The appearance of a single green leaf grown on the moon caused a stir among the astronomers. This was seen as a potential chance of setting up residence at outposts on the moon or other planets. But, the excitement barely lasted as the cotton plant on board China’s lunar rover has died as the temperature on the moon plummeted to -170 degrees.
The plant relied on sunlight, but as the night arrived at the lunar far side, and the temperature dropped drastically, the plant’s life came to an end. The design of the experiment was led by Prof Xie Gengxin of Chongqing University. He said that the plant’s short life was anticipated. “Life in the canister would not survive the lunar night,” Xie said.
The Chang’e-4 probe entered “sleep mode” as the first lunar night after landing. The night will last up to two weeks on the moon, after which the probe will come out of the night mode. The Yutu-2 also takes a nap in order to avoid overheating as the temperature reaches more than 120C. Unlike Earth, the moon doesn’t have its own atmosphere to resist extreme temperature.
The China National Space Administration said that the plants and seeds would eventually decompose in the totally enclosed canister, hence it wouldn’t have any effect on the lunar environment. Astronauts on the ISS have cultivated plants, but this is the first time a plant has been grown on the moon.
“We had no such experience before. And we could not simulate the lunar environment, such as microgravity and cosmic radiation, on earth,” Xie said.
As for the experiment, it included potato seeds, yeast, and Arabidopsis, or rockcress, a small, flowering plant of the mustard family, but none of these showed signs of having sprouted.
“Fruit flies are relatively lazy animals. They might not come out,” Xie told the Chinese news website, Inkstone.