Be someone on top of that small speck of dust!
Some sort of a creature of very small size,
Too small to be seen by an elephant’s eyes. . .
from Horton Hears a Who
written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss
Random House, 1954
Some of my favorite tiny things include the balled up fist of a newborn, sesame seeds, buttercups, stars (I know, those are really very big, but they look small from here!)
And even though they’ve been studied at least since Leeuwenhoek, in 1702, I just found out about tardigrades. They’re everywhere and they’re tiny. Laid end to end, it takes about 25 of the largest ones to measure one inch. Like Leeuwenhoek, you’d need a microscope to see one.
Although they can live almost anywhere, tardigrades prefer the sediment at the bottom of a lakebed. Mostly they suck the juices from algae, lichens and moss. Some species are carnivores, some are even cannibals, but they’re tiny, so they’re not scary even if you could see them.
They’re hardy, too. They can live at almost absolute zero and can withstand heat over 300 degrees Fahrenheit. They are found from Antarctica to the Equator. They are found as high as the Himalayas and as deep as the Marianas Trench. They can live in stone walls and can survive the vacuum of space.
So how do they do it, survive under all those conditions? When their environment is less than ideal (see above), they go into a state called tun, basically a dehydrated ball. They are able to squeeze the water out of their bodies and remain in that dehydrated state for maybe decades. And when they are rehydrated, voila, in a couple of hours they’re back in business.
Why is this even important? Tardigrades inhabit new, developing environments. They work as a pioneer species to attract other invertebrates and predators to populate that same area.
And now tardigrades are on the moon.
No one thinks they are actually living on the moon, eating and reproducing and frolicking, or doing what they do. They are part of the first installment of the Lunar Library, designed by Arch Mission Foundation.
An Israeli lunar explorer, Beresheet, offered to carry the twenty-five disk set to the moon, but crash landed last April with the tardigrades on board. Thousands of tardigrades are presumably still enclosed in their DVD-shaped disk within several ultra-thin layers of nickel. Sandwiched between the layers of nickel are thin layers of epoxy containing the thousands of tardigrades. Scientists are pretty sure, after doing some computer modeling, that these disks are the only things that survived the crash intact.
So, yes, there are thousands of tardigrades on the moon, but they won’t be doing anything tardigrad-ish any time soon. They are in their tun state, and will in all likelihood stay that way.
This first installment of the Lunar Library contains a 30-million-page archive of human history on twenty-five nickel and epoxy disks. According to https://www.universetoday.com/143139/hardy-tardigrades-on-board-israels-beresheet-lander-probably-survived-the-crash/ among the data on these disks is
- A linguistic key to 5000 languages, with 1.5 billion translations between them.
- More than 60,000 analog images of pages of books, photographs, illustrations, and documents.
- A specially designed “Primer” that teaches over a million concepts in pictures and corresponding words across major languages.
The Arch Mission Foundation is a non-profit started in 2015 in California. Their library is a sort of electronic time-capsule built and sent to many locations with the hope of ensuring the survival of a record of life on Earth.
According to their website ArchMission.org hopes to preserve our earthly civilization for billions of years in an accessible format to be retrieved by those who come after us. They will use any available technology to accomplish their mission.
Tardigrades were the life-form chosen for the mission because “…they are microscopic, multicellular, and one of the most durable forms of life on planet Earth," said Nova Spivack, co-founder and chairman of the Arch Mission Foundation. (https://www.archmission.org/spaceil)
I’m thinking about the whole idea. A private company is working across country borders to build, blast off from Earth, and land on the moon, Mars, and orbit the sun. The Lunar Library is designed to preserve the records of our civilization for up to billions of years. The records aim to be a comprehensive Earthly catalog and will be updated periodically to stay current.
The hardiest known life-form is included.
Sounds to me like we won’t be forgotten even if our current Climate Catastrophe claims our planet. That is, if the life-form that comes next can read.
-—stay curious! (and think big)