Planting Seeds on the Moon!
Above: A photography from the study showing the sprouted plants in moon soil.
In an incredible advancement in the field of astrobotany (one of the most excitingly named fields of science), plants have been successfully grown in soil collected from the moon's surface. Scientists from the University of Florida used lunar regolith soil for their experiment and found that every single seed germinated.
The soil samples originally came from the Apollo 11, 12, and 17 missions and as a control group another group was planted in a batch of terrestrial soil designed to replicate lunar material (JSC-1A). These soil samples were all collected in basaltic regions and some contained trapped gasses and glass fragments formed by meteorite impacts. This would mean the soil was quite different from something you might scoop in your backyard.
Only a few days after planting, scientists found that every pot had been successfully germinated in the moon soil. The planet, Arabidopsis thaliana, was chosen as a model organism and after 20 days each specimen was removed for testing. Though they'd sprouted as expected, the experiment was not without problems. The growth of the lunar soil plants was slow going and showed signs of stress. These reactions were similar to plants exposed to salts or metals. This means that while it was certainly possible to grow life in lunar soil, it wouldn't happen easily.
This study will have an incredible impact on the future of extraterrestrial habitation. Now that it has been shown that propagation of terrestrial plants is possible in extraterrestrial soil, the next step is figuring out how to counter the problems of growth and stress the plants faced in the soil. Perhaps some day the experiment will even advance to growing plants on the moon itself!
The full study is available in Nature.
Interested in learning more about astrobotany and moon plants? Check out the Apollo 14 Moon Tree experiment specimen here!