Growing plants on mars and moon soil
Scientists from the Netherlands have proven that we can grow crops on martian and moon soil, further enticing our terraforming dreams of other planets. Life wants to give life even in the harshest of environments.
They discovered that essential minerals for plant growth were present in moon and martial soil except for the nutrient, nitrogen which is an essential nutrient for plant growth. The solution was to use nitrogen fixers.
These are plants that form symbiosis with bacteria which bind with nitrogen in the air to form nitrates.
Liquid water is also needed for plant growth, liquid water is absent on both moon and martian environments, with ice as the only form of water available.
The study therefore was to investigate if species of wild plants, crops and nitrogen fixers were able to grow in moon and martian soil, with earth soil as the control.
Crops found in the Netherlands were used for the experiment. These included Leopards bane, field mustard, common vetch (nitrogen fixer), lupin (nitrogen fixer) and crops such as carrots and tomatoes.
The study assumed that cultivation would be carried out in closed surroundings with earth like lighting and atmospherics conditions. Observations were analysed after a 50 day period.
The results show that moon soil is truly nutrient poor though it contained traces of nitrates and ammonium. Mars soil had nutrients such as nitrates and ammonium, with a significant amount of carbon.
The pH level of the all three soils were high. The pH of the moon soil was significantly higher that it may prove difficult to cultivate crops.
All plant species germinated on all three soils, with the exception of common vetch (nitrogen fixer) not being able to germinate on moon soil.
Germination percentage on Mars soil was the highest and moon soil had the lowest.
The percentage of leaf formation was generally lower than germination percentages, indicating that certain plants stopped developing or even died. Mars soil had the highest percentage for leaf formation, with moon soil having the lowest percentage.
Three species of plants – field mustard, rye and cress, were able to reach the stage of seed formation. Field mustard on Mars soil, and cres on both Earth and Mars soil.
Indicating that Mars soil performed much better than Earth soil, while Moon soil yielded the worst performances, with 3 species (Leopards bane, Field mustard, Common Vetch) not having any living plants left by the end of the experiment.
Species in Mars soil had the most biomass increment compared to Earth and Moon soils.
The Mars soil had a consistency that was similar to soil in Europe and was better able to retain water, explaining its success as compared Earth and Moon soil.
This has brought us one step closer to our dreams of colonizing Mars and other extraterrestrial bodies. Living on Mars may not be too far off in the distant future.
Article Source: Can Plants Grow on Mars and the Moon: A Growth Experiment on Mars and Moon Soil Simulants
Wamelink GWW, Frissel JY, Krijnen WHJ, Verwoert MR, Goedhart PW (2014) Can Plants Grow on Mars and the Moon: A Growth Experiment on Mars and Moon Soil Simulants. PLOS ONE 9(8): e103138. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0103138
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