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Spiderwebs in Spaaaace!

Most houses have at least a few cobwebs in corners or down in the basement, and now the decade-old International Space Station has some spiderwebs, too. But it’s not because the astronauts have neglected cleaning — it’s all in the name of science. Two golden orb spiders named Gladys and Esmerelda are living on the International Space Station in separate habitat chambers, and scientists are watching the behavioral and physical changes of the spiders and how they spin their webs in space. The experiment was launched aboard Space Shuttle Endeavour in May of this year and transferred to the ISS. Students from all over the US are conducting analog experiments in their classrooms to determine how the spiders are adapting to their microgravity environment.

The video above is a 26 day timelapse of spiders in space.

Each chamber contains a food supply of fruit flies, and is equipped with cameras and lighting systems. The lights are set to a 24-hour cycle that provides 12 hours of “daylight,” and 12 hours of “nighttime.” Night photographs are captured using infrared light.

Hourly images of the spiders are available on BioEd Online. At the same link, there’s also a free Spiders in Space guide which contains instructions for setting up ground-based spider habitats and helping students to design their own spider investigations. Students are encouraged to compare their Earth-based spiders to photos of spiders living in space.

The project is being overseen by the Baylor College of Medicine Center for Educational Outreach in conjunction with BioServe Space Technologies.

Via Wired Science

You can follow Universe Today senior editor Nancy Atkinson on Twitter: @Nancy_A. Follow Universe Today for the latest space and astronomy news on Twitter @universetoday and on Facebook.


Nancy Atkinson is currently Universe Today's Contributing Editor. Previously she served as UT's Senior Editor and lead writer, and has worked with Astronomy Cast and 365 Days of Astronomy. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • wmjweber June 22, 2011, 11:44 PM

    So what did they find out?

  • dylan-m June 23, 2011, 3:49 AM

    It would be really interesting to pull them back down to Earth at some point and see how their behaviour changes back to suit our gravity conditions again.

    And those flies scare the heck out of me for some reason. Accidentally breaking that cover and releasing them all over the space station … *shudder* … that’s the stuff of nightmares.

    • Anonymous June 23, 2011, 8:44 AM

      Then you have never been to a safety review of these experiments. That scares the heck out of the design engineers!
      I’m pretty sure you can not “accidentally” break the cover :-)

  • Matthew Ota June 25, 2011, 4:27 AM

    This experiment is a repeat of an experiment done on the Skylab Space Station in 1973. A student experiment was performed with a spider named “Arabella” the first webs in microgravity were random messes, but after awhile the spider adapted and built a normal web.

    How easy it is for society to forget space history….