China confirms seeds sprouting on far side of moon

Lunar nighttime brings end to Chang'e-4 biosphere experiment and cotton sprouts                
          by                     Andrew Jones

(It touched down on the near side; Chang'e 4 is the first craft ever to land on the far side.) The scientific instruments on its lander are still operating after more than 60 lunar nights in the past five years.

To investigate this, the team packed seedlings for cotton, potato, rapeseed, and thale cress plants, along with yeast and fruit fly eggs. But this rover will do more than just roll around - Yutu 2 has a ground-penetrating radar on board that allows it to study the many layers of the moon below its surface.

While the Chang'e-4 takes care of the biological experiments, the Jade Rabbit 2 rover is recording images and collecting data on lunar water ice.

The lunar mini biosphere experiment on the lander is created to test photosynthesis and respiration - processes in living organisms that result in the production of energy.

The next mission in China's lunar exploration program, known as Chang'e-5, will head for the moon by the end of the year and bring samples back to Earth, the official Xinhua news agency quoted Wu Yanhua, deputy head of the China National Space Administration, as saying. NASA and the European Space Agency have scheduled the launches of their Mars surface rovers for that same time frame. Liu Hanglong, a professor at the school of civil engineering at Chongqing University, who is leading the bio-experiment, told the South China Morning Post, that the rapeseed could produce oil for astronauts, potatoes could feed them, and cotton could clothe them.

Many see the menacing blood moon as evidence of a biblical prophecy soon to be fulfilled: arguably the best-known book on the subject is titled "Four Blood Moons: Something is about to change". The whole experiment is contained within an 18cm tall, 3kg canister that was designed by 28 Chinese universities. The plants produced oxygen and food that are used to sustain the fruit flies.

To the Australian Astronomical Association astronomer-at-large, Fred Watson, the development was "good news", reports the BBC.

The China National Space Administration held a press conference on Monday in Beijing where the agency outlined its future plans.

"I think there's certainly a great deal of interest in using the Moon as staging post, particularly for flights to Mars, because it's relatively near the Earth", Mr Watson said.

Finally, the Chang'e-8 mission will test technologies and do "some preliminary exploration for countries to jointly build a lunar research base in the future", Wu said.

Chang'e-4 and its solar-powered Yutu 2 rover are hibernating during the 2-week-long lunar night, but their handlers are already thinking about sending probes to places where the sun nearly always shines.

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