What will be the last surviving species on Earth? A recent collaborative study conducted by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and Oxford University shows that it will be the strange, eight-legged microscopic creature known as the water bear. The new study, published in Scientific Reports, shows that the water bear will be able to survive any future astrophysical catastrophe, and will be around for 10 billion years to come. While scientists have devoted a lot of time to what would happen to humans should an astrophysical calamity occur, not much attention has been devoted to the effects it would have on a water bear. According to this study, nothing really.
The study implies that life on earth will continue to exist as long as the sun does. The study further reveals that once life has developed on a planet, it is highly resilient and therefor very hard to completely annihilate (this data shows an increased chance of life existing on other planets).
The water bear (tardigrade being its scientific name) is a tiny, microscopic creature, about a millimeter or less in size. Like us, the water bear has a digestive tract and a nervous system. Like insects, the water bear has a hard shell, molts its skin, and lays eggs. Scientists have no idea how water bears even evolved. They can’t even guess.
Water bears are by far the most resilient form of life on Earth, being able to go 30 years without food or water, to endure temperature extremes of up to 120 degrees Celsius (240 degrees Fahrenheit), to survive the cold and crushing depths of the sea, and even being able to survive the vacuum of space. The fact that water bears can survive in space has lead many experts to wonder if that is where they come from.
As a part of the study, 3 possible calamities were taken into account:
- Asteroidal impact
- Gamma-Ray burst
To their surprise, the researchers found that although these calamities would spell bad news for the entire human race, water bears might be unaffected. Therefor, it is safe to say that life, once it gets going, is hard to wipe out completely. Granted, thousands of species can be wiped out by a calamity, but the existence of life as a whole will likely go on.