May 16, 2022
The moon’s surface is covered with a fine, powdery material. It slightly resembles the soft sand of a pristine beach. The moon soil, though, doesn't seem like a place where Earth-born plants could take life. But scientists in Florida decided to see for themselves. The positive results stunned them.
“Holy cow. Plants actually grow in lunar stuff. Are you kidding me?” a scientist at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences told the Associated Press.
The researchers planted seeds of thale cress, a small plant native to Eurasia and Africa, in moon soil. The plants sprouted.
The lunar dirt came to Earth from astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. They gathered it during their Apollo 11 mission. It remained locked away for 50 years, but NASA finally gave 12 grams to the researchers. They performed the growth experiment in a lab last year.
The moon dirt has limitations, however. After the first week of growth, the lunar soil appeared to stress the small, weed-like plants. Another set of seeds that scientists had planted in Earth’s volcanic ash, which they felt simulated moon dirt, grew much faster and fuller. The moon-dirt plants were stunted.
NASA agreed to the experiment because the space agency plans to send astronauts back to the moon in a few years. “The fact that anything grew means that we have a really good starting point, and now the question is, how do we optimize and improve?” said NASA’s program scientist for space biology.
Photo from Reuters.