News

Astronauts bring back new life


Aquatic woodlouse
 
Alpioniscus species
 
 
26 November 2012
 
Six astronauts on ESA’s CAVES underground training course recently had a pleasant surprise when they discovered a new species of living creature.
 
All of the countries taking part in the International Space Station programme send teams for CAVES training. The course is designed to improve their teamwork skills while living under extreme conditions. During their six-day stay in the dark caves of Sardinia, Italy, the astronauts conduct many different types of scientific research, including a search for underground life.
 
 
Placing baits
   
Placing bait
 
This year, before the astronauts arrived, the planners of the training course noticed some interesting-looking crustaceans in a small pond. (Most crustaceans, such as crabs, shrimps and lobsters live in water.) The astronauts then put “a really stinky bait” made of liver and rotten cheese near the pond and in other places to attract as many creatures as possible.

After a few days, the astronauts selected some examples of the less common species and preserved them in alcohol to take above ground. When the team checked their specimens, they discovered a creature that was previously unknown.

The tiny new life form, just under 8 mm long, is a type of woodlouse. Although their ancestors once lived in water, woodlice are the only group of crustacean that has fully adapted to life on land. Curiously, this new species has returned to living in water, completing an evolutionary full circle.