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Plants Grow In Lunar Soil For The First Time

by : Aisha Nozari on :
Plants Grow In Lunar Soil For The First Time
Plants Grow In Lunar Soil For The First Time (Alamy)

Scientists have grown plants in soil collected from the moon for the first time ever. 

The dirt was collected by NASA’s Apollo astronauts and researchers were keen to discover whether or not lunar soil could be used by a new generation of space explorers to grow food.

The results stunned researchers at the University of Florida, who started planting seeds in moon soil last May.

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Robert Ferl, an Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences professor, exclaimed: “Holy cow. Plants actually grow in lunar stuff. Are you kidding me?”

Scientists have grown plants in soil collected from the moon for the first time ever. Credit: NASA
Scientists have grown plants in soil collected from the moon for the first time ever. Credit: NASA

He added, according to CBS: “We wanted to do this experiment because, for years, we were asking this question: Would plants grow in lunar soil? The answer, it turns out, is yes."

Anna-Lisa Paul, another of the study's authors, gushed: "We were amazed. We did not predict that. That told us that the lunar soils didn't interrupt the hormones and signals involved in plant germination."

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Ferl and his colleagues’ research was published on Thursday (12 May) in Communications Biology.

The researchers planted thale cress in moon soil returned to earth by Apollo 11’s Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin among other moonwalkers.

Despite seeds sprouting, flowering weeds became stressed by the lunar soil’s coarseness after just one week, meaning the plants grew more slowly than seedlings planted in fake moon dirt during previous experiments.

As a result, the plants became stunted. Researchers also found that plants fared worse in soil that had been exposed to cosmic radiation and solar wind for longer periods of time.

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The dirt was collected by NASA’s Apollo astronauts. Credit: Alamy
The dirt was collected by NASA’s Apollo astronauts. Credit: Alamy
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Out of all the samples collected by moonwalkers, Apollo 11 soil was the least optimal because it had been exposed to the elements for billions of years longer due to the lunar Sea of Tranquility’s older surface.

Moon dirt is packed with minuscule glass fragments from micrometeorite impacts that even wore down moonwalkers’ spacesuits.

Simon Gilroy, a space plant biologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who was not involved with the study, said: “This is a big step forward to know that you can grow plants. The real next step is to go and do it on the surface of the moon.”

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Out of the 842 pounds of moon rocks and soil brought back by Apollo crews, most was locked away.

However, last year NASA finally gave 12 grams to University of Florida researchers, allowing the long-waited plant to take place. 

Sharing the news on Thursday, NASA tweeted: “For the first time ever, scientists have grown plants in lunar soil.

“This @UF and @NASASpaceSci experiment using Apollo Moon samples could shape the future of sustainable astronaut missions to deep space.”

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