We already know tardigrades — those tiny eight-legged water creatures — are as tough as they are ugly. They can survive for 30 years in a freezer and live in space and other extreme temperatures. But a new study paints things in bleaker terms: these creatures will outlive all of us. They will be around for 10 billion years. They will survive until the Sun dies.
For the study, published in Scientific Reports, astrophysicists at Oxford and Harvard University calculated the probability of objects in space colliding into the Earth, boiling the oceans dry, and killing everything.
The key finding, write the scientists, is that no space phenomena are strong enough to dry up the oceans completely, and so the tardigrades can make do with what’s left. There are a few known asteroids that could end everything, but none of these are expected to hit Earth. A supernova could get the job done, but it’s probably not going to explode near us. It’s also unlikely that gamma ray bursts — which are even stronger than supernovas — are going to wipe us all out.
Therein lies the irony: humans are delicate creatures and climate change has a high risk of taking us out — or at least making our lives nearly unbearable — but tardigrades will only go down when the Sun does, too.