In a giant leap for plantkind, seeds that have been taken up to the moon have sprouted, marking the first time any biological substance has grown on the Moon’s surface. This new development could be the catalyst to previously unprecedented possibilities for the future of Earth’s space exploration and discovery.
China’s Chang’e 4 Moon lander is the first of its kind to explore the Moon’s far side, away from the earth. It landed January 3, 2019, carrying instruments and plants in order to analyse the area’s geological makeup.
The Moon lander carried soil that contains cotton and potato seeds, yeast and fruit fly eggs. The plants are kept in a sealed container on the lander and will create a mini biosphere – a self-sustaining environment. The China National Space Administration recently announced that the seeds have begun to sprout, marking an exciting new discovery in the composition of the Moon.
Plants have been grown on the International Space Station, but never before on the Moon’s surface. Being able to grow plants on the Moon could offer unprecedented benefits for longterm space missions, such as trips to Mars, which take almost three years, and for missions on the Moon’s surface, as it would reduce the need to fly back to Earth for resupply. It could even offer benefits for the longterm sustainability of Earth’s crops.; the new images have been calibrated.
WILL THE MOON BE CONTAMINATED?
By Paul Rincon, Science editor, BBC News website
The lunar mini biosphere experiment on the Chang'e-4 lander is designed to test photosynthesis and respiration - processes in living organisms that result in the production of energy. The whole experiment is contained within an 18cm tall, 3kg canister that was designed by 28 Chinese universities.
The organisms inside have a supply of air, water and nutrients to help them grow. But one of the challenges, say Chinese scientists, is to keep the temperature favourable for growth when conditions on the Moon swing wildly between -173C and 100C or more.
They also have to control the humidity and nutrients. Some have raised the question of whether the experiment risks "contaminating" the Moon with biological material, but scientists generally think this is of little concern. And it's worth reiterating that there are already containers of human waste on the Moon left behind by the Apollo astronauts.
On Tuesday, Chinese state media said the cotton seeds had now grown buds.
The ruling Communist Party's official mouthpiece the People's Daily tweeted an image of the sprouted seed, saying it marked "the completion of humankind's first biological experiment on the Moon".
Fred Watson, Australian Astronomical Observatory's astronomer-at-large, told the BBC the development was "good news".
"It suggests that there might not be insurmountable problems for astronauts in future trying to grow their own crops on the moon in a controlled environment."
"I think there's certainly a great deal of interest in using the Moon as a staging post, particularly for flights to Mars, because it's relatively near the Earth," Mr Watson said.
Prof Xie Gengxin, the experiment's chief designer, was quoted as saying in the South China Morning Post: "We have given consideration to future survival in space.
"Learning about these plants' growth in a low-gravity environment would allow us to lay the foundation for our future establishment of space base."
He said cotton could eventually be used for clothing while the potatoes could be a food source for astronauts and the rapeseed for oil.
China's Xinhua news agency said that the seeds were rendered dormant using "biological technology" during the 20-day journey from Earth to the Moon.
They only began growing once ground control centre sent a command to the probe to water the seeds.
Xinhua said the probe had taken about 170 pictures so far which have been sent back to Earth.
On Friday, the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP) released several images taken by the probe including panoramic images of the landing site as well as video of the vehicles touching down.
Via BBC News