Yesterday, the world rejoiced at the news that plants were growing on the surface of the moon for the very first time in history. This incredible feat of science was achieved thanks to a biology experiment shipped to the lunar far side by China’s Chang’e-4 lander, which successfully germinated a cotton bud on the moon, as reported by the Inquisitr.
However, the seedling that sprouted within the six-pound closed biosphere attached to the Chinese lunar lander did not make it, Futurism is reporting. It seems that the cotton sprouts have since been destroyed due to the freezing temperatures of the lunar night.
The news was broken by China’s state-run press agency Xinhua on the same day that the media outlet shared the exciting photos of the first plants to ever grow on the moon. According to the media outlet, the lunar night has fallen over the Chang’e-4 landing site on the far side of the moon, bringing frosty temperatures that can plummet as low as -170 degrees Celsius (-274 degrees Fahrenheit).
As a result, the cotton bud germinating in the Chang’e-4 biosphere has perished. While the news is certainly a sad one, this denouement was foreseen by the team that manages the experiment.
In a statement for Xinhua, experiment chief designer Xie Gengxin, dean of the Institute of Advanced Technology at Chongqing University, explained that it was clear all along that the sprouts would not be able to endure the freezing temperatures of the lunar night.
“Life in the canister would not survive the lunar night.”
China's moon lander sprouted a plant, but now it's dead – The Chang'e 4 lander's biosphere habitat hosted a short-lived cotton-growing experiment. https://t.co/aGZfh5bldt
— Future ♢ Megatrends (@TrendsFM) January 16, 2019
Aside from the short-lived cotton plant, the enclosure included potato, rape (Brassica napus), and rock cress (Arabidopsis), as well as fruit fly and silkworm eggs. Since no other plants germinated except for the now-dead cotton sprout, the experiment is now at an end, announced the China National Space Administration (CNSA).
Given that the lunar day and night each lasts for 14 Earth days, the remaining seeds and insect eggs still contained within the biosphere will most likely be rendered unviable after two weeks of light deprivation and freezing temperatures, notes Motherboard.
“The organisms will gradually decompose in the totally enclosed canister, and will not affect the lunar environment,” specified the CNSA.
First Biology Experiment On The Moon
All in all, the experiment lasted for about 213 hours, or nearly nine earth days, notes the Chinese news website Inkstone. The study officially began when the plants were first watered soon after the Chang’e-4 spacecraft landed on the far side of the moon on January 2.
While plants have been cultivated before on the International Space Station and on China’s Tiangong-2 space lab, this is the first time that sprouts have grown in the complex environment on the lunar surface.
— China Xinhua News (@XHNews) January 15, 2019
“We had no such experience before. And we could not simulate the lunar environment, such as microgravity and cosmic radiation, on Earth,” said Xie.
‘Sleep Mode’ For The Chang’e-4 Probe
The icy lunar night has taken its toll on the Chang’e-4 probe as well. On January 13, the lander and the Yutu-2 rover were placed into “sleep mode” to shield the spacecraft from the extremely cold temperatures currently found at the touchdown location inside the 116-mile Von Karman Crater.
This is the first big freeze that the rover and lander duo have had to face since descending on the lunar far side, reports Space.
— SPACE.com (@SPACEdotcom) January 15, 2019
In addition to studying the lunar landforms and the composition of the soil, the Chang’e-4 mission is also tasked with gathering data on the frosty temperatures of the lunar night.
“Chang’e-4 will measure the temperature differences between the day and night on the moon, helping scientists estimate the properties of the lunar soil,” Zhang He, executive director of the Chang’e-4 probe project from the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), told Xinhua.
Since the spacecraft will remain in “sleep mode” for the duration of the lunar night, Chang’e-4 will rely on a radioisotope heat source to perform these measurements.
“We need to transform heat into power to run the thermometry to measure the temperatures of the lunar surface at night,” said Tan Mei, a Chang’e-4 consultant from CAST.