Tardigrades, those adorable, chubby water bears, are notoriously hardy — they may even survive an apocalypse that wipes out humanity. But can these hardy water bears survive being shot from a gun? New research has found that yes, these hardy critters can make it out alive, but they also have a breaking point.
The new study was inspired by uncertainty about the fate of tardigrades that were aboard Israel’s Beresheet probe when it crash-landed on the moon in 2019, according to Science magazine. Had the tardigrades, also called “water bears,” survived and contaminated Earth’s lifeless companion?
After all, these teensy creatures, about 0.04 inches (1 millimeter) long or less, are famous for their indestructible nature. These hardy beasts can withstand pressures up to six times that of the deepest part of the ocean, extreme amounts of radiation and even the vacuum of space, Live Science previously reported.
In the new study, a group of researchers at the University of Kent in the United Kingdom decided to test if tardigrades could also survive high-speed impacts. To do this, they fed the tardigrades and then “tucked them into bed” — that is, they froze the creatures into a hibernation mode called the “tun state,” in which their metabolism decreased to 0.1% their normal rate, Science magazine reported. Then, the researchers fired the critters, at different speeds, out of a “two-stage light gas gun,” which shoots objects at higher speeds than a typical gun.