Thousands of Tardigrades Are Stranded on the Moon After an Israeli Lunar Lander Crashed

Eraxion/iStock via Getty Images
Eraxion/iStock via Getty Images

Tardigrades, known to many as water bears or moss piglets, may be the cutest organisms you need a microscope to see. They're also remarkably tough: The miniscule creatures are capable of producing glass shields in their cells to protect themselves in extreme conditions, and they can survive almost anywhere, including space. Now, as BBC News reports, their resilience is being put to the test. Last April, an Israeli spacecraft crashed and dumped thousands of tardigrades on the Moon, and mission officials say their chance of survival is "extremely high."

The spacecraft that crash-landed on the moon last spring had been carrying a "backup of planet Earth." The mission was organized by the Arch Mission Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to amass libraries of human knowledge and history and store them in various spots around the solar system for safekeeping. This particular collection contained human DNA samples, a CD-ROM-like disc inscribed with 30 million pages of information, and dehydrated tardigrades.

The lunar library hitched a ride aboard Israel Aerospace Industries' Beresheet spacecraft in what was to be the first-ever private Moon landing. The endeavor failed at the last minute when the lander's main engine malfunctioned as it approached the Moon's surface, resulting in a collision. The Beresheet spacecraft may not have survived the journey, but according to Arch Mission Foundation CEO Nova Spivack, its thousands of tardigrades passengers likely did.

When tardigrades are dehydrated, they're virtually indestructible. In the face of danger, they enter this near-death state on their own and manage without food, water, or even air until conditions improve. They can live this way for decades without an issue, and when they're rehydrated, they instantly resume life as normal.

Spivack's prediction that the tardigrades are doing fine on the Moon is more than just a hunch: The creatures have been brought to space before and survived. This case, however, isn't a controlled experiment, and introducing a new species to the surface of the Moon could have unforeseen consequences. Humans have left objects on the Moon before—like golf balls, art, and even feces—but never such complex living organisms.

If the lunar library remained intact through the crash, it may be possible for future missions to retrieve it and conduct tests on the tardigrades once they are brought back to Earth. Until then, there's a strong likelihood that Earth is no longer the only celestial body in our solar system that's supporting life.

[h/t BBC News]

LEGO Is Launching an Official International Space Station Set

LEGO
LEGO

Not everyone can live out their childhood dreams of floating around in space aboard the International Space Station, but now you can at least construct a toy version of it for your own house.

Next month, LEGO is releasing an impressive model of the International Space Station as part of its Ideas program, which produces designs that were suggested by fans. This one was submitted three years ago by Christoph Ruge.

LEGO ISS
LEGO

According to TechCrunch, the kit includes the ISS, a dockable space shuttle, two astronaut figurines, and a satellite that you can “deploy” with the robotic Canadarm2 (which is used to capture and repair satellites on the ISS). It also comes with a display stand, so you can make it the eye-catching centerpiece of your coffee table if it happens to match your living room decor.

The ISS might not look as formidable as the life-size model of astronaut Buzz Aldrin that LEGO builders created last year, but that doesn’t mean it’s not difficult to construct—the 864-piece set is labeled for kids ages 16 and older.

LEGO ISS
LEGO

Having said that, it doesn’t mean that younger kids can’t help out with the assembly, or at least play with it once it’s complete. At about 7 inches high, 12 inches long, and 19 inches wide, the station could inspire the next generation of space explorers.

The $70 kit will be available on February 1 in LEGO stores or the LEGO website.

[h/t TechCrunch]

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A Snow Moon Will Light Up February Skies

makasana, iStock via Getty Images
makasana, iStock via Getty Images

February is the snowiest month of the year in many parts of the U.S., but on February 9, consider braving the weather outside to look up at the sky. That Sunday morning, the only full snow moon of the year will be visible. Here's what you need to know about the celestial event.

What is a snow moon?

If you keep track of the phases of the moon, you may already know that the full moon of each month has its own special name. Following January's wolf moon lunar eclipse is a snow moon in February. The name snow moon is said to have originated with Native American tribes, and it refers to the heavy snowfall that hits many parts of North America in February.

According to The Old Farmer's Almanac, different tribes had different names for February's full moon. The Wishram people named it the shoulder to shoulder around the fire moon and the Cherokee people called it the bone moon because animal bones were sometimes their only source of nutrition in the dead of winter. Snow moon is the name that's most commonly used by almanacs today.

When to See the Snow Moon

The moon will enter its next full phase the morning of Sunday, February 9. The snow moon will be at its fullest at 2:34 a.m. EST, but if you're not willing to stay up that late, it's still worth looking up. The previous evening—Saturday, February 8—the moon will be 99 percent illuminated on the East Coast. Check your local weather forecast and find a spot with clear skies to get the best view of the wintertime spectacle.

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