Earth's Most Indestructible Creature Identified: Tardigrade

A tardigrade

A tardigrade

The "micro animals" tardigrades - also known as water bears - would survive "astrophysical catastrophes" that would wipe out other human life on Earth, new research has shown.

The microscopic water-dwelling animal can live for 60 years and is about 0.5mm long. They are capable of going without food and water for 30 years, can live in temperatures ranging from -458°F (-272°C) to about 300°F (150°C), can survive massive doses of radiation, and can even exist and be revived after 10 days of being exposed to the vacuum of space. They can live without food or water for 30 years and have even survived in space, with Russian Federation claiming they found them clinging to the outside of the International Space Station, alive.

Three potential events were considered as part of their research, including; large asteroid impact, and exploding stars in the form of supernovae or gamma ray bursts.

"There are only a dozen known asteroids and dwarf planets with enough mass to boil the oceans, these include Vesta and Pluto, however none of these objects will intersect the Earth's orbit and pose a threat to tardigrades", Professor Loeb and co-authors said.

Boffins have predicted that the tardigrade could be around for at least 10 billion years - long after the human race has gone extinct.

"To our surprise we found that although nearby supernovae or large asteroid impacts would be catastrophic for people, tardigrades could be unaffected".

"Tardigrades are as close to indestructible as it gets on Earth", study co-author Rafael Batista, from Oxford University, said in a statement.

"In this context there is a real case for looking for life on Mars and in other areas of the solar system in general", Batista said.

The study continues: "To establish this we break from the usual study in the literature of the possible paths to ending human life, and broaden the analysis to consider those astrophysical events which could rather remove all life by analysing the most resilient of species-tardigrades".

To boil away Earth's oceans, the researchers wrote, a gamma-ray burst would have to occur less than 40 light-years away, if it were aimed right toward Earth.

Batista emphasized that humanity is considerably less resilient than tardigrades.

Supernovae or gamma-ray bursts, electromagnetic explosions that happen in other galaxies, could deplete the Earth's protective ozone layer which protects us from radiation.

Scientists found only one way the tardigrades could be killed off - if our oceans boil away and we are left without any water. "The history of Mars indicates that it once had an atmosphere that could have supported life, albeit under extreme conditions". As a species, we are rightly concerned about events that could lead to our own elimination - climate change, nuclear war or disease could wipe us out.

Subsurface oceans believed to exist on Jupiter's moon Europa and Saturn's Enceladus, "would have conditions similar to the deep oceans of Earth where tardigrades are found", said the authors.

"Without our technology protecting us, humans are a very sensitive species".

Humans are newcomers on Earth and it's nearly certain that we won't be around, on this planet at least, when the solar system's star finally goes nova.

Most of the studies conducted by researchers from Oxford and Harvard University came to the conclusion that the only thing to wipe out life on earth would be if the oceans boiled.

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