closer to home “hypothetical” Oort Cloud!!!!!

        People really seem to not have a proper clue about the real prospect of cosmic distances.

        Even at a very high shrinking factor, as it seem to be in the case of the Milky way Galaxy Plain…….still very tremendous spacious distances to contemplate, in any way silly or far worse thing to bullishly forward as per the main body of this blog post.
        Sorry not really meaning to be upsetting here…. but Neils Oort hypothesis is very much valued and appreciated by me as up to this point……not so much the black holes or Kronos or black asphalt bluish pink unicorny jupiters, or what so ever else in these lines…..

        Sorry again, not trying to rock the boat. Only expressing freely my point of view….hope you will not mind it much.


        • The reference to the Oort Cloud was in the article. I didn’t write the article. I just found the concept of launching Moss Piglets into interstellar space ona laser-driven wafer-sized spacecraft to be too much fun to ignore.

          When the tardigrades are an their trip to Alpha Centauri, hopefully they will send back a report as to whether or not the Oort Cloud exists. Maybe even a postcard.

          The post was filed under “Fun Stuff” and “Space”… Not really meant to be serious.

      • David Middleton
        November 7, 2017 at 1:41 pm


        And most probably I did jump the gun at the opportunity to express my self , on that particular point 🙂
        Maybe a bit too quick…..but hopefully you would not mind it .

        Thanks for the further effort to explain it.



    • “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!

      • 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!

  2. 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.

    • “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 . .

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

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

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

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

    “20 million years later the tardigrades ….”

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

  7. 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.

  8. “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.

  9. “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

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.


  14. 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!


  15. 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?

  16. 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”.

  17. 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!

  18. 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)


    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?

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