Thursday, 21 September, 2017

Earth's last survivors are going to be water bears

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Velma Reese | 15 July, 2017, 02:43

They examined an asteroid strike, supernovae, and gamma ray bursts - any one of which could easily kill off humanity.

They analyzed the probabilities of certain disasters, judged that Earth will not experience a calamity in which all its water is boiled off, and therefore concluded that tardigrades will be around until the sun explodes and engulfs our planet. They've survived the frozen vacuum of space and even can bring themselves back to life. They can live without food or water for 30 years and have even survived in space, with Russian Federation claiming they found them clinging to the outside of the International Space Station, alive.

Oxford University boffins said tardigrades, or "water bears", are as "indestructible as it gets on Earth".

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".

For a supernova to cause our oceans to boil the exploding star would need to be 0.14 light-years away, and our closest star, the sun, is four light years away. In order to fry our planet we'd need a supernova to go off within 0.14 light year away and the nearest star is now over four light years distant.

Gamma-ray bursts, the most powerful explosions in the universe, are jets of radiation likely released when a star collapses into a black hole after emitting an ultra-powerful supernova blast. Dwarf planets like Pluto and Eris might be able to, but are too far away to be a threat. Yes, it might wreck the planet, but an asteroid strike probably wouldn't boil away all the oceans, and so, tardigrades could hang on.

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"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", said Dr Rafael Alves Batista, co-author and research associate in the Department of Physics at Oxford University. As a species, we are rightly concerned about events that could lead to our own elimination - climate change, nuclear war or disease could wipe us out.

"There are many more resilient species' on Earth". If life that developed on planets like Mars is anything like tardigrades, it would stick around despite the planet's current inhospitable conditions, the researchers said.

Dr David Sloan, Co-author and Post-Doctoral Research Associate in the Department of Physics at Oxford University, said: "A lot of previous work has focused on 'doomsday" scenarios on Earth - astrophysical events like supernovae that could wipe out the human race.

Using mathematical modeling, Batista and his collaborators chose to try their best to predict what kinds of horrific disasters could actually wipe out even the gritty tardigrade.

"To our surprise we found that although nearby supernovae or large asteroid impacts would be catastrophic for people, tardigrades could be unaffected. Species, or even entire genera may become extinct, but life as a whole will go on".

The potential for life grows even more when considering the oceans of water predicted on various moons in our solar system, Europa and Enceladus in particular. Professor Abraham Loeb, co-author and chair of the Astronomy department at Harvard University, said: 'It is hard to eliminate all forms of life from a habitable planet.

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