Chang'e 4 cotton seed experiment fails as the plant dies

Earlier this week, we talked about the first plant to sprout on the far side of the moon as part of China's Chang'e 4 mission. The scientific world was aflutter with word of the little cotton seed having sprouted. Word has now surfaced that the young plant has died.

The plant reportedly died after freezing far side temperatures returned in the night. The plant and a few other biological organisms were sent to the moon as part of the mission to investigate the sustainability of putting a lunar base there. In addition to the cotton seed that China sent on the mission, the growth enclosure included rapeseed, potato, rock cress, yeast, and fruit flies.

The organisms were placed into a 7-inch tall tin that had air, water, and soil inside. The goal was to create a biosphere inside the tin with the theory being that the plants would produce oxygen while the fruit flies would live on yeast and the oxygen the plants made. Mission systems for the biosphere worked until January 12 when the lunar night started to fall.

On the far side of the moon, the night is the equivalent of 14 days on Earth. When night fell the support systems in the tin were turned off as the organisms in the tin froze in temperatures of -50C. When day returns the rising temperatures will cause the frozen matter to decompose inside the tin.

No changes were reported to have occurred with any of the other seeds in the experiment. While this part of the Chang'e 4 mission failed, China is still working on detecting signals that might reveal the origins of the universe. Yutu 2, the rover that is cruising the moon's surface, will continue to explore as well. That rover is in sleep mode during the lunar night.