When the world ends, what animal will be the last to survive? The answer may surprise you.
One of the world’s most indestructible species, the tardigrade, which is an eight-legged micro-animal, also known as the water bear, will survive until the Sun dies, according to a new Oxford University study.
The tiny creatures stand the best chance of surviving multiple extinction level events and will be around for at least 10 billion years—far longer than the human race, the study suggests.
The research implies that life on Earth will extend as long as the Sun keeps shining but what manner of life is a different story.
Tardigrades are among the toughest on Earth because they can survive up to 30 years without food or water and can endure temperature extremes of up to 150 degree Celsius, the deep sea and even the frozen vacuum of space.
The micro animal lives up to 60 years and grows to a maximum size of about 0.5mm and Oxford found these life forms will likely survive all astrophysical disasters such as an asteroid, since they will never be strong enough to boil off the world’s oceans.
While asteroids are unlikely to boil the oceans, a supernova from an exploding star could but it would need to be 0.14 light years away. The closet star is the Sun only four light years away and the possibility of another star exploding close enough to Earth before the Sun explodes is negligible, researchers say.
“Tardigrades are as close to indestructible as it gets on Earth, but it is possible that there are other resilient species examples elsewhere in the universe,” says Rafael Alves Batista, post-doctoral research associate in the Department of Physics at Oxford. “In this context there is a real case for looking for life on Mars and in other areas of the solar system in general. If Tardigrades are earth's most resilient species, who knows what else is out there.”
Humans are a very sensitive species, researchers say, and are impacted by the environment around us but other forms of life such as the tardigrade will continue to live on the planet long after humans are gone.
The full research can be found in the journal Scientific Reports.