Cottoning on: Chinese seed sprouts on moon

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Before China finished packing up its Chang'e 4 lunar lander to be blasted off on a never-before-accomplished journey to the far side of the moon, scientists slipped in a small tank holding plant seeds.

The mission, titled Chang'e 4, is meant to accomplish a range of tasks, including conducting the first lunar low-frequency radio astronomy experiment and exploring whether there is water at the moon's poles.

The complete list of six organisms chosen to go to the moon includes cotton, rapeseed, potato, rock cress, yeast, and fruit flies.

Cotton seeds carried by China's Chang'e-4 moon probe have become the first biological matter to grow on the moon.

Liu Hanlong, who is leading the experiment, said that the cotton seeds were the first to sprout, in comments to the South China Morning Post.

Researchers at Chongqing University are conducting an experiment to observe how plants can grow in low-gravity environments and in the natural lighting conditions of the moon.

"In the past, we were always rushing to catch up to the advanced global standards" in space, said Wu Weiren, the chief designer of China's lunar exploration project.

Like this story? Share it with a friend! Keeping the temps within an acceptable range is one of the most hard parts of the experiment, as the Moon swings from a freezing -279 to 212 degrees Fahrenheit (-173 to 212 degrees Celsius) or above.

"We have given consideration to future survival in space".

They only began growing once ground control centre sent a command to the probe to water the seeds. Cotton could be used for clothing, rapeseed for oil, and the potatoes a source of food.

Fred Watson, the Australian Astronomical Observatory's astronomer at large, described the development to the BBC as "good news".

"It suggests that there might not be insurmountable problems for astronauts in future trying to grow their own crops on the moon in a controlled environment".

Wu also revealed that China will send a probe to Mars around 2020.

According to NASA, it will be one of the sky's "most dazzling shows", as the moon will be at its closest point to Earth, making the moon appear slightly bigger and a lot brighter, an event that is often referred to as a "supermoon".

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