For the first time anybody is aware of, seeds have sprouted on a celestial body beyond Earth. The China National Space Administration released a photo Tuesday showing that cotton seeds brought to the far side of the moon by the country's Chang'e 4 lander had germinated, the South China Morning Post reports. Liu Hanlong, chief of the first biological growth experiments on the moon, said rapeseed and potato seeds have also sprouted, but cotton was first. The lander also brought rock cress, fruit fly eggs, and yeast to the moon, all chosen because they were small, hardy organisms that could thrive in a confined space.
Chinese authorities say the seeds, dormant during the 20-day journey to the moon, started growing after ground control activated the watering system in the probe's "mini biosphere," which contains air and soil. Fred Watson, the Australian Astronomical Observatory's astronomer-at-large, tells the BBC that the growth could represent a big leap for mankind. The sprout "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," he says. "I think there's certainly a great deal of interest in using the moon as staging post, particularly for flights to Mars, because it's relatively near the Earth." (China has released a panorama of the moon's far side.)