Because we are always curious about space, we earthlings have sent everything from slime to robots, from Baby Yoda to the International Space Station (ISS). People have also sent spiders to the ISS, multiple times, despite the fact that it sounds like the plot of a B movie. Now, a new study says that spiders in space (!!!) learned to build normal webs in microgravity conditions without any problems. But only if the astronauts leave the lights on.
The independent reported on the study, which was recently published in the journal Science of nature. It is based on research conducted on two pairs of male and female golden silk ball weaving spiders, one of which was sent to the ISS in 2011. Getting the pair there wasn’t easy.
NASA actually sent two more spiders (not the same gold silk ball weavers, but similar species) in 2008. The space agency did so to inspire middle school students to think about science and space. But there was a logistical accident, and the spiders produced only confusing cobwebs; those who would not give an idea of how microgravity has affected them.
University of Basel
In 2011, however, scientists were able to collect data by comparing the textile networks on the ISS with those on the ground. And the scientists found that spiders actually built their webs in space differently than on Earth. But, for the most part, the networks differed from normal only when the scientists turned off the lights.
Scientists speculated that weavers, who build their webs asymmetrically on Earth, with web centers shifted to the top, would build them symmetrically on the ISS. The idea is that in conditions of microgravity there would be no forcing function to create the displaced center. (Spiders hang on Earth, facing down to look for prey. But in space, they don’t know which way is down.)
Scientists say the weavers built symmetrical webs in space, but only while all the lights were out. When the lights were on, however, the spiders were able to use their vision instead of their sense of gravity to guide their web building. Consequently, when the astronauts left the spider containment chamber lights on, the webs looked normal; spiders even strayed from the centers of their webs as they do on Earth.
“We would not have imagined that light would play a role in orienting spiders in space,” said Dr. Samuel Zschokke in a press release from the University of Basel. Zschokke, who analyzed the spider experiment and published the results with his colleagues, added: “Spiders have a backup system for orientation like this seems surprising, since they have never been exposed to a environment devoid of gravity in the course of their evolution. “
And while this is certainly a fascinating find, all we can think of is that the quote would make a great opening crawl for … SPIDERS IN SPACE!