Scientists want to launch “indestructible” tardigrades toward distant stars in our galaxy at 100 million miles per hour using massive lasers.
American experts want to know how interstellar space travel affects microscopic animals, known for their ability to survive in extreme conditions including in outer space.
In a new research paper, they propose building small space probes containing tardigrades, also known as ‘water bears’, which can travel at up to 30 percent of the speed of light into space.
These sensors will be pushed by Laser light instead of rocket fuel, from a laser statIonized on Earth, or perhaps the Moon.
The researchers admit that the entire launch would consume a tenth of the entire US electric grid.
At speeds of nearly 100 million miles per hour, tardigrades will reach the next solar system, Proxima Centauri, in about 20 years.
Tardigrades, part of the Ecdysozoa superphylum, are able to withstand extreme temperatures, pressures, and radiation. This is an image of the concept of tardigrades in space – a mission detailed by researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara
The illustration shows an optical sail and a payload propelled into interstellar space by directed energy laser propulsion
Tardigrades, also known as water bears, are said to be the most perishable animals in the world.
Tiny creatures come in many forms—there are more than 900 of them—and are found globally, from the tallest mountains to the deepest oceans.
They have eight legs (four pairs) and each leg has four to eight claws resembling the claws of a bear.
Boil the creatures with a diameter of 1 mm, freeze them, dry them, and expose them to radiation, and they will be so resilient that they will still be alive after 200 years.
Water bears can survive in temperatures as low as -457 degrees, heat as low as 357 degrees, and 5700 Gy of radiation, when 10-20 degrees gray would kill humans and most other animals.
Tardigrades have been around for 530 million years and outlived the dinosaurs. Animals can also live up to a decade without water and even live in space.
The concept is detailed by researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara, in a research paper published in the journal Acta Astronautica.
“This has not been done before, to propel macroscopic objects at speeds approaching the speed of light,” said Professor Philip Lubin of the University of California, Santa Barbara.
According to Professor Lubin, a small spacecraft containing tardigrades “is likely to be about the size of your hand.”
“It probably looks like a semiconductor wafer with an edge to protect it from radioactive bombardment and dust as it passes through the interstellar medium,” he said.
These compounds will be carefully monitored for any detectable effects of interstellar travel on the creatures’ biology, with observations relayed back to Earth by light waves.
Tardigrades were first discovered by German zoologist Johann August Ephraim Guise in 1773, who gave them the affectionate nickname “water bear” because of their chubby and somewhat adorable appearance.
It has been proven that it is almost impossible to kill creatures – even when they are frozen, boiled, crushed or refracted by radiation.
So they would be ideal candidates for space imaging with lasers, according to experts, as long as they are suspended in animation until a desired destination is reached.
Study author Professor Joel Rothman, also said: ‘We can ask how well trained people remember behavior when they fly away from their terrestrial origin near the speed of light, and we examine metabolism, physiology, neurological function, reproduction and aging. At the University of California, Santa Barbara.
We can start thinking about designing interstellar carriers, whatever they are, in a way that can mitigate the problems being discovered in these tiny animals.
Such experiments remain elusive – perhaps not until the second half of this century.
But a key project to develop a roadmap for achieving such space travel is being supported by NASA and the University of California, Santa Barbara’s own research project, Project Starlight.
Concept: A different research project is developing a laser powered sail (shown in artist impression) that could allow us to travel 24 trillion miles to Alpha Centauri in 20 years
This graphic shows how the laser-powered sail will be launched from the ground for Alpha Centauri
Lasers as a propellant can solve one of the greatest challenges to interstellar travel on a human scale – the enormous distance between Earth and the nearest stars.
Scientists from the Australian National University (ANU) are conducting separate research into a new type of spacecraft propulsion system as part of an international initiative aimed at exploring the worlds surrounding Alpha Centauri.
The Breakthrough Starshot project calls for the design of an extremely lightweight spacecraft, which acts as a light sail, to travel at an unprecedented speed to the triple star system at Alpha Centauri 4.37 light-years away.
Researchers claim that it may one day allow us to travel 24 trillion miles and reach our nearest stellar neighbors within 20 years.
The concept will see the probes launched into space by a laser propulsion system.
The light to power the sail will come from the Earth’s surface – millions of lasers combine to light the sail and propel it on its interstellar journey.
Tardigrades first appeared in national news in April 2019 when they were accidentally left on the lunar surface after the Beresheet probe crashed on the lunar surface.
The Voyager missions in the 1970s demonstrated that we could send things across the 12 billion miles needed to break out of the bubble surrounding our solar system, the heliosphere.
But the car-sized probes, which travel at speeds of more than 35,000 miles per hour, took 40 years to get there, and their distance from Earth is only a fraction of that to the next star.
If they were headed to the nearest star, it would take more than 80,000 years to reach it.
“I think it’s our destiny to keep exploring,” Professor Rothman said. Look at the history of the human race.
We are exploring on smaller and smaller scales down to the subatomic levels and we are also exploring on increasingly larger scales.
“Such a drive toward continuous exploration lies at the heart of who we are as a species.”
Tardigrades really caught the public’s attention in 2019 when it was revealed that an Israeli space probe carrying microscopic organisms had crashed onto the moon’s surface.
Given its resilience to radiation and freezing temperatures, it is likely that it is still very much alive on the Moon today.
In experiments last year, another team of US experts found that tardigrades have a “regular gait” similar to insects, after photographing them with a microscopic camera.
They found that the creatures had an advanced pattern similar to insects that are more than 500,000 times larger and have solid bodies.
Scientists shoot ‘uncontrolled’ ultrafine water from a gun at up to 2,160 miles per hour to see if they can survive in space.
In modern experiences, tArdigrades have been launched from a gun to test whether they can survive various landings on orbs in space, as well as the harsh conditions of space
The young animals survived impact speeds of 825 meters per second, and took varying times to recover.
However, their survival rate dropped to 0 once they fired at 901 meters per second.
In the study, University of Kent researchers Alejandra Traspas and Mark Burchill placed Hypsibius dujardini, a species of tardigrade, in nylon hemp, frozen for 48 hours, to replicate a hibernating state.
It was then fired from a two-stage light gas gun at sandy targets in a vacuum chamber at velocities between 0.556 and 1 km per second (0.345 miles to 0.62 miles).
Read more: Scientists shoot water bears with their guns to see if they can survive in space