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An Astrophysical Event (Probably) Won’t Kill Every Species on Earth

20 Jul 2017, 13:21 UTC
An Astrophysical Event (Probably) Won’t Kill Every Species on Earth
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Title: The Resilience of Life to Astrophysical EventsAuthors: David Sloan, Rafael Alves Batista, & Abraham LoebFirst Author’s Institution: University of Oxford, Oxford, UKStatus: Published in Scientific Reports (Nature) [open access]Humans, despite our ingenuity and unrelenting will to live, are among Earth’s more fragile creatures. Though our susceptibility to extinction may seem like a pressing issue on a personal level, today’s astrobite delves into a more interesting thought experiment: which astrophysical events might be capable of wiping out every single organism on Earth.Figure 1: Scanning electron micrograph image of M. tardigradum, from Schokraie E., Warnken U., Hotz-Wagenblatt A., Grohme M.A., Hengherr S., et al. (2012).If we choose to concern ourselves with the extinction of all life on Earth, this paper — published last week by Oxford and Harvard astronomers — asserts that no organism is more suited to be our juggernaut than the tardigrade (specifically, Milnesium tardigradum; see Figure 1). These tiny creatures, which range in length from 0.3 to 0.5 mm, were dubbed “water bears” by their discoverers in the 18th century due to their shape and gait. Additionally referred to as both “space bears” and “moss piglets,” tardigrades can survive for several minutes between -272 C and 150 C, ...

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