THE nearest thing to Superman living on Planet Earth will be around for the next 10 billion years, say scientists.
No matter what destructive forces nature throws at the pin-head size tardigrade, it will survive until the Sun finally stops shining.
Even astrophysical catastrophes of the magnitude that wiped out the dinosaurs will not stop this marvel from moving around on its eight stumpy legs.
The near indestructibility of the tardigrade - often known as the water bear - has fascinated scientists for years. It can go 30 years without food, endure temperatures way above boiling at 150C and even stay alive in the frozen vacuum of space.
An Oxford University study today reveals that, like the Man of Steel, the microscopic tardigrade has the powers to withstand cataclysmic events that would extinguish all other life on the planet.
Researchers from Oxford and Harvard have studied what impact three of the most destructive events that could befall Earth - an asteroid strike, exploding supernovae and gamma ray bursts - to see how they would threaten the creature and agree the species would survive.
In order to wipe out the tardigrade, the world's oceans would have to boil, but none of the doomsday scenarios studied by the team have the power to create such catastrophic impacts.
The only known asteroids and dwarf planets in the solar system with enough mass to make the oceans evaporate cannot intercept Earth's orbit.
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Similarly, an exploding star would need to be 0.14 light years away to create the same destructive, sea-boiling energy, but the nearest one is four light years away.
It is a similar story for apocalyptic gamma ray bursts, the brightest electromagnetic events in the universe that help create black holes. Scientists say the likelihood of such an event happening at the critical distance of 40 light years is minor.
While humanity considers itself as the pinnacle of evolution, the humble water bear - creatures that have fossils dating back 530 million years and can exist at Himalayan altitudes of 20,000ft to the ocean floor at 13,000ft - will be here long after we become extinct.
By being such natural survivors, tardigrades also show how alien life on inhospitable planets with poisonous atmospheres and temperature extremes are out there waiting to be discovered.
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