Good Practice: Astronauts Discover New Species Here on Earth
A training seminar for astronauts from around the world ended up being more fruitful than anyone imagined earlier this year, as participants turned up an never-before-seen species of crustacean during their journey. The new species was discovered during the course of the European Space Agency‘s CAVES training program, which sends teams of astronauts into unusual environments to hone their skills in field geology, meteorology, and cataloging new species — so you have to think that at least one of those objectives went down as a clear success this trip.
Discovered in a series of caves near Sardinia, Italy, the new species is from a normally terrestrial group of isopods — commonly known as woodlice — and measures about 8 millimeters long. While they’re related to land-dwelling creatures, this new variety of wood louse is aquatic, providing a rare example of creatures that went from living in water — aquatic crustaceans are the ancestors of modern wood lice — to living on land, only to return to a watery life later on in their development. Stefano Taiti, an isopod researcher unconnected to the discovery, said of the new species:
The find also confirms the theory that evolution is not a one-way process but that species can evolve to live in previously forgotten habitats.
While this isn’t as exciting as bringing back a new species from the depths of space or a distant planet, the fact that astronauts can go on a training mission only to come back with a species that has never been described by science is pretty neat from where we’re sitting. It’s also a heartening sign that we’re sending the right people to look for life in space — even if we do have our doubts that the team’s bait of “liver and rotten cheese” would be attractive to life elsewhere in the universe. Even if that aroma did attract something on another planet, we’re pretty sure we wouldn’t want to stick around to see what it was.