You’ve probably seen the news flying around social media about Russian cosmonauts finding sea plankton on the outside of the International Space Station. So what’s the story? Is it true? And if so, did these guys hitch a ride from Earth, or did they actually come from outer space?
According Russian ISS orbital mission chief, Vladimir Solovjev, the discovery was “absolutely unique.” “We have found traces of sea plankton and microscopic particles on the illuminator surface,” he told the ITAR-TASS news agency.
What’s more, Solovjev was uncertain how the tiny organisms got onto the space station, saying that this kind of plankton “could be found on the surface of the oceans,” and were not native to the launch site in Kazakhstan.
NASA was quick to dismiss the reports, despite having already discovered tiny species—known as extremophiles—which can survive in space. “As far as we’re concerned, we haven’t heard any official reports from our Roscosmos [Russia’s space agency] colleagues that they’ve found sea plankton,” NASA spokesman Dan Huot told Space.com.
NASA did, however, confirm the possibility of plankton “contaminants” hitching a ride during the launch of space station modules.
If true, have these little critters shown us that life may be compatible with the airless, zero-gravity, solar radiation-filled vacuum of space? Have we met the interstellar cousins of our ocean organisms, proving the existence of life beyond Earth?
One thing I know for sure. I’ll never underestimate plankton again!