When you look up at the night sky, do you wonder if there is life out there? Now there is. Thousands of tardigrades – the toughest creatures on earth – crawl the surface of the moon. Aliens have arrived on the lunar surface!

Israeli Spacecraft Beresheet Crashes On Moon

On the night of April 11 2019, we were going to achieve another space feat. Israeli spacecraft Beresheet was about to become the first private spacecraft to land on the moon. The spacecraft had successfully sent a selfie with luna and was preparing to land on its surface. Its controllers at Israel Aerospace Industries mission control center in Yehud are not sure what happened after that. Something went wrong during the landing and the spacecraft crashed on the moon’s surface. The main engine shut off, the screen went blank and all contact with the spacecraft was lost.

Tardigrades on Beresheet moon lander

The spacecraft Beresheet was the world’s first privately funded machine to land on moon, had it been successful. Beresheet is actually a ‘small robotic lunar lander and lunar probe’. It was no more in height than a washing machine, at 1.5 meter and weighed 150 kg in net weight.

However more than the crash, it was what the Beresheet carried with it – is troubling  the scientists. American entrepreneur Nova Spivack was also involved in this novel mission. He has established the Arch Mission Foundation which aims to spread ‘earth’ knowledge across the solar system. He also created the first space library.

The Beresheet was fitted with a ‘digital time capsule’ which contained all information about earth, equivalent to 30 million pages of data. It has all of Wikipedia, PanLex database, children’s drawings, a copy of Torah and more such items that will give idea about earth to the extra-terrestrial. Most importantly, it carried our DNA samples and thousands of tiny organisms. All of this now lay strewn across on the moon.

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What Are Tardigrades? 

Tardigrades are very small creatures, between 0.2 to 0.5 mm when fully grown. These are eight legged micro-animals and have to be seen under a microscope. A tardigrade has claws that suck, and these creatures feed on moss, algae and small invertebrates.

Also called the water bears or moss piglets, the tardigrades are the toughest and most resilient creatures on earth. It is this resilience for which there is a good chance for them to survive in moon.

tardigrades now on moon
A tardigrade is a weird looking micro-animal

On earth tardigrades are found everywhere. Scientists have seen these thriving on cold icy mountaintops to the deep seas. You can find these in scathing mud volcanoes, rainforests of the world and even in lifeless Antarctic. You will find them in the Himalayas and in the equator – practically anywhere on earth.

The tardigrades can survive in extreme temperature, extreme drops in pressure, even without air. It can outlive the effects of radiation. These can live without water or food. No other animal on earth can be compared to its durability.

This tiny creature, when exposed to extreme climate can suspend their metabolism. This strategy is called cryptobiosis. These can go without food or water for at least 30 years and once it gets the right condition, it bounces to its full life again. It can live up to a hundred years.

Tardigrades have been on earth for more than 500 million years. There have been five mass extinctions on planet earth, wiping off dinosaurs and other creatures. The tardigrade has survived each of these extinctions.

Most surprisingly, experiments have shown that these micro-animals can also survive in space. In fact the tardigrade was the first creature discovered to survive in lifeless conditions of space. It is immune to deathly cosmic radiation, UV, microgravity and effects of vacuum.

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Can A Tardigrade Survive On The Lunar Surface?

The reason Beresheet carried with itself thousands of tardigrades was to put them out to space for  ‘educating aliens about earth’ and making moon habitable for earthlings in future. The micro-animal can stay in an inactive state there for an undetermined period of time, making it very suitable for this kind of mission.

Whenever a tardigrade is exposed to a harsh environment like the moon’s, it enters a state called cryptobiosis. It kind of forms a shell around it, which is impenetrable by cosmic radiation, UV rays, heat, cold or pressure. By dropping its metabolism it can wait for years till the right time comes.

Many scientists believe that as tardigrades are dependent on water for their survival, therefore the moon’s waterless surface is not habitable for them. It is true that these creatures will not survive if there is no water. Conversely, even if a tardigrade gets water on the moon after twenty years, it will come to life, reproduce and thrive.

Scientists believe that water is present on the moon in some places. Since we really do not know where the Beresheet spacecraft has crashed and in what condition it is, there is a high probability that tardigrades may be already crawling on the moon.

Introducing a new species to another environment can have serious consequences. India struggles with the invasion of water hyacinth (kochuri pana) in its water bodies. Water hyacinth is native to the South America and it somehow made its way to India during the British rule. This plant has infested water bodies, choking fish off oxygen , killing local water plants and obstructing birds from catching their food.

tardigrades invasive species on moon
Montana Invasive Species Council

Similarly Australia has faced threats from feral cats which were introduced by the Europeans. These cats have killed off many species endemic to Australia. Many species are in extinction due to the cats which have become an invasive species.
Mankind has been the reason of disturbing the balance of nature in many other countries. Now also, on the moon.

What will happen to the tardigrades on the moon? Chances are that these will survive and if you see their history, adapt to the new environment. They may evolve and we may see a new species of hybrid tardigrades.

Until now, tardigrades were not known to cause much alarm to the human body or race. But as these evolve out of the earth’s environment in a cold alien world, we can only speculate what may happen. Will a small mistake for man turn out to be a big calamity for mankind?

Image credits: SpaceIL, Pixabay, Montana Invasive Species Council