The first plant to be grown on the Moon has died after the Chang'e-4 module in which it was being propagated was shut down for the duration of the Moon's 14-day lunar night.
Chang'e-4 was powered down to ‘sleep mode' to conserve energy. The temperature can fall to as low as -180 degrees at night on the Moon because it lacks an atmosphere capable of trapping heat, giving the cotton seedling little chance of survival.
The death was not unanticipated by the research team in China, with the experiment intended to test whether, under the right conditions, plants commonly grown on Earth could be encouraged to grow in the microgravity of the Moon, exposed to cosmic radiation.
The now dead cotton seedling was one of a handful of plants carried on-board the Chang'e-4 lunar module.
Professor Xie Gengxin of Chongqing University, chief designer of the experiment, said that the seeds - cotton, rapeseed, Arabidopsis, seed potatoes and yeast, as well as the eggs of a fruit fly - had been selected for a number of straightforward reasons.
Xie told the Xinhua newswire that potatoes could be a major source of food for future space travellers. The growth period of arabidopsis, a small flowering plant related to cabbage and mustard, is short and easy to observe. Yeast could play a role in regulating carbon dioxide and oxygen in the mini biosphere, and the fruit fly would be a consumer of the photosynthesis process.
After Chang'e-4 was safely landed on the dark side of the Moon - so-called because it is never seen from Earth - ground control instructed the probe to water the plants to kick-off germination, while sunlight was reflected onto the propagation cannisters.
The China National Space Administration (CNSA) said that the organic matter would be left to decompose naturally and that, enclosed in the cannister, the material would not affect the lunar environment.
While more time could have been given to the plants to grow if the module had been landed at a better time, Chang'e-4 will now monitor temperatures during the lunar night as part of preparations for a planned permanent Moon base.
And this weekend, North America and parts of Europe will be able to witness a ‘Super Blood Wolf Moon' as part of 2019's total lunar eclipse.
Cotton seedling freezes to death as Chang'e-4 shuts down for the Moon's 14-day lunar night
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