This sounds like the introduction to a science fiction novel, but this is actually happening. Russian researchers claim to have discovered sea plankton clinging to the International Space Station (ISS). According to the report, the tiny life forms defy expectations, continuing to live despite intense radiation from the sun and the lack of Earth’s protective atmosphere. Russian scientists claim that these samples were retrieve from illuminator windows on the surface of the ISS. However, many researchers are turning a skeptical eye to these findings, which have yet to be confirmed by the NASA team aboard the ISS.
Possible Plankton Origins
The initial reports of plankton growth and survival on the ISS is extremely surprising, given the harsh conditions the space station is exposed to. The initial reports were made by Vladimir Solovyev, the head of Russia’s ISS team. Solovyev explained that this type of plankton is typically found on the ocean’s surface. Some speculate that the ISS picked up these plankton particles from rockets that became contaminated on the Earth’s surface before arriving at the ISS. It still doesn’t explain how these microorganisms are able to continue living in such harsh conditions.
Another theory was proposed by Solovyev, who remarked, “It turns out that there are some rising air currents, which settle on the surface of the station.” So perhaps the plankton got caught in strong winds, carried up through the Earth’s atmosphere, and into the path of the ISS. Scientists have yet to determine the exact origin of the sea plankton, however the ISS will undergo continued cleaning to remove contaminants from its hull. Hopefully, these collections will result in some interesting news on how these mysterious microorganisms managed to get stuck to the ISS.
Harsh Space Conditions
If the reports of surviving plankton are true, it will paint an interesting picture of just how tenacious life can be, even in extreme environments. These microorganisms would have had to survive prolonged exposure to subzero temperatures. According to data collected by NASA’s Earth Observatory, plankton can be found living in sea surface temperatures of 28-113 degrees Fahrenheit, but plankton generally thrive in areas with high chlorophyll concentrations. “The results of the experiment are unique,” Solovyev describes. These plankton would have had to also ensure intense radiation from the sun and a complete lack of oxygen, since the surface of the ISS is not protected by the Earth’s atmosphere. It will be extremely interesting to see what continued research uncovers, since we may learn quite a bit more about the survival capabilities of plankton. NASA has not released any official information regarding microorganisms growing on the ISS as of yet.
According to the Russian ISS team, the station will undergo continued cleaning, since the hull and the illuminators have accumulated a high level of contaminants over several years. Further news regarding this phenomenon could lead to major developments in the fields of biology and astronomy.