The International Space Station (ISS) is harboring live plankton on the outside of its hull, Russian news outlets reported this week, raising speculation about where it come from – and if it's real.
"Results of the experiment are absolutely unique. We have found traces of sea plankton and microscopic particles on the [window] illuminator surface. This should be studied further," chief of the Russian ISS orbital mission Vladimir Solovyev told Itar-Tass
, which is state-owned.
According to Space.com
, however, Solovyev is not aboard the ISS, and NASA pointed out that the cosmonauts who are there have not weighed in on the supposed finding. Many are highly skeptical that plankton could survive the cold, radiation, and other harsh conditions of outer space.
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"As far as we're concerned, we haven't heard any official reports from our Roscosmos colleagues that they've found sea plankton," NASA spokesman Dan Huot told the website.
Huot said the Russians were known to be taking samples on the hull, looking for "residues that can build up on the visually sensitive elements, like windows, as well as just the hull of the ship itself that will build up whenever they do thruster firings for things like re-boosts."
As far as the reported microorganisms go, however, he said, "I'm not sure where all the sea-plankton talk is coming from."
NASA scientist Lynn Rothschild said that if there were plankton on the hull, it is highly unlikely that it's extraterrestrial, and most likely a result of contamination at launch.
In the Itar-Tass report, however, Solovyev addressed such a concern, saying that the type of plankton found on the hull is not native to the area of Kazakhstan from which the station's parts are launched.
"It means that there are some uplifting air currents which reach the station and settle on its surface," he told the publication.
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