Thousands of Tardigrades Are Stranded on the Moon After an Israeli Lunar Lander Crashed

Eraxion/iStock via Getty Images
Eraxion/iStock via Getty Images

Tardigrades, known to many as water bears or moss piglets, may be the cutest organisms you need a microscope to see. They're also remarkably tough: The miniscule creatures are capable of producing glass shields in their cells to protect themselves in extreme conditions, and they can survive almost anywhere, including space. Now, as BBC News reports, their resilience is being put to the test. Last April, an Israeli spacecraft crashed and dumped thousands of tardigrades on the Moon, and mission officials say their chance of survival is "extremely high."

The spacecraft that crash-landed on the moon last spring had been carrying a "backup of planet Earth." The mission was organized by the Arch Mission Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to amass libraries of human knowledge and history and store them in various spots around the solar system for safekeeping. This particular collection contained human DNA samples, a CD-ROM-like disc inscribed with 30 million pages of information, and dehydrated tardigrades.

The lunar library hitched a ride aboard Israel Aerospace Industries' Beresheet spacecraft in what was to be the first-ever private Moon landing. The endeavor failed at the last minute when the lander's main engine malfunctioned as it approached the Moon's surface, resulting in a collision. The Beresheet spacecraft may not have survived the journey, but according to Arch Mission Foundation CEO Nova Spivack, its thousands of tardigrades passengers likely did.

When tardigrades are dehydrated, they're virtually indestructible. In the face of danger, they enter this near-death state on their own and manage without food, water, or even air until conditions improve. They can live this way for decades without an issue, and when they're rehydrated, they instantly resume life as normal.

Spivack's prediction that the tardigrades are doing fine on the Moon is more than just a hunch: The creatures have been brought to space before and survived. This case, however, isn't a controlled experiment, and introducing a new species to the surface of the Moon could have unforeseen consequences. Humans have left objects on the Moon before—like golf balls, art, and even feces—but never such complex living organisms.

If the lunar library remained intact through the crash, it may be possible for future missions to retrieve it and conduct tests on the tardigrades once they are brought back to Earth. Until then, there's a strong likelihood that Earth is no longer the only celestial body in our solar system that's supporting life.

[h/t BBC News]

How to See the Full Sturgeon Moon on Thursday

Brook Mitchell, Stringer/Getty Images
Brook Mitchell, Stringer/Getty Images

The full moon of every month has a special nickname. Some—like September's harvest moon, December's cold moon, and May's flower moon—have obvious connections to their seasons, while other names are harder to decode. August's sturgeon moon is an example of the latter. It may not be the prettiest lunar title in The Old Farmer's Almanac, but that doesn't mean the event itself on August 15, 2019 won't be a spectacular sight to behold.

What is a Full Sturgeon Moon?

The first (and normally the only) full moon that occurs in August is called a sturgeon moon. The name may have originated with Native American tribes living around the Great Lakes in the Midwest and Lake Champlain in New England. These bodies of water contain lake sturgeon, a species of freshwater fish that grows up to 6.5 feet in length and can live 55 years or longer. August's full moon was dubbed the sturgeon moon to reflect its harvesting season. This full moon is sometimes called the green corn moon, the grain moon, and the blackberry moon for similar reasons.

When to See the Full Sturgeon Moon

On Thursday, August 15, the full sturgeon moon will be highly visible around sunrise and sunset. The satellite will be 99.9 percent illuminated by the sun when it sets Thursday morning at 5:57 a.m EDT—just nine minutes before dawn. On the West Coast, the setting moon will coincide perfectly with the rising sun at 6:15 a.m. PDT.

If you aren't interested in getting out of bed early to catch the sturgeon moon, wait until Thursday evening to look to the horizon. Twenty-seven minutes after sunset, the full moon will rise on the East Coast at 8:21 p.m. EDT. On the West Coast it rises at 8:10 p.m. PDT, 30 minutes after the sun sets.

The moon generally looks bigger and brighter when it's near the horizon, so twilight and dawn are ideal times to catch the spectacle. But it's worth taking another peek at the sky closer to midnight Thursday night; the Perseid meteor shower is currently active, and though the light of the moon may wash them out, you're most likely to spot a shooting star in the late night and early morning hours.

A Full Harvest Moon Is Coming in September

suerob/iStock via Getty Images
suerob/iStock via Getty Images

The Old Farmer's Almanac lists a special name for every month's full moon, from January's wolf moon to December's cold moon. Even if you're just a casual astronomy fan, you've likely heard the name of September's full moon. The harvest moon is the full moon that falls closest to the fall equinox, and it's associated with festivals celebrating the arrival of autumn. Here's what you need to know before catching the event this year.

What is a harvest moon?

You may have heard that the harvest moon is special because it appears larger and darker in the night sky. This may be true depending on what time of night you look at it, but these features are not unique to the harvest moon.

Throughout the year, the moon rises on average 50 minutes later each night than it did the night before. This window shrinks in the days surrounding the fall equinox. In mid-latitudes, the moon will rise over the horizon only 25 minutes to 30 minutes later night after night. This means the moonrise will occur around sunset several evenings in a row.

So what does this mean for the harvest moon? If you're already watching the sunset and you catch the moonrise at the same time, it will appear bigger than usual thanks to something called the moon illusion. It may also take on an orange-y hue because you're gazing at it through the thick filter of the Earth's atmosphere, which absorbs blue light and projects red light. So if you've only seen the full harvest moon around sunset, you may think it always looks especially big and orange, while in reality, any full moon will look that way when it's just above the horizon.

When to See the Harvest Moon

This year, the harvest moon will be visible the night of Saturday, September 14—about a week before the fall equinox on September 23. The moon will reach its fullest state at 12:33 a.m. ET—but if you're still convinced it's not a true harvest moon without that pumpkin-orange color, you can look for it at moonrise at 7:33 p.m. on September 13.

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