Guest post by David Middleton
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]
Moss Piglets in Space!
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!