The Moon Kills Visitors
China’s experiment to grow plants on the moon failed in one day.
So close to the green planet Earth, with its lush habitats filled with thriving organisms small and great, our moon is no place for life. Astronauts can only survive for short periods protected by bulky spacesuits. Now, an experiment to try to grow plants on the moon failed soon after the seeds sprouted.
At first, news media were exuberant that China’s latest moon lander named Chang’e 4, which landed January 2 on the lunar far side in a space first (Space.com), sprouted seeds in a special experiment. On January 15, the BBC News announced with hope and fanfare, “It marks the first time any biological matter has grown on the Moon, and is being seen as a significant step towards long-term space exploration.” Of course, special protections had to be given the cotton seeds:
The organisms inside have a supply of air, water and nutrients to help them grow. But one of the challenges, say Chinese scientists, is to keep the temperature favourable for growth when conditions on the Moon swing wildly between -173C and 100C or more.
They also have to control the humidity and nutrients. Some have raised the question of whether the experiment risks “contaminating” the Moon with biological material, but scientists generally think this is of little concern.
Alas, by the next earth day, the little sprouts had all died. “Those Tiny Cotton Sprouts China Grew on the Moon? They’re Dead Now,” wrote Rafi Letzter at Live Science.
Yes, the plants were stunted compared with the earthbound control plants. But they had just survived a space launch and difficult journey to the moon, and were growing in the low gravity and high radiation of extraterrestrial space. They were the first plants ever to grow on the lunar surface. None of the other species that made the trip with them showed any similar signs of life.
Now they’re dead. And it’s all the moon’s fault.
At New Scientist, Sam Wong bemoaned the short experiment. “Goodbye, moon garden, we hardly knew ye.” One lunar night was enough to do them in. Letzter says, “the cold shock to the cotton was likely brutal and sudden.” He explains,
As night fell on the region of the far side of the moon where Chang’e-4 sits, temperatures plunged in the 5.7-lbs. (2.6 kilograms) mini biosphere. Hanlong reportedly said that the temperature inside the chamber had fallen to minus 62 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 52 degrees Celsius), and could continue to plunge to minus 292 degrees F (minus 180 degrees C). The experiment is effectively over, as the lander has no onboard mechanism for keeping the experiment warm without sunlight.
How Different the Earth!
The moon is at the same distance from the sun as earth, but lacks any atmosphere or water. Those and the absence of a magnetic field expose the moon to the onslaught of solar wind, cosmic rays and the untempered heat from the sun and the cold of space. Here are some of the factors that will make any long-term moon survivability challenging:
- Excessive heat in daylight, up to 212° F.
- Excessive cold at night, down to -280° F.
- Wild swings of 500 degrees between day and night.
- Exposure to cosmic rays.
- Exposure to the solar wind, impacting at high speed because of no magnetic field.
- No liquid water, although some ice might exist in shaded polar craters.
- No atmosphere.
- Lack of essential minerals and nutrients for life.
- Charged lunar dust that moves like bullets around the surface.
- Meteoritic dust, micrometeorides and large impactors moving at unmitigated speeds without an atmosphere.
There are some hardy organisms that might survive on the moon for a time. “Deinococcus radiodurans is an extremophilic bacterium, one of the most radiation-resistant organisms known,” Wikipedia says. “It can survive cold, dehydration, vacuum, and acid, and is therefore known as a polyextremophile and has been listed as the world’s toughest bacterium in The Guinness Book Of World Records.” Water bears (tardigrades) are tiny arthropods that have been found to endure the vacuum of space for extended periods. On such an inhospitable surface at the moon, however, long-term survival for growth and reproduction of these extremophiles is highly unlikely, and certainly no evolutionists believe that these organisms originated there.
A human astronaut would not survive more than a few seconds if his spacesuit tore or faceplate shattered (watch astronaut Chris Hadfield describe what happens to an exposed astronaut in space on YouTube). Because of the solar wind, a human outpost on the moon would probably have to be built underground, perhaps inside one of the lava tubes known to exist. And they would have to bring tons of earth habitat with them, even if it is granted that a few materials could be mined from the lunar surface. The only astronauts who have been there complained about the intense glare of the sun and the dust that got into everything. Because of the temperature extremes, they were only stay during brief hours of the lunar day when the temperature was tolerable.
About the only thing the moon has going for it is low carbon emissions. Global warmists might like that.
This is important to remember when futurists talk about the moon as a launching pad to Mars and other star systems. We hope a permanent colony can be built for scientific reasons, but don’t expect anything like a self-sustaining city any time soon. The moon could not be terraformed, because an artificial atmosphere would be stripped away, and organisms would be exposed to high mutation rates from charged particles. In addition, the constant influx of meteoritic material would be an unmitigated rain of death.
CEH supports space exploration. One great reason is that every new finding reinforces our awe at how incredible special the Earth is designed for life.