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I have a mosquito in my story who is suspended in amber. The chunk of amber it is encased in eventually finds itself drifting through deep space without any sort of human-sourced protection (long story). After millions of years, aliens find the mosquito in its chunk of amber and remove it, finding that the mosquito’s biology is intact (though it’s definitely dead).

Could the mosquito “survive” for this long? The biggest problem I see is temperature- even if very low temperatures don’t damage the mosquito, the heat of any nearby sun might melt the amber (and the bug).

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  • $\begingroup$ Are you in fact referring to the genetic material of the mozzie (or in it's guts)? Or are you thinking the physical structure, or just the basic imprint on the inside of the Amber like a fossil-footprint? $\endgroup$ Jun 6 at 3:47
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    $\begingroup$ Even were the Amber in a protected environment, its contents would be degraded over that period of time. Adding the harsh environment of open space just accelerates the degradation. (ie Jurassic Park is not possible). $\endgroup$ Jun 6 at 12:42
  • $\begingroup$ DNA has a half-life, meaning that roughly every half-life each strand breaks in half. At some point, it's just nucleotide soup... no useful sequences can be recovered. I've read this half-life several different places with large variation, but it's measured in hundreds of years apparently. However, freezing would either raise that number by some large multiple, or interrupt this degradation completely. And space is, in general, some temperature not far above absolute zero. $\endgroup$
    – John O
    Jun 6 at 15:27
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    $\begingroup$ @JohnO Space is cold on average, but only if you look at all of space and/or ignore radiative heating. Without any kind of thermal shielding, and no way to efficiently dump any absorbed heat other than simple radiation, any time it gets ‘near’ (read as ‘within a few hundred million kilometers’) it’s actually going to spend a nontrivial amount of time well above absolute zero. Keep in mind that the JWST, at roughly 151.5 million km from the sun, still needs a solar shield and radiators to maintain a temperature around 36 K (except for MIRI, which needs to be even colder). $\endgroup$ Jun 6 at 17:50
  • $\begingroup$ this depends on what you mean by "intact" and "millions" Could they recover large DNA fragments from it after a million years if kept a few degrees kelvin and protected from radiation, sure, after ten million probably not. this largely depends on how close to stars the thing gets, keep it several AU away from the star and it will stay nice and cold. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jun 6 at 23:50

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Ionizing radiations and energetic particles will surely cause a cumulative damage to the tissues of the mosquito, unless the amber has some serious thickness to act as a shield.

Don't forget that one of the main concern for space travel is caused exactly by the lack of shielding provided by Earth atmosphere and magnetic field. Same would happen here.

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    $\begingroup$ My thoughts too. Amber will provide approximately zero protection from Cosmic Rays or similar ionizing radiation. The genetic material will have completely denatured long before the aliens find it. $\endgroup$
    – Ruadhan
    Jun 6 at 15:26
  • $\begingroup$ Not to mention micro meteors sand blasting it from existence $\endgroup$
    – Thorne
    Jun 7 at 0:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Ruadhan I'd think that the most that could happen to totally inert DNA is things like pyrimidine dimers and double-strand breaks. Without being in a reactive environment with a whole bunch of enzymes to make things worse, there's not much irrecoverable damage that can be done, at least by radiation. After millions of years though, it will erode due to other effects. $\endgroup$
    – forest
    Jun 7 at 1:49
  • $\begingroup$ Doesn't this strongly depend on how close you are to a star or the sun? Human astronauts are always near the sun but most of space is much further away from any star. $\endgroup$
    – quarague
    Jun 7 at 9:51
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    $\begingroup$ The sun does put out it's own potent rays, but it actually protects us from most of the stronger rays that come from outside the solar system. "cosmic rays" are cosmic because they are from the cosmos, not from the sun. $\endgroup$
    – Brianorca
    Jun 7 at 21:48
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As other answers have pointed out, cosmic radiation will cause considerable damage to the DNA and organic tissues of the mosquito, even when the bug is encased in amber. If you want the aliens to learn about biology from the mosquito's remains, you are going to need more radiation shielding!

The abstract of this 2016 paper (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.asr.2016.12.028) indicates that clay from asteroids could be mined and used to provide enough shielding from cosmic rays to keep astronauts safe while in space. Thus, if you amber was buried underground and somehow catapulted into space (Panspermia anyone?), the amber and mosquito would be protected from cosmic radiation by a mass of stone and clay.

Putting the amber in an asteroid also gives your aliens a reason to find the mosquito to begin with. An alien miner can discover the amber deposit when processing the asteroid.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome ajheck. I'm not quite clear why, but the answer turned-up in the low-quality review queue. I'd just like to point-out to reviewers, that it does in fact answer the question with added value - providing a way for the scenario to work. This is better than just a straight "no" and as such you should vote to mark it OK. $\endgroup$ Jun 6 at 22:48
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    $\begingroup$ This will also keep it cold which you need, DNA needs to be kept very cold to slow its breakdown on a long time scale. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jun 6 at 23:52
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Could the mosquito “survive” for this long?

No. And you don't even need space to destroy your mosquito or your amber. It's not even possible on earth. When you open up amber that is millions of years old and has insects encased in them, all you'll find left of the insect is some black dust. (Source: A professor of palaeontology in this Dutch news article).

If there's going to be any amber left after drifting through space for so long, your mosquito is going to be nothing but black dust. Certainly nothing with anything that would be recognizable as 'intact biology'.

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The amber will slowly sublime in space. When it's gone, the mosquito will follow. I don't know how to calculate how long this will take, but "millions of years" aren't going to leave much.

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  • $\begingroup$ but how fast, everything sublimates in space but the effect is so small the amber may be unchanged in millions of years. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jun 6 at 23:44
  • $\begingroup$ The vapor pressure of amber is so low that nobody's bothered to measure it. That tells me that, unless it's exceptionally close to the Sun, sublimation will take trillions of years or longer. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Jun 7 at 23:22
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Short Answer: The radiation and heat would cause tissue damage and melt the amber.

Long Answer:

So to calculate the change in temperature we need the formula of, H = Cp × M × ΔT.

ΔT is what we are looking for.

The sun outputs 1370 watts of energy to the start of the earth's atmosphere. We'll look at how hot it will be 100 seconds after it starts its trip. Therefore the amount of Joules it will be receiving are 137000 J. I couldn't find info on the heat capacity of amber, so I'll just use the 840 J/kg∙°C of glass. I am assuming the mass to be around 50 grams. Plugging these number in we get a change in temperature of about 3262 °C. The melting point of amber is 395 °C on the higher end.

In conclusion, the amber would melt, and I am not doing equations on the radiation but if it's a problem for humans, I am pretty sure mosquitoes won't enjoy it either.

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    $\begingroup$ You are assuming that the amber perfectly absorbs the radiation and doesn't give out anything, which is a strong simplification, as we have small objects in Earth orbit which do not vaporize as your calculations seem to imply $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Jun 6 at 5:13
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think you can assume that a 50 gramme piece of amber has a surface of 1 meter squared. The solar radiation is in W/m^2. In either case, to get a semi-correct result you need to apply Stefan Boltzmann's law, 1370 = x*T^4, where x is stefan boltzmann's constant and T is your equilibrium temperature to solve for. $\endgroup$ Jun 6 at 12:40
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    $\begingroup$ ~1400W... per m2. Amber with insect is probably tiny, so it wouldn't absorb THAT much energy. Besides, it would radiate out the energy as well. T should be about 0 or a bit below (~260K) from average day vs average night temperature - if we take our moon as an example. A bit big but so what. $\endgroup$ Jun 6 at 12:40
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    $\begingroup$ By your calculations, you'd melt pretty quickly too, with around 1kW of your 1.37kW reaching the Earth's surface. -1 for nonsense. $\endgroup$
    – Chris H
    Jun 6 at 13:27
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    $\begingroup$ -1 for mistakes in the calculation, +1 for at least attempting a calculation and showing your work. $\endgroup$
    – user132647
    Jun 6 at 19:53

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