When you look up at the moon, there may now be a few thousand tiny water bears looking back at you.
The Israeli spacecraft Beresheet crashed into the moon during a failed landing attempt on April 11. And it may have strewn the lunar surface with thousands of dehydrated tardigrades, Wired reported last week.
Beresheet, a robotic lander, had carried human DNA samples, along with the tardigrades and 30 million small digitized pages of information about human society and culture. But it is unknown whether the archive — and the water bears — survived the crash, according to Wired.
The tardigrades and the human DNA were added to the mission a few weeks before Beresheet launched on Feb. 21. Much like Cretaceous fossils locked in amber, the DNA samples and tardigrades were sealed in a resin layer protecting the DVD-size lunar library, while thousands more tardigrades were poured onto the sticky tape that held the archive in place, Wired reported.
But why send tardigrades to the moon?
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.
Tardigrades can survive conditions that would be deadly to any other form of life, weathering temperature extremes of minus-328 degrees Fahrenheit (minus-200 degrees Celsius) to more than 300 F (149 C). They also handily survive exposure to the radiation and vacuum of space.
Another tardigrade superpower is their ability to dehydrate their bodies into a state known as a “tun.” They retract their heads and legs, expel the water from their bodies and shrivel up into a tiny ball — and scientists have found that tardigrades can revive from this dehydrated state after 10 years or more.
So if any creature were capable of surviving a crash-landing in space, it would probably be a tardigrade. Whether any of the Beresheet tardigrades are biding their time in a lunar impact crater until they can be resuscitated, only time will tell.