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The freak shall inherit the Earth

  • Published at 05:04 pm July 14th, 2017
The freak shall inherit the Earth

If a monster space rock crashes into our planet or radiation from an exploding star boils our oceans, humans and most other life forms will disappear.

But one creature is sure to survive, according to a study published Friday. And it will keep going for as long as the Sun doesn't die, at least another 10 billion years.

Earth's designated heir is the tardigrade, a microscopic, grub-like, eight-legged animal that can live in water or on land, in extreme pressure high or low.

Also known as a water bear or moss piglet, it can withstand sizzling heat, freezing cold, and high radiation, 30 years without food, and even being dried to a crisp.

Despite its diminutive size, under a millimetre (0.04 inches), it is considered the world's toughest animal.

The tardigrade, said researchers from Oxford and Harvard, will survive all foreseeable astrophysical catastrophes - asteroid strikes, exploding stars (supernovae) or gamma ray bursts - and "be around for at least 10 billion years."

That is far better than the diagnosis for our own species.

[caption id="attachment_74822" align="aligncenter" width="800"]This handout picture released by Nature on September 20, 2016 shows a facial view of the tardigrade, Ramazzottius varieornatus. A protein unique to the miniscule water bear, probably the most indestructible animal on the planet, protected human DNA against X-rays in experiments, researchers stuned by their findings reported on September 19, 2016. Lab-grown human cells given the ability to create the newly discovered protein -- dubbed "Dsup" for "damage suppressor" -- showed only half as much decay as normal cells when blasted with deadly radiation.  / AFP PHOTO / NATURE PUBLISHING GROUP / HO / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / NATURE / Tanaka S. / Sagara H. / Kunieda." - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS This handout picture released by Nature on September 20, 2016 shows a facial view of the tardigrade, Ramazzottius varieornatus AFP[/caption]

"Without our technology protecting us, humans are a very sensitive species. Subtle changes in our environment impact us dramatically," said Rafael Alves Batista of Oxford University, a co-author of the study in the journal Scientific Reports.

"There are many more resilient species on Earth. Life on this planet can continue long after humans are gone."

And on Mars?

Even a complete loss of atmosphere would not affect species on the ocean floor.

A large asteroid strike could cover the Earth in a cloud of Sunlight-blocking dust, causing temperatures to drop and a so-called "impact winter."

Creatures dependent on light would die off, but in volcanic vents in the deep ocean, life would continue.

No space rock big enough to cause a complete species annihilation is on a collision course with our planet, the team found.

Nor are there massive stars or potential gamma ray sources near enough to boil Earth's oceans if they erupted.

The only event that would kill even the tardigrades, is when the Sun eventually burns out.

"Although near supernovae or large asteroid impacts would be catastrophic for people, tardigrades could be unaffected," said co-author David Sloan.

Tardigrades have a body divided into four segments, each with a pair of legs ending in sharp claws.

They live in moss, on plants, in sand, in fresh water or in the sea.