[meteorite-list] The Toughest Life on Earth
From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Fri, 22 Jun 2012 14:00:46 -0700 (PDT)
The toughest life on Earth
European Space Agency
22 June 2012
You can freeze it, thaw it, vacuum dry it and expose it to radiation but
still life survives. ESA's research on the International Space Station
is giving credibility to theories that life came from outer space - as
well as helping to create better suncreams.
In 2008 scientists sent the suitcase-sized Expose-E experiment package
to the Space Station filled with organic compounds and living organisms
to test their reaction to outer space.
When astronauts venture on a spacewalk, hours are spent preparing
protective suits to survive the hostile conditions. No effort was made
to protect the bacteria, seeds, lichen and algae attached to the outside
of the Space Station, however.
"We are exploring the limits of life," explains ESA's Rene Demets.
Our atmosphere does a wonderful job of protecting life on Earth by
absorbing harmful UV rays and keeping temperatures relatively stable.
In contrast, the space samples endured the full power of the Sun's rays.
The samples were insulated somewhat by the Space Station but still had
to cope with temperatures changing from -12??C to +40??C over 200 times as
they orbited Earth.
The samples returned to Earth in 2009 and the results have now been
published in a special issue of the Astrobiology journal.
Lichen have proven to be tough cookies - back on Earth, some species
continue to grow normally.
Rene explains, "These organisms go into a dormant state waiting for
better conditions to arrive."
The lichen have attracted interest from cosmetic companies. They can
survive the full power of the Sun for 18 months, so knowing more could
lead to new ingredients for suncream.
Living organisms surviving in open space supports the idea of
"panspermia" - life spreading from one planet to another, or even
between solar systems.
It seems possible that organisms could colonise planets by hitching
rides on asteroids. ESA is probing this intriguing theory further on
future Station missions with different samples.
Received on Fri 22 Jun 2012 05:00:46 PM PDT