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China’s plants sprout – and die – on the moon

For the 1st time ever, plants were sprouted on the moon – but didn’t survive long – as part of a biosphere experiment on China’s Chang’e-4 lander.

For a few days in early January 2019, we could say “There’s life growing on the moon!”

Cotton seeds on China’s Chang’e-4 lander sprouted, becoming the first plants to ever germinate on the moon. The successful germination was reported by Chinese media on January 15, 2019. The seeds are part of a biosphere experiment on the lander, to help prepare for eventual human settlements.

Unfortunately, however, the little sprouts have already perished.

Photos sent back to Earth showed the cotton seeds sprouting on January 7. The experiment, conducted by researchers and students at Chongqing University in central China, also included oilseed rape, potato and arabidopsis seeds, as well as yeast and fruit flies, kept in a sealed growing chamber. By January 13, however, the sprouts had died, succumbing to freezing temperatures that plunged to -62 degrees Fahrenheit (-52 degrees Celsius) during the lunar nighttime.

The experiment – which did not use batteries – consisted of the canister, the six species, water, soil, air, two small cameras and a heat control system, and it ran for a total of 212.75 hours. The organisms will now gradually decompose, after lunar daytime begins again, but because they are inside the sealed container, they will not contaminate the lunar surface.

Fruit flies also accompanied the trip. Yeast, acting as a decomposition agent, processed waste from the flies and the dead plants to create an additional food source for the insects.

Full report by Paul Scott Anderson in SPACE. Also see the news item by South China Morning Post and view a video

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