Scientists for the first time have grown seeds in the soil from the moon samples retrieved during NASA missions in 1969 and 1972.
Researchers planted seeds of a diminutive flowering weed called Arabidopsis thaliana in 12 small thimble-sized containers each bearing a gram of moon soil, more properly called lunar regolith, and watched as they sprouted and grew.
Lunar regolith, with its sharp particles and lack of organic material, differs greatly from Earth soil, so it was unknown whether seeds would germinate.
Researchers saw abundance of green sprouts cast over all of the samples, it took our breath away. This opens the door to future exploration using resources in place on the moon and likely Mars.
Arabidopsis, also called thale cress, is widely used in scientific research, including previous experiments in orbit, owing to its speedy life cycle and a deep understanding of its genetics.
NASA made available 12 grams – just a few teaspoons — of regolith collected during the Apollo 11, Apollo 12, and Apollo 17 missions.
The researchers planted three or four seeds in a dozen containers moistened with a nutrient solution, then placed them in a laboratory at about 73 degrees Fahrenheit (23°C) under LED lights giving off a pink hue.
The seeds sprouted within three days. After about a week of growth, the researchers removed all but one plant from each container. The one was left to grow until it was 20 days old, with its leaves then harvested to assess gene activity.
Regolith that had experienced longer exposure to cosmic rays and solar wind on the lunar surface was less hospitable to growth.