Life on Earth will survive nearly anything, say scientists. Hells yeah.

Scientists have calculated what it would take to sterilize the planet. No wait, stay with me! It's not as morbid as it sounds!

Three scientists from Oxford and Harvard universities were interested in just what it would take to sterilize the Earth — not just wipe out humanity, but get a really deep scrub in there and completely wipe out life.

What they found is that life could survive pretty much anything the universe is going to throw at us for at least 7.6 billion years.


To figure this out, they looked at the greatest survivors ever.

Not humans. Not sharks. Tardigrades.

Big, impressive life — humans and whales and Tyrannosaurus rexes — are actually kind of fragile. We depend on very specific environments to survive. But there are much tougher creatures out there, wriggling around, like tardigrades.

Tardigrades are basically tiny little Terminators. GIF from "Cosmos."

Also known as water bears, these microscopic little guys are tough as nails. Tardigrades can be frozen, irradiated, starved for decades — heck, they've even survived the vacuum of space!

After doing a bunch of math about radiation and pressure and other factors, the scientists determined the only way to wipe out these little buggers would be to boil the entire ocean. Let me repeat that: The only way to get rid of them is to boil the ocean.

And boiling the ocean just isn't likely to happen anytime soon. You'd have to slam the planet with a truly gigantic asteroid, or hit it with a supernova or an ultra-powerful gamma ray burst. The scientists did the math, and they say all of those are just too rare or too far away to matter to a tardigrade.

"Life, once it gets going, is hard to wipe out," study co-author Dr. David Sloan said in a press release.

GIF from "Jurassic Park."

Basically, life on Earth is probably going to survive as long as the sun does.

Unfortunately, there is an end point. In about 7.6 billion years, the sun's going to evolve into a red giant star. At that point, it'll either devour the Earth or be bright enough to, yes, boil the oceans.

That's a long way away. Life has only been on Earth for about 3.8 billion years — multicellular life even less. In only about 600 million years, we went from worms to dinosaurs to Carl Sagan. Imagine what another 7.6 billion years will get us. Life on Earth hasn't even hit middle age yet.

The researchers say this gives hope to the possibility of finding life on other planets.

Perhaps the deep soils of Mars or the volcanic oceans of Europa or Enceladus have their own little microscopic Terminators too.

"If tardigrades are Earth's most resilient species, who knows what else is out there," said Dr. Rafael Alves Batista, a co-author of the study.

That doesn't mean we humans should take our sturdy little home for granted, though.

Remember that tardigrades are little Terminators. We're not. Humans, it turns out, really like Earth the way it is now.

If we want to last as long as the tardigrades do, we have some work ahead of us — like preparing for climate change, protecting the biosphere, and maybe keeping an eye out for some of those smaller asteroids.

But if these scientists are correct, no matter what, life on Earth is going to survive a long, long time.

So take that, universe, you're stuck with us.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less