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Explained: What Are Tardigrades and How Did They Survive the Beresheet Crash on Moon?

Known as one of the toughest and most resilient creatures on Earth, Tardigrades are expected to be alive in space too.

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Updated:August 21, 2019, 2:20 PM IST
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Explained: What Are Tardigrades and How Did They Survive the Beresheet Crash on Moon?
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On April 11, 2019, an Israeli non-profit SpaceIL’s Beresheet lander crashed into the moon because of a technical malfunction. The spacecraft was carrying a lot of items, including first lunar library, a DVD-sized archive which had about 30 million pages of information, human DNA samples, plant cells, animal cells, and thousands of tardigrades. It is said that the Beresheet crash has released a number of Tardigrades or ‘water bears’ in the space.

Known as one of the toughest and most resilient creatures on Earth, Tardigrades are expected to be alive in space too. However, since some of them were sealed epoxy and the others were trapped on the sticky side of Kapton tape, it is said that they might not be able to reproduce on Moon.

The Tardigrades or ‘water bears’ can survive under pressures of up to 74,000 times the pressure felt on sea level. Essentially a water-dweller, they can stay in the dry state for extended periods of time until they find themselves in a more habitable environment or find water. A 2008 study found that Tardigrades can also survive in the cold vacuum of outer space.

In a 2017 article published in Nature, it was found that even if all other life forms were to be wiped out by a cataclysmic event, possibly a large asteroid impact, a supernova or gamma-ray bursts, the tardigrades would be the likeliest to survive. This is because of their ability to endure extreme hot and cold temperature levels.

The tardigrade can only be seen under a microscope, given their size of about half a millimeter. While there has been a possible Tardigrade spill on the Moon, a tardigrade researcher, Kazuharu Arakawa has said even if they might find liquid water and revive, the tardigrades might not last very long in the absence of food and air.

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