Plymouth scientist to tell world about jumping spiders in space
THE idea of jumping spiders in space may sound like something from a horror film.
But it is something that really happened – and one city scientist is taking part in a live webchat to tell the world about it today.
Plymouth University bug expert Pete Smithers, pictured right, has been advising an internet company which is revealing the result of an experiment on the international space station.
NASA astronauts released fruit flies in an experimental chamber and set loose the spiders to see whether they could catch their prey in zero gravity.
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The creatures, zebra spiders and phidippus johnsoni, usually jump on insects using a trailing thread of silk as a guide line.
But one Egyptian student, who won a global competition to dream up experiments for the space station, wondered what would happen in zero gravity.
YoutTube, which ran the contest, is hosting a live webchat from 12.30pm today between Pete, the student called Amr, and the astronaut on board the space station.
Pete said: "Only the astronaut and a few people on Earth know the result of the experiment. It may sound like something from a horror film but I like to think of The Muppets.
"If you can have Pigs in Space, then why not Spiders in Space?"
The spiders are not, in the spirit of Neil Armstrong, taking a giant leap for spiderkind.
Other spiders have been to space before – orb web spiders were challenged to build their webs in zero gravity.
Pete said that their creations were amazingly similar to their webs on the Earth.
Youtube, having chosen Amr's experiment, employed a media company which sought out Pete, a renowned entomologist.
Pete has acted as a consultant, making sure the publicity material is correct.
He said the two latest space spiders, which are about eight millimetres wide, normally live in North America, can jump 12 times their body length.
Pete said: "It is really cool to think I will be chatting to someone in space."
The webchat takes place between 12.30pm and 3.30pm at www.youtube.com/spacelab.