Question #36 – Are there any animals on Earth that can survive the vacuum of space?
Yes! In 2007, European researchers shot a species of tardigrade into low-earth-orbit for 10-days where they were exposed to the vacuum of space, as well as solar/galactic cosmic radiation. Upon returning to Earth, a handful of the individuals exposed to all radiation survived and were able to produce viable offspring. Most of these creatures prefer life at the bottom of a lake, but some have been found living in hot-springs and buried in ice atop the Himalayan mountains. Due to their resilience in nature, scientists have taken an interest in what exactly the tardigrade can handle. In their efforts, these scientists found that these creatures are capable of surviving at temperatures as low as -328 degrees Fahrenheit and as high as 300 degrees Fahrenheit, as well as pressures 6000 times that of our atmosphere and radiation thousands of times stronger than what humans can handle. But how are they able to survive such extreme conditions? Well, in the absence of water they turn themselves into what is called a tun. In creating this, they expel 97% of their internal water, slow down their metabolic activity to 0.01% normal levels, and use special proteins to protect the cells during drying out or freezing. Tardigrades can survive in this tun state for decades, if not centuries, even though their normal day-to-day life only lasts a couple months.
The tardigrade phylum has been around for around 500 million years and have survived all 5 mass extinction events. The proven resilience of these species to temperature and radiation suggest that they will be around far beyond the days that humans walk on this Earth.
Learn more about tardigrades by reading this LiveScience.com article: "Facts About Tardigrades"
This question, and its answer, was provided by Noah Neverette, a student at St. Lawrence University and a summer intern for the Adirondack Sky Center.
A tardigrade, staring back at you.
Image credit: Eye of Science/Science Source