Chang’E 4 was the first lander to soft land on the far side of the Moon in January. The lander has led to significant geological discoveries about the regolith and inner layers of the moon.
One of the experiments aboard the lander was an apparatus to cultivate plants for the first time on our closest cosmic neighbour. The experiment consisted of a mini biosphere with seeds of cotton, arabidopsis and potato along with fruit-fly eggs and yeast. Cotton was the only plant that was able to grow within the biosphere. However, in the end, even cotton couldn’t cut it.
For the 14 Earth days the Sun is up on the moon, the temperatures rise to a searing 127°C. Though, after sundown, temperatures drop to -170°C which also lasts for 14 Earth days. As reported earlier, the plant could not survive past the first lunar day time of the lander. While plants have been grown in space aboard the ISS, it was the first attempt on the moon. Although unsuccessful, a plant did sprout on the lunar surface and provided important data for future missions.
As reported by IEEE Spectrum, the team has released an image of the two cotton leaves that sprouted on the moon. The image is a 3D reconstruction of the plant based on image processing and data analysis. It was initially thought that there was only one leaf, however, reconstruction revealed that there are indeed two cotton leaves. It was the first successful botanical experiment on the moon. The experiment was continued till May in order to test the life span.
If humans one day are to become an interplanetary species, then such experiments that test the limits of biological growth on cosmic bodies are important. While the experiment did not last long it provided important information for future missions.
Image Credit: Chongqing University