Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 12 December 2019

'Moss piglets' could be alive on the moon after spacecraft crash

They are often called ‘the toughest creatures on earth’ because of their ability to withstand extreme conditions

Tardigrades - also known as water bears or moss piglets - are less than a millimetre long and can survive extreme temperatures. Getty Images
Tardigrades - also known as water bears or moss piglets - are less than a millimetre long and can survive extreme temperatures. Getty Images

A tiny creature called a Tardigrade could be alive in space after a spacecraft carrying several thousands of them crashed into the moon.

The micro animals - often called water bears or moss piglets - are less than a millimetre long and can survive extreme temperatures. Tardigrades, with their barrel-shaped bodies and four pairs of stubby legs, are able to survive being boiled close to 150°C and can be frozen at almost absolute zero.

Tardigrades are found all over the world, including in the deserts and Antarctic subglacial lakes. They are often found on lichens and mosses, but can also flourish in dunes, on beaches, soil and in water.

They can also be brought back to life after being dehydrated for decades. Because of this quality, they were the first animal to survive in space back in 2007.

Several thousands of the eight-legged creatures were on the unmanned Israeli aircraft Beresheet, as part of an experiment, when it lost control and crashed into the moon in April.

The US-based Arch Mission Foundation, which sponsored the tardigrades’ space expedition, thinks they have survived.

"We believe the chances of survival for the tardigrades... are extremely high," Arch Mission Foundation boss Nova Spivack told the BBC.

The foundation stores a “backup” of planet Earth, complete with human knowledge and the planet’s biology stored and sent out in various solar locations in case of a life ending event.

They are believed to have survived because they can withstand extreme conditions and can suspend their metabolism through cryptobiosis, where metabolic rate lowers to less than 0.01 per cent of normal, water content can drop to 1 per cent of normal and they could go without food or water for more than 30 years.

Updated: August 8, 2019 04:52 PM

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