I, For One, Welcome Our New Tardigrade Overlords

“One small step for (a) water bear, one giant leap for water-dwelling eight-legged segmented micro-animals.” โ€”Teddy Tardigrade

Tardigrades are everywhere. And now they’re on the Moon [Public Domain]

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Because if you are, you’re thinking that exposing tardigrades to high-energy cosmic rays can only mean one thing: super-tardigrades. From Live Science:

The Israeli spacecraft Beresheet crashed into the moon during a failed landing attempt on April 11. In doing so, it may have strewn the lunar surface with thousands of dehydrated tardigrades, Wired reported yesterday (Aug. 5). Beresheet was a robotic lander. Though it didn’t transport astronauts, it carried human DNA samples, along with the aforementioned tardigrades and 30 million very small digitized pages of information about human society and culture. However, it’s unknown if the archive โ€” and the water bears โ€” survived the explosive impact when Beresheet crashed, according to Wired.

Mindy Weisberger, Senior Writer

Well, OK, as tough as they are, it’s probably unlikely that those microscopic explorers will re-hydrate any time soon before being hit by high-energy particles that will then endow the tiny guys with Marvel-like superpowers, but it’s nice to dream.

But what are tardigrades? Let’s go back to Mindy’s Live Science article, because her explanation is simply too adorable not to reprint:

Tardigrades, also known as moss piglets, are microscopic creatures measuring between 0.002 and 0.05 inches (0.05 to 1.2 millimeters) long. They have endearingly tubby bodies and eight legs tipped with tiny “hands”; but tardigrades are just as well-known for their near-indestructibility as they are for their unbearable cuteness.

Moss piglets! Or should we now say moon piglets?

Light-hearted tardigiggles aside, it’s hard not to feel sorry for the tiny sleeping creatures. In a dehydrated state, they can remain hibernating (I’m not sure if that’s the correct term for being freeze-dried, but let’s go with hibernating) for a decade (!) while they wait for water to appear so they can go about their tardigradey business. They’ve been discovered in just about every environment on Earth, are extremely resilient and can even survive in space without a tiny spacesuit to keep them warm. In short, they’re pretty amazing. And now they’re on the Moon, which may or may not be a good thing (there’s a lot of cosmic rays up there).

Bonus: I’ll close with a short story: