Plants can be grown on the Moon, study claims

lunar greenhouse

It would not be just any type of plant and could not grow anywhere on the surface, but at the moment there is a study that unveils that certain types of plants could germinate on the Moon having succeeded in doing so in samples of lunar regolith brought from our satellite.

Regolith is the name given to the accumulation of materials deposited on the surface, in this case of the Moon

The study has been published in the journal Nature Communications Biology and the authors note that samples of the fast-growing plant Arabidopsis Thaliana would have germinated in different samples of the lunar regolith brought to Earth by different space missions.

By the term regolith is known the accumulation of unconsolidated materials and detritus deposited on the surface, in this case of the Moon, coming mostly from the rain of fragments from falling meteorites and micrometeorites that, upon impacting the surface of the satellite, project fragmented and even pulverized minerals.

This is not the first occasion on which an attempt has been made to cultivate lunar soil, but it has been the first in which success has been obtained. The difficulty lies in the fact that the lunar regolith, very different from terrestrial soil, lacks organic matter (bacteria, worms, decomposition products of plant species…) in addition to care completely devoid of water in solution.

However, since the mineral composition is similar to the terrestrial one, it would be sufficient to regulate the conditions of solar illumination and humidification artificially so that, as has been achieved in the laboratory, terrestrial plant species could germinate in the lunar regolith.

This has been achieved from samples brought back by the Apollo 11, Apollo 12 and Apollo 17 spacecraft in the 1970s. The analysis shows that what most affects the growth of plants grown in lunar regolith has to do with the composition of the regolith in terms of salts, metals and highly reactive oxygen, which does not exist on Earth.

As a “contrast soil ” a crop was established that tried to mimic the characteristics of lunar regolith based on basaltic and volcanic materials. The most notable difference was found in the tendency for crystallization of the lunar materialthis is due to the fact that the absence of gravity on our satellite means that meteorite and micrometeorite impacts are able to agglutinate the minerals that make up the soil in the form of crystals.

This causes the less “mature” regolith to be more favorable depending on whether it has remained unaltered for a longer time by this reaction caused by meteoric impacts. Therefore, the “calmer” regions, because they receive less impact, would be the most favorable for lunar cultivation.

Finally, and as is usually the case with the vast majority of scientific research related to space, beyond its obvious usefulness with a view to the possible establishment of colonies on the Moon, the findings derived from this study are also of application on our planet by the analysis obtained of the most favorable conditions for cultivation as a function of the nature of the soil.

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