The University of Central Florida (UCF) is selling Martian dirt at $20 (£16) per kilo, plus shipping, of course.
While it might sound like fake news, the research team of astrophysicists have promised it's not a joke, announcing how they have developed a scientifically-based, standardised method for creating Martian and asteroid soil known as simulants.
"The simulant is useful for research as we look to go to Mars," explained Physics Professor Dan Britt, a member of UCF's Planetary Sciences Group.
"If we are going to go, we'll need food, water and other essentials. As we are developing solutions, we need a way to test how these ideas will fare."
For example, scientists looking for ways to grow food on Mars need to test their techniques on soil that most closely resembles the stuff on Mars.
"You wouldn't want to discover that your method didn't work when we are actually there," Britt said. "What would you do then? It takes years to get there."
UCF's formula is based on the chemical signature of the soils on Mars collected by the Curiosity rover. Britt built two calibration targets that were part of Curiosity rover.
Researchers currently use simulants that aren't standardised, so any experiment can't be compared to another in an apples-to-apples kind of way, Britt said.
Kevin Cannon, the paper's lead author and a post-doctoral researcher who works with Britt at UCF, said there are different types of soil on Mars and on asteroids. On Earth, for example, we have black sand, white sand, clay and topsoil to name a few. On other worlds, you might find carbon-rich soils, clay-rich soils and salt-rich soils, he added.
"With this technique, we can produce many variations," Cannon said. "Most of the minerals we need are found on Earth although some are very difficult to obtain."
Nevertheless, Britt and Cannon believe there is a market for the simulant. At £15 a kilo, it might be easier to send UCF an order, than to try and make it in labs across the nation.
The team already has about 30 pending orders, including one from Kennedy Space Center for half a ton.
"I expect we will see significant learning happening from access to this material," Britt said.
Cannon believes it will help accelerate the drive to explore our solar system as demonstrated by investments already being made by Space X, Blue Origin and other private companies.
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