The moon might now be home to thousands of planet Earth’s most indestructible animals. Tardigrades – often called water bears – are creatures under a millimetre long that can survive being heated to 150C and frozen to almost absolute zero. They were travelling on an Israeli spacecraft that crash-landed on the moon in April.And the co-founder of the organisation that put them there thinks they’re almost definitely still alive.
For most creatures there would be no coming back from being dehydrated – life without water is almost impossible.
But water bears – which have another very cute nickname, moss piglets – are not most animals. They can be brought back to life decades after being dehydrated. Scientists have found that tardigrades have what seems almost like a super power.When dried out they retract their heads and their eight legs, shrivel into a tiny ball, and enter a deep state of suspended animation that closely resembles death. They shed almost all of the water in their body and their metabolism slows to 0.01% of the normal rate. And if reintroduced to water decades later, they’re able to reanimate.
If the tardegrades are on the moon, it’s very unlikely they’ll be able to spring back to life without being reintroduced to water. But it would theoretically be possible for the tardigrades to be collected, brought back to earth, reanimated, and studied to see the effects of being on the moon. Still, it’s nice to think that next time you look up at the moon, there might be thousands of moss piglets looking back at you