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Interplanetary pollution

Topics covered:

  1. Awareness in space.

Interplanetary pollution

 

What to study?

For prelims: Beresheet mission- objectives and key features.

For mains: Interplanetary pollution- concerns, effects and solutions.

 

Context: On April 11, the Israeli spacecraft Beresheet attempted to land on the Moon, but crashed on the surface. It was carrying a number of items — including thousands of specimens of a living organism called tardigrade.

The question is: did the thousands of dehydrated tardigrades on Beresheet survive the crash? And if they did, are they now living on the Moon?

 

First of all, what are Tardigrades?

  1. The tardigrade, also known as water bear, is among the toughest and most resilient creatures on Earth.
  2. The tardigrade can only be seen under a microscope.
  3. Half a millimetre long, it is essentially a water-dweller but also inhabits land and, a 2008 study found, can survive in the cold vacuum of outer space.
  4. The tardigrade can endure extreme hot and cold temperature levels.
  5. They themselves expel water from their bodies and set off a mechanism to protect their cells, and can still revive if placed in water later. The organism is known to “come back to life” on rehydration.
  6. The tardigrade derives its name from the fact that it looks like an eight-legged bear, with a mouth that can project out like a tongue.
  7. A tardigrade typically eats fluids, using its claws and mouth to tear open plant and animal cells, so that it can suck nutrients out of them.
  8. It is also known to feast on bacteria and, in some cases, to kill and eat other tardigrades.

 

Did any of them survive the impact? If they did, what happens to them now?

  1. When the tardigrades were placed on the Israeli moon mission Beresheet, they were in a tun state — dehydrated, with their chubby limbs and heads retracted and all metabolic activity temporarily suspended.
  2. Their arrival on the moon was unexpectedly explosive; Beresheet’s crash landing on April 11 may have scattered the microorganisms onto the lunar surface. 
  3. But as long as the tardigrades remain on the moon, their chances of spontaneously awakening are low. Without liquid water, the tiny creatures will remain in a tun state, and while there’s evidence of ice on the moon, liquid water is nowhere to be found. 
  4. Even if the lunar tardigrades did somehow encounter liquid water while still on the moon, without food, air and a moderate ambient temperature, they wouldn’t last very long once they revived.

 

What’s the concern now? Are we polluting the moon’s atmosphere?

Scientists have yet to find any evidence that the moon ever hosted living organisms(other than visiting astronauts and microbial hitchhikers from Earth) that could be threatened by microscopic invaders. However, contamination could carry serious consequences for missions to planets where life might yet be found.

There is already a fairly sizeable amount of debris from redundant spacecraft and litter left behind by astronauts. As more missions are planned to the moon, eventually with human passengers and perhaps even settlements, we must learn to clean up as we go along. Otherwise, we are going to have the sort of crisis that we are seeing on Earth with the outcry about environmental damage from plastics.

 

Beresheet:

  • Israel’s First Lunar Lander-  Beresheet– was launched on board Falcon 9.
  • Beresheet attempted to become the first Israeli spacecraft, and the first privately-operated mission, to land on the Moon.
  • So far, only three other nations have carried out controlled “soft” landings on the moon – the United States, the former Soviet Union and China.

 

Sources: the Hindu.

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