Research

Oxford: This Bizarre Animal Could Survive The Death Of Our Sun

Oxford: This Bizarre Animal Could Survive The Death Of Our Sun

The eight-legged micro-animal called a tardigrade could survive almost all the way until the death of the sun, a new study suggests - long after humans are history.

Tardigrades (milnesium tardigradum) are eight-legged animals that grow to about 0.5mm (0.02in) long and are found in every climate and pressure zone on the planet.

It can live for up to 30 years without food or water, endure temperatures as high as 150C, and even survive in the frozen vacuum of space. Researchers from the Universities of Oxford and Harvard, have found that these life forms will likely survive all astrophysical calamities, such as an asteroid, since they will never be strong enough to boil off the world's oceans.

"It is hard to eliminate all forms of life from a habitable planet", said Professor Abraham Loeb, Chair of the Astronomy Department at Harvard University and co-author of the paper discussing the results in the journal Scientific Reports.

Objects such as dwarf planet Pluto are big enough to cause the oceans of the Earth to boil if they hit.

And gamma-ray bursts - thought to result from especially powerful supernovas or stellar collisions - are so rare that the researchers calculated that, over a billion years, there's only about a 1 in 3 billion chance of one killing off tardigrades.

David Sloan, another co-author on the paper from Oxford University found this to be quite comforting. But the fact that tardigrades are so resistant to other potential apocalypses in the interim implies that "life is tough, once it gets going", Shostak says.

He observed: 'Tardigrades are as close to indestructible as it gets on Earth, but it is possible that there are other resilient species examples elsewhere in the universe.

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More than being just a thought experiment, reports George Dvorsky for Gizmodo, these simulations can help show what kinds of places could theoretically sustain life in other parts of the Solar System. "If Tardigrades are Earth's most resilient species, who knows what else is out there?"

To boil away Earth's oceans, the researchers wrote, a gamma-ray burst would have to occur less than 40 light-years away, if it were aimed right toward Earth. But life that lived below ground or in large bodies of water would be shielded from harm and could survive, including the tardigrade.

"Surprisingly we find that although human life is somewhat fragile to nearby events, the resilience of Ecdysozoa such as Milnesium tardigradum renders global sterilisation an unlikely event", the study's conclusion reads.

Supernovae or gamma-ray bursts, electromagnetic explosions that happen in other galaxies, could deplete the Earth's protective ozone layer which protects us from radiation. The tardigrade is believed to be the hardiest creature alive, so by asking what would kill it, they were asking what it would take to destroy all life on this planet.

"The history of Mars indicates that it once had an atmosphere that could have supported life, albeit under extreme conditions", co-author Professor Abraham Loeb said in the release.

And the tardigrade deemed to be Earth's ultimate survivor. Even subtle changes to our environment can have a drastic effect on our health. Batista further said, "Without our technology protecting us, humans are a very sensitive species".

Humans are newcomers on Earth and it's nearly certain that we won't be around, on this planet at least, when the solar system's star finally goes nova.