It may have been the crashed lander that brought tardigrades to the moon

Photo: Dennis Smail/Deposit Images

Humans have long dreamed of setting up shop on the moon and establishing thriving colonies. But it turns out there’s a different kind that may have preceded us, and it’s all due to an accident. In 2019, Israel Aerospace Industries sent the Beresheet probe to the moon, which was carrying thousands of microscopic tardigrades. Unfortunately, scientists lost control of the lander, and Beresheet crashed onto the surface.

Tardigrades are known to be able to withstand harsh conditions. They can remain frozen for decades, and can also withstand high heat and crushing pressure. This amazing endurance means they can survive the cold and intense radiation of space without moisture. But could the tardigrades aboard the Beresheet make it?

The tardigrades were part of a “lunar library,” a DVD-sized object made of thin sheets of nickel created by the Arch Mission Foundation. It contained a “backup of planet Earth” – including DNA samples, the entire English Wikipedia, and a language key for 5,000 languages. Thousands of water bears were sprayed over the tape in the lunar library, which was wrapped in several layers of insulation and then attached to the Beresheet lander.

After the accident, the Arch Mission Foundation reconvened with technical advisors to study images of the site taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. They came to the conclusion that the lunar library may have been ejected from the lander during the accident. According to Smithsonian Magazine, Arch Mission founder Nova Spivak said the heat of the impact was not enough to melt the nickel discs in the library.

While many dream of a colony of tardigrades taking over the moon, things may not be that easy. There is no guarantee that the tardigrades did not emerge from their cryogenic hibernation, and it is unlikely that they ever did. “They cannot colonize the moon because there is no atmosphere and no liquid water,” said Lukas Kaczmarek, a tardigrade expert. Watchman. “But it may be possible to put them back on the ground and then add water. They should rise again.”

Ultimately, if future lunar missions explore the Beresheet crash site, the fate of these creatures will become clear. In the wild scenario that they could actually revive or thrive on the moon, this would be a testament not only to their endurance but also open the door to how microscopic creatures could find a way to move from one celestial body to another – which would be an absolute game-changer.

In 2019, Israel Aerospace Industries sent the Beresheet probe to the moon, which carried thousands of tardigrades. Pritchett’s ship crashed on the surface, but scientists wonder if these “water bears” survived.

Tardigrades (water bear).  3D illustration.

Photo: rukanoga/deceptphotos

h/t: (Smithsonian Magazine)

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