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Tiny Worms Survive Shuttle Crash

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 8 years ago | from the not-so-terminal-velocity dept.

Science 46

John H. Doe writes "According to CNet, tiny worms kept in special aluminum canisters aboard the space shuttle Columbia (which broke apart in the atmosphere back in Feb. 1, 2003) survived their fall to earth. The small (about 1mm long) soil roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans was found alive in four or five of the recovered canisters, after an impact 2,295 times the force of Earth's gravity."

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sooo (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14390719)

now your saying we're descendent from a bunch of half-inch alien worms? scuttlemonkey i hate you

HG Wells was right! (1)

megrims (839585) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390723)

So that's how the aliens in 'War of the Worlds' managed their space flight!

Whoopdee doo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14390726)

Wake me when they invent something useful from these things.

Whuh? (3, Insightful)

wwest4 (183559) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390731)


It shows directly that even complex small creatures originating on one planet could survive landing on another without the protection of a spacecraft."


Do I even need to say why that is specious? Um, OK: They were in canisters and they rode in a shuttle for part of re-entry.

I'm not saying panspermia's infeasible, but this event is not particularly compelling, given the circumstances.

Re:Whuh? (3, Interesting)

NitsujTPU (19263) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390764)

Eh, that claim is ok. They're not saying that the life forms could survive the journey through space... just a landing. They aren't even making claims that they could survive re-entry.

Yes, however, if you take it as justification of theories regarding panspermia, you would need much more evidence to back other claims.

Re:Whuh? (1)

ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | more than 8 years ago | (#14391637)

Yes, however, if you take it as justification of theories regarding panspermia, you would need much more evidence to back other claims.

For me personally, the biggest single piece of evidence reqiured will be a demonstration of how microorganisims can escape the gravity of their "mother" planet in the first place.

Re:Whuh? (2, Funny)

baadger (764884) | more than 8 years ago | (#14391850)

Maybe they could evolve on the rock they hit us with...i mean that hit's us?

I for one welcome our new rock steering wormy overlords.

Re:Whuh? (1)

torpor (458) | more than 8 years ago | (#14394031)

I for one welcome our new rock steering wormy overlords.


me too .. bring it on [vgmuseum.com] ..

Re:Whuh? (1)

Mnemia (218659) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406903)

One plausible way (depending on a lot of factors like atmosphere, the size of the planet, etc) is that pieces of rock containing microorganisms could be ejected from the planet by a comet or asteroid impacting the surface. Another (more speculative) way would be that they could have hitchhiked on a spacecraft built by a more complex organism (as, in fact, Earth microrganisms have done in escaping Earth's gravity). The microbes could then make their way through space attached to something even if the organisms with the spaceship didn't go with them.

I could have sworn... (3, Informative)

Drakin (415182) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390741)

Re:I could have sworn... (2)

RobotWisdom (25776) | more than 8 years ago | (#14391153)

Galileo foresaw this 400 years ago, as I posted to soc.history.science [google.com] at the time:

Galileo Galilei 1638: http://galileoandeinstein.physics.virginia.edu/tns 1.htm [virginia.edu]

"...Who does not know that a horse falling from a height of three or four cubits will break his bones, while a dog falling from the same height or a cat from a height of eight or ten cubits will suffer no injury? Equally harmless would be the fall of a grasshopper from a tower or the fall of an ant from the distance of the moon..."

Re:I could have sworn... (1)

hublan (197388) | more than 8 years ago | (#14393900)

Yeah, the story's been run before.

And so what?

What about us who missed it the first time around? No-one complains that every TV station has a X o'clock news, X + 2 o'clock news and the X + 5 o'clock news, all showing the same stuff. Or even CNN and Fox News, 24 hours of mostly identical re-hashes of the same non-story.

Is your reason for existence simply to dig through the /. archives in search of dupes?

Re:I could have sworn... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14396444)

It was lame then, lame now. It was lame and new then. Now it is old and lame. You are an ass. People are now complaining about you.

This is rather old (3, Interesting)

Capt'n Hector (650760) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390749)

I hate to spoil the party, but this was news around April, 2003. This isn't really a source, but if you think about it, it's about as infallible as you can get. Behold, a Google Cache [64.233.161.104] of a weblog I wrote at that time, the server of which doesn't really exist anymore. It was back in the time of Chimera before it became Camino, back when RSS was cool. But of course don't take my word, I'm sure someone else can furnish a true news source to back this up...

Tiny Worms Survive Shuttle Crash! (4, Funny)

cffrost (885375) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390804)


*Whew!* What a relief!

That mission wasn't such a disaster afterall!

Re:Tiny Worms Survive Shuttle Crash! (1)

sgant (178166) | more than 8 years ago | (#14391131)

If the canisters survived the crash...why not make the entire shuttle out of canisters!

Also, the black box survived so perhaps a shuttle made of the canisters INSIDE the material for the black box!

Why hasn't anyone else thought of this...do I have to do everything around here?

So? (4, Insightful)

gellenburg (61212) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390841)

It's not like worms have any bones to break, or complex brain structures that would suffer life-threatening subdural hematomas upon impact.

Besides, the worms were packed in loose soil offering cushioning upon impact, and have very low oxygen requirements compared to humans.

Re:So? (1)

Threni (635302) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390880)

> It's not like worms have any bones to break,

Even if they did, they'd still survive the fall itself, just like humans do.

Re:So? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14391062)

Besides, the worms were packed in loose soil offering cushioning upon impact...

I see what you're getting at here.

If we fill the shuttle with loose soil there is a better chance of crash survival.

Brilliant!!

Seriously, you make some good points.

Re:So? (2)

jsveiga (465473) | more than 8 years ago | (#14391126)

Agreed, and I guess not only soil cushioned the impact. If the canisters broke loose from the bulk of the section of spacecraft they were in, then they might have hit the ground at a lower speed (there's a velocity point where the G pull downwards equals the aerodynamic drag - "terminal velocity", so it will depend on mass and aerodynamics of the canister).

If they hit the ground inside a big chunk of the spacecract, then the deformation of this chunk also absorved part of the impact.

2,295 Gs of impact... I wonder where they got this number from. A rough estimative based on estimated numbers and estimated facts to produce a catchy figure, or did they actually have accelerometers on the canisters and had planned to crash-test them on the original mission?

Besides, the forces acting upon a tiny, low mass body when decelerating on impact are proportional to the mass (F=m*a), so if you drop a PET bottle with an ant inside from a 10-story building it will most probably survive the fall, and that doesn't make it Atom Ant. If you do the same and suvive getting inside a PET bottle you won't survive the impact, both because you will attain a higher terminal velocity, and because even if you hit the ground with the same speed (i.e. same decceleration), the forces acting on your body parts will be much, much higher.

Re:So? (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 8 years ago | (#14392875)

2,295 Gs of impact... I wonder where they got this number from.

"Ignoring Air Resistance..."

Re:So? (1)

kronosaurus (621035) | more than 8 years ago | (#14400040)

2,295 Gs of impact...

How about 2.295 Gs?

Re:So? (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 8 years ago | (#14394229)

Don't forget that objects can exceed terminal velocity and that terminal velocity changes with tumble, thus it is influenced by everything that influences THAT. Bullets actually leave the muzzle above terminal velocity... Or at least, some of 'em.

Re:So? (1)

terrymr (316118) | more than 8 years ago | (#14394643)

Terminal velocity relates to accelration due to gravity vs aerodynamic drag ... doesn't have much to do with bullets.

Re:So? (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 8 years ago | (#14395326)

bullets are powered. Terminal velocity has to do with "falling" objects. An orbiting object is a falling object. It is in free fall after all. Now if you fired a bullet straight up it may reach terminal velocity on the way down. Tumble? That has to do with drag as the original poster said. However tumble will only decrease the velocity. Nothing will make an object fall faster than it's terminal velocity.

Altitude (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14403492)

Terminal velocity also "has to do with" drag. And drag is a function of the ambient air pressure. Air pressure falls off with increasing altitude. So Terminal Velocity should decrease with decreasing altitude.

Re:Altitude (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 8 years ago | (#14403862)

Yes and it is also gets very complex if you happen to end up in the transonic region.

Re:So? (1)

hurfy (735314) | more than 8 years ago | (#14405764)

How much can a 1mm worm weigh?

Way under .1g probably.
Probably had a little fraction of an once of impact force. Not surprising to survive especially as there was probably cushioning not accounted for and 2295 sounds extremely high.....

Four or five? (5, Funny)

Pretor (2506) | more than 8 years ago | (#14390881)

Is it to much to ask of our researchers that they manage to count to at least 5?

When they found the canisters did they count like a child? What comes first? One. And then? Two. And then? Three. And then? Four or five, I'm not sure.

Re:Four or five? (1)

Feanturi (99866) | more than 8 years ago | (#14391851)

That's easy: They couldn't get the fifth one open, so the worms in that one are neither alive nor dead, throwing off the count.

Re:Four or five? (4, Funny)

thegarbageman (618939) | more than 8 years ago | (#14392383)

Wouldn't they be both alive *and* dead? Schroedinger's Worm?

Re:Four or five? (1)

icj (852635) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396377)

thats another can of worms. "runs away under a hail of rotten vegetables and beer bottles"

Re:Four or five? (1)

gjcamann (181834) | more than 8 years ago | (#14394808)

She's got a PhD, counting must be below her.

Partial evidence (1)

geek2k5 (882748) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396672)

There is always a chance that there was firm evidence that there were live worms in four of the containers and strong evidence that there were live worms in the fifth container that died due to other causes after the landing. That would make the 'four or five' statement accurate.

Then there is a chance that the reporter is getting the information second hand and the person being interviewed doesn't know the full details of the evidence. (i.e. You know that there were several canisters of worms surviving and you thought the count was about four or five, you would quote the range.)

Additional evidence (1)

geek2k5 (882748) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396774)

According to a more detailed article, there were six canisters with worms in them and five were recovered.

I do find it interesting that the worms were 'four or five generations' removed from the originals. This could be where the confusion comes from.

It would, unfortunately, be a typical mistake made by a reporter. I've seen far too many instances where the facts get mangled by someone who doesn't quite understand what they are talking about when they translate it for the masses.

Four or five? (1)

profzoom (177901) | more than 8 years ago | (#14391080)

...was found alive in four or five of the recovered canisters...

So which was it, hmm? Four or five?

Fess up (1)

HD Webdev (247266) | more than 8 years ago | (#14391085)

Who haxor3d slashdot article submissions today?

Dupe AND Misleading... (1)

Karma Farmer (595141) | more than 8 years ago | (#14391400)

Are a full 50% of the articles in the submission queue from trolls hoping to trick the editors into posting dupes or misleading article summaries? Or do the editors simply select those articles, for reasons that aren't clear to the rest of us?

Re:Dupe AND Misleading... (1)

ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | more than 8 years ago | (#14391646)

Or do the editors simply select those articles, for reasons that aren't clear to the rest of us?

The Slashdot Random Story Submission Selection System is above your petty indignations. It is completely unbiased, to any factor. And that includes quality!

How hard did they fall? (2, Interesting)

falcon5768 (629591) | more than 8 years ago | (#14391498)

after an impact 2,295 times the force of Earth's gravity.
Did they really hit that hard? I mean how did they come up with this number, cause Im sure the terminal velocity of a canister, or even fragments of the shuttle if it just happened to be in a portion of the shuttle, would have enabled it to hit at a much slower force.

Re:How hard did they fall? (3, Informative)

Khyron (8855) | more than 8 years ago | (#14391898)

Seriously, this was my first thought reading this as well. Not only does that figure seem to completely ignore the likely terminal velocity of the canister, I'm betting it supposes an inelastic collision. I'm sorry, did the can of worms land on an extremely large plate of hardened titanium? No, it probably landed in dirt someplace...

Re:How hard did they fall? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14399363)

why are people talking about terminal velocity? i highly doubt the canisters were thrown gently out the shuttle thereby only being accelerate due to gravity. they were probably shot downward(at least in some angle) towards the earth for the scientists to say that they had such force of impact.

I, for one (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14391645)

I welcome our new impact-resistant overlord roundworms!

Saved by being tiny (1)

Trails (629752) | more than 8 years ago | (#14393170)

Their small size probably saved, given that, due to their miniscule surface area, the decceleration would be applied fairly uniformly to the entire creature.

Wait a minute (3, Funny)

HeWhoRoams (895809) | more than 8 years ago | (#14393406)

Last time I played Worms World party my worms died after falling about 3 inches! You're telling me these worms survived a fall from space? Now thats a cheat code.
Get your gear to commemorate this great tragedy here https://secure.team17.com/ [team17.com]
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