CHINA SERIES: PART III, Lunar Plants Killed by Lunar Night!

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The Chinese brought cottonseeds to the dark side of the moon.  The seeds were the first ever
to sprout on 
lunar surface. If they had matured, they would have been
surrounded by fibres which grow around
 the seed. (See photo)


Part III of the 3-Part China series: Lunar Plants Killed by Lunar Night!

by Mary Foran

You can hardly blame scientists for having dreams of vegetation turning the gray old moon into a lush and verdant green.

But the Chinese have found that dream to be far from reality: They brought potato seeds, rapeseeds, Arabidopsis plants, yeast and cottonseeds, and fruitfly eggs along with their lunar rover the Jade Rabbit, and found that plunging temperatures killed the plants that had actually sprouted, a first in natural history.

The plants were in a protective canister, landed on the far side of the Moon by Chinese experimenters, but since the canister did not have its own heat source, the plants did not survive the bitter cold of the lengthy lunar night. The experiment was aimed to assess how plants and animals grow and develop in the alien environment of the lunar surface which features low gravity, high radiation levels, and extreme temperature swings.

Chang’e 4

Without its own heating system, the canister could not withstand the lunar night, which doomed the sprouts. Scientists say that the temperature within the canister reached minus 52 degrees Celsius or minus 62 degrees Fahrenheit, ending the experiment decisively.

Chang’e 4, which is the name of the Chinese project, is the latest in a series of robotic moon orbiters and landers which included Chang’e 1 and Chang’e 2 in 2007 and 2010, with Chang’e 3 in 2013. If all goes as planned, China will launch Chang’e 5 to return samples sometime this year.

A young sunflower plant aboard the Earth-orbiting International Space Station

Although the cotton seeds were the first sprouts on the moon’s surface, other astronauts have tended mini gardens in Earth’s orbit on Russia’s Mir space station, the International Space Station and on China’s Tiangong 2 space lab.

The Chinese have always been fascinated by the moon, and now they are front and center in its exploration.



Featured image/KoS via Wikipedia, PD
Chang’e 4/Loren Roberts for The Planetary Society, CC BY-SA3.0
Sunflower/NASA, Pd