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Tardigrade Survival Limits in High-Speed Impacts—Implications for Panspermia and Collection of Samples from Plumes Emitted by Ice Worlds

Authors
  • Traspas, Alejandra
  • Burchell, Mark J.
Type
Published Article
Journal
Astrobiology
Publisher
Mary Ann Liebert
Publication Date
Jul 01, 2021
Volume
21
Issue
7
Pages
845–852
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1089/ast.2020.2405
PMID: 33978458
PMCID: PMC8262385
Source
PubMed Central
Keywords
Disciplines
  • Research Articles
License
Unknown

Abstract

The ability of tardigrades to survive impact shocks in the kilometer per second and gigapascal range was investigated. When rocks impact planetary surfaces, the impact speeds and shock pressures are in the kilometer per second and gigapascal range. This investigation tested whether tardigrades can survive in impacts typical of those that occur naturally in the Solar System. We found that they can survive impacts up to 0.9 km s−1, which is equivalent to 1.14 GPa shock pressure, but cannot survive impacts above this. This is significantly less than the static pressure limit and has implications for tardigrade survival in panspermia models. The potential survival of tardigrades in impacts of terrestrial impact ejecta on the Moon is shown to be impossible for the average lunar impact speed of such ejecta. However, a notable fraction (around 40%) of such ejecta impact at vertical speeds low enough to permit survival. Similarly, martian impact ejecta striking Phobos, for example, at a typical impact speed will not permit viable transfer of tardigrade-like organisms, but if a fraction of such material had a lower impact speed, survival may be possible. We also consider the implications of this for the collection of viable samples by spacecraft transiting the plumes of icy water worlds such as Europa and Enceladus. We have found the limit on survival of shocks to be around 1 GPa, which is instrumental in determining appropriate mission scenarios and collection methods for the acquisition of viable materials.

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