Inverse Daily: Tardigrade Tragedy on the Moon

Should we care if we accidentally spill living beings on the moon?

What it do, Inverse Daily fam? While I’m here channeling the exuberant energy of this cockatoo dancing to Lizzo, let’s get you caught up on today’s news.

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INVERSE QUOTE OF THE DAY

“These grievances have simmered for many years, and when astronomers announced their intention to build a new giant telescope on Maunakea, things boiled over.”

— Rick Fienberg, press officer for the American Astronomical Society, on the controversy over the Thirty Meter Telescope in Hawaii.

Unclean Sunscreen

Even the most waterproof sunscreens require reapplication after a long dip in the ocean. Usually, having to do so is just a small nuisance for enthusiastic swimmers, but scientists now warn that the consequences are much greater than an interruption in swim time. As sunscreen dissolves into seawater, science fellow Ali Pattillo tells me, a new study shows that it spreads significant amounts of metals and inorganic nutrients, and these may be leading to algal blooms, damaged phytoplankton, and eutrophication — a process that can lead to oxygen depletion.

This isn’t the first time sunscreen has been implicated as a threat to ocean health. The National Ocean Service has previously linked sunscreen chemicals to coral stress and death, hormonal changes in dolphins, altered reproductive patterns in fish, and even birth defects in mussels and sea urchins. But sunscreen is important for protecting against sun burns and skin cancer, making the choice to wear it — or at least avoid wearing it in the water — a difficult one.

Here’s what researchers recommend you do to stay sun safe.

The more you know:

Tardigrade Tragedy

On April 11, the Israel lunar lander Beresheet (“in the beginning”) crashed on the moon, spilling its precious cargo. It included a “lunar library” consisting of ultra-thin sheets of nickel, laser-printed with important human information, like a copy of the Torah and the entirety of English-language Wikipedia. On some of the sheets, scientists had brushed a thin layer of the sticky preservative epoxy — and sprinkled microscopic living tardigrades on top.

Thousands of these “water bears” are thought to have survived the crash, thanks in part to their ability to enter a “tun” phase: a dehydrated state in which their metabolism slows to near-zero, allowing them to survive harsh conditions. When some tardigrades previously sent to space were rehydrated on Earth, they carried on and reproduced like nothing had happened. There’s no water on the lunar surface, so it’s unlikely the Beresheet tardigrades will rehydrate and colonize the moon. Still, it raises questions about the measures we’re taking to avoid accidentally seeding space with life in the first place.

Learn why some people want humans to rethink space colonization.

The more you know:

Killer Cure

We cover a lot of bizarre stories here at Inverse, but the one video fellow Maggie Green told me about might just take the cake for the strangest (and scariest) one yet. Earlier this week, the FDA warned consumers: “If you’re drinking ‘Miracle’ or ‘Master’ Mineral Solution or other sodium chlorite products, stop now.” MMS, as the solution is known, is the “first sacrament” of the Genesis II Church of Health and Healing. Church members claim it can cure cancer, malaria, HIV, autism, influenza, and more.

But in reality, MMS is largely chlorine dioxide, a disinfectant and industrial bleaching agent that followers of this church are instructed to ingest, bathe in, or use as an enema. Doing so, unsurprisingly, comes with life-threatening side effects, like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, severe dehydration, and extremely low blood pressure. The church sells an MMS “sacramental kit,” containing one four-ounce bottle each of chlorine dioxide and an “activator,” for $20 on its website.

Here’s how long this dangerous scheme has been going on.

The more you know:

Offline and Onward

Hear me out: One of the often-overlooked joys of traveling overseas is that paying for a roaming plan can get prohibitively expensive. This means you’re forced to disconnect from texts, emails, cheeky daily science newsletters, Twitter, Instagram, and so on, at least until you find a beacon of free WiFi. Thus, a person is coerced into a “digital detox” and forced to, you know, interact with the real world.

That can be scary at first but ultimately rewarding, reports Emma Betuel, who wrote about a new study detailing the emotional journey of tourists who disconnect while traveling. While it may be a little unsettling to navigate without the help of Google Maps or an online translator in a foreign land, ultimately people end up engaging more with locals and other travellers, which many participants embraced — some even deciding they’d do a digital detox again.

Learn what they found most refreshing during their time offline.

The more you know:

Spin Me Right Around

Today I learned the difference between a wind turbine and a windmill, which I had never stopped to think about before. The latter refers to the lovely wooden or stone structures of yore, used to convert wind energy directly into mechanical energy for, say, grinding wheat or turning a water wheel. (They are also the model for the structures you encounter at mini-golf.) Turbines, meanwhile, are the massive modern metal devices that turn wind energy into electricity.

It’s a little-known fact that wind turbines provide the world with double the power of solar, Mike Brown tells me. These giant turbines, normally hidden in faraway places, have dramatically improved to generate 100 times more power today than they did in the ‘70s. And according to a new report, their diameters are set to reach 200 peters, which could help triple their output and help reduce prices further. Oh, and in case there was ever any doubt: They definitely do not cause cancer.

Learn more about where these giant wind turbines will rise.

The more you know:

Today’s Good Thing

Today, that’s a new public transportation program in Rome that lets passengers trade recyclable PET plastic bottles for free rides on the city’s subway. At three stations in the city, passengers can exchange one plastic bottle for credit; it takes about 30 for a €1.50 ride.

Meanwhile …

  • WTF just happened in The Handmaid’s Tale Season 3 finale?!
  • Psychologists say there’s a good reason to embrace stress and anxiety.
  • Learn why you shouldn’t kill that spider in your home, according to an entomologist.

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Thanks for reading, gang!

Should we be worried about seeding the moon with tardigrades or other life? Let me know what you think at yasmin@inverse.com.

The night will go on, my little windmill,

— Yasmin