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Cotton Sprout on the Moon Has Perished

The experiment is still seen as historic
By Luke Roney,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 16, 2019 4:36 PM CST
The lunar lander of the Chang'e-4 probe is seen in a photo taken by the rover Yutu-2 on Jan. 11, 2019.   (China National Space Administration/Xinhua News Agency via AP)

(Newser) – Just a day after announcing that it had successfully sprouted a cotton plant aboard a probe on the moon’s surface, the China National Space Administration said Wednesday that the plant died with the onset of the frigid lunar night, the Guardian reports. Nighttime temperatures on the moon can plummet to -280 degrees Fahrenheit, and the night can last for two weeks. Nonetheless, per Newsweek, the short-lived experiment is being seen as a historic achievement. “Of course, plants have been grown in Earth orbit,” David Grinspoon of the Planetary Science Institute tells the magazine. “But there is a symbolic potency in the fact that these are the first plants grown on another world.”

In addition to the cotton seeds, the experiment reportedly included potato seeds, rockcress seeds, and yeast, along with fruit fly eggs all in a sealed canister. Scientists hoped that a micro-ecosystem would be created. None of the other seeds appeared to sprout, and the Chinese space agency did not say whether the fruit flies hatched, per the Guardian. The agency says that the items in the canister will decompose over time and, since the canister is sealed, they will not contaminate the moon's environment. Speaking to Newsweek, Grinspoon says, “I suspect this biospheric aspect of human space habitation will be much more difficult than engineers think,” but, he adds, “Growing a plant on the moon is a tiptoe in that direction.” (This awesome shot of Earth was taken from 70 million miles away.)

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