Cosmonauts Find Living Organisms on the Exterior of the ISS

Friday, 22 August 2014 - 2:17PM
Astrobiology
Friday, 22 August 2014 - 2:17PM
Cosmonauts Find Living Organisms on the Exterior of the ISS

Russian cosmonauts just discovered life that can persist in the deadly vacuum of space. In a recent study of samples from the exterior of the ISS, scientists found live marine plankton that survived space's extremely harsh conditions.

 

The researchers were only expecting to find contaminants, but instead found tiny sea creatures that were clinging to the windows and walls of the space station. "The results of the so-called 'Test' experiment are unique. On the surface of the [ISS] windows we found traces of marine plankton – the microparticles – that will become the subject of further studies," said head of the Russian ISS orbital mission Vladimir Solovyev.

 

Even more fascinating, the researchers are unsure how the plankton came to be on the space station. They have ruled out the possibility of the creatures simply hitching a ride from Earth, so they hypothesize that it might be the result of atmospheric currents. "Plankton in these stages of development could be found on the surface of the oceans," said Solovyev. "This is not typical for Baikonur [in Kazakhstan]. It means that there are some uplifting air currents which reach the station and settle on its surface." These currents would have lifted the organisms 205 miles above Earth, which is essentially unheard of.

 

There is evidence that invertebrate, marine animals can survive extraterrestrial environments, such as tardigrades. Tardigrades, called "water bears" and are often considered to be the most resilient creature on Earth, became the first terrestrial animal to survive exposure to space in 2007, demonstrating an ability to withstand sub-zero temperatures, solar winds, and an oxygen-free vacuum. It makes sense, since they are reminiscent of eight-legged bears wearing spacesuits:

 

[Credit: Extreme Tech]

 

The results have yet to be confirmed by NASA, but once they are verified the next step would involve discovering exactly how these animals were able to withstand the deep space vacuum. This may give us insight into the nature of potential alien life forms that are able to travel through space on meteors or asteroids.

Science
Space
Astrobiology