Crops in Martian Soil

 

Astronaut Farmer

Martian and Moon soil is surprisingly fertile, and new research suggests it may someday be possible to harvest crops grown at off-world colonies.

When Wageningen University scientists tried to grow ten different crops in soils developed by NASA to mimic that found on Mars and the Moon, nine of them grew edible parts and viable seeds, according to research published this month in the journal Open Agriculture.

While future off-world farmers will have to grapple with countless other problems — like, uh, the lack of an atmosphere — the experiment is still a tentative good sign for the future of off-world settlements.

First Steps

The plants grown in simulated Martian or lunar soil weren’t as successful as those grown in normal Earth conditions, and in most cases the mock Martian crops fared better than the Moon plants. Still, vegetables like tomatoes, radishes, rye, and quinoa grew in both types of space soil, with spinach as the lone casualty.

“We were thrilled when we saw the first tomatoes ever grown on Mars soil simulant turning red,” project leader Wieger Wamelink said in a press release. “It meant that the next step towards a sustainable closed agricultural ecosystem had been taken.”

READ MORE: Soil on moon and Mars likely to support crops [De Gruyter via Phys.org]
More on Mars farming: Contaminating Mars With Microbes Could Kickstart Colonization
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Aliens: Spy Probe Orbiting The Sun

 

Alien Spies

A physicist who’s on the hunt for extraterrestrial life says there’s a chance that an ancient alien civilization has been spying on Earth for millions of years.

That’s not to say that he’s suggesting they walk among us, but physicist and independent SETI researcher James Benford suggests that aliens could have visited a rock orbiting the Sun in a path similar to that or Earth, according to Live Science. While such an extraterrestrial visit is extremely unlikely, it’s technically within the realm of possibility that alien tech is sitting on one of those so-called co-orbitals, waiting to be uncovered.

The Gist

Every so often — roughly twice every billion years — another star will venture within a light-year of Earth, per Live Science. Since Earth is a couple billion years old, Benford argues in research published this month in The Astronomical Journal that it’s technically possible that an advanced civilization could have come close enough to launch an expedition to our solar system.

“This is essentially extraterrestrial archaeology I’m talking about,” Benford told Live Science.

Long Shot

Of course, that relies on a whole bunch of assumptions — that extraterrestrial life exists, developed advanced technology, lived near one of those nearby stars, and took interest in Earth.

“How likely is it that alien probe would be on one of these co-orbitals, obviously extremely unlikely,” Arizona State University physicist and astrobiologist Paul Davies, who didn’t contribute to Benford’s research, told Live Science.

READ MORE: Could E.T. Have Bugged a Space Rock to Listen In on Earthlings? [Live Science]
More on SETI: Scientists Are Terrified of SETI Research