Because we are always curious about space, we Earthlings have sent everything from mud to robots to Baby Yoda to the International Space Station (ISS). People have also sent spiders to the ISS – several times – despite the fact that it sounds like the plot of a movie B. Now, a new study says that spiders in space (!!!) learned how to build normal networks in microgravity without problems. But only if the astronauts leave the lights on.
Independentul reported the study, which was recently published in the journal The science of nature. It is based on research conducted on two pairs of golden silk spiders, male and female, one of which was sent to the ISS in 2011. Obtaining the pair there was not easy.
NASA actually sent two other spiders (not golden golden silk weavers, but similar species) in 2008. The space agency did this as a way to inspire high school students to think about science and space. But there was a logistical misfortune, and the spiders produced only mixed sails; those that would offer no perspective on how microgravity affected them.
University of Basel
However, in 2011, scientists were able to collect data comparing the webs of weavers on the ISS with those on the ground. And scientists have discovered that spiders have actually built their webs differently in space than on Earth. But for the most part, the canvases differed from normal ones when the scientists turned off the lights.
Scientists have hypothesized that weavers – who build their sails asymmetrically on Earth, with the centers of the sails moved to their tips – will build them symmetrically on the ISS. The idea is that in microgravity, there would be no forcing function to create the displaced center. (Spiders hang on Earth, face down to look for prey. But in space, they don’t know which direction to descend.)
Scientists say that the weavers built symmetrical canvases in space, but only while all the lights were off. However, when the lights were on, spiders were able to use their vision instead of gravitational sense to guide their construction of sails. As a result, when the astronauts turned on the lights of the spider room, the nets seemed normal; spiders even hung far from the centers of their sails, as they do on Earth.
“We would not have guessed that light will play a role in orienting spiders in space,” Dr. Samuel Zschokke said in a press release from the University of Basel. Zschokke, who analyzed the spider’s experiment and published the results with his colleagues, added: “Spiders have a reserve system for guidance, so it seems surprising that they have never been exposed to a gravity-free environment during their evolution. “
And, although this is certainly a fascinating discovery, all we can think about is that the quote would make an excellent opening for … SPIDERS IN SPACE!