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Mars needs minerals: Researchers are trying to turn the Red Planet green

It can take seven months – or more – to get to Mars. NASA can send supplies to the International Space Station if necessary, but the same does not apply to the distant planet. Instead, astronauts spending any time on Mars will have to rely on what is known as the use of resources on the ground (ISRU) – using what is around to replace objects brought from Earth. This includes food that will eventually have to be grown there to help long-term residents. Instead of pulling bags of manure into the spacecraft, researchers are trying to figure out how to deal with what’s on earth, ie. with Martian soil.

Thanks to NASA’s rovers and landers, scientists know about the pH and mineral composition of the planet̵

7;s soil, which is known as regolith. Mars gets its red color from the oxidation of rocks, regolith and dust. Under the dust is the bark, which contains iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium and more elements, according to NASA. But their presence is not enough to ensure that the plants can thrive there. Nutrients may not exist in usable or bioavailable form. The levels of some can be toxic.

Space: Gallery of possible worlds

Some research has shown that it is theoretically possible to grow plants in replicated Martian soil, but there are not large enough samples of actual Martian regolith to be sure. Since there is no way to make agricultural experiments on Mars itself, scientists are trying to reproduce the conditions on Earth. Researchers at the Florida Institute of Technology recently attempted to grow Arabidopsis thaliana, a weed, and Lactuca sativa, lettuce, in a trio of Martian simulators by Regolith. These simulators are mixtures of artificial and natural materials that mimic a basaltic Martian surface. The researchers found that neither plant was in the synthetic soil without the addition of additional nutrients.

“These findings underscore that ISRU nutrient solutions are likely to be at a lower level of technological readiness than previously thought,” the researchers wrote in the study, which will be published in Icarus. For example, it is a mistake to assume that regolith is the same all over the planet. “Our strategy was, instead of saying that this simulant grows plants, so to mean that we can grow plants anywhere on Mars, we have to say that Mars is a diverse planet,” said Andrew Palmer, an associate professor of ocean engineering and marine science. in front of Florida Tech News.

In another new study, also published in Icarus, researchers break down the preparation of five new types of simulators on Mars. Laura Fakrel, a doctoral student at the University of Georgia in Athens, and her colleagues have created mixtures specifically formulated with Martian regolith characteristics that can make it difficult to grow plants. T The soil may have high salinity or low levels of organic matter. Such conditions may require future inhabitants of Mars to add other minerals and components to their gardens before planting. “Specific species of bacteria and fungi are known to be beneficial to plants and may be able to sustain them under the stress we observe on Mars,” Farrell told TNW.

To test the fake dirt on Mars, Fackrell tried to grow several plants, including moth beans. They do better with less water than other options she’s tried: “But they’re not necessarily super healthy,” Farrell told Science News.

It will be years before humans reach Mars, but in the meantime, research on growing plants in difficult environments can be translated to Earth, where temperatures are rising. Fackrell studies microbes that live in hot springs. “Everything we learn about Mars agriculture can help agriculture in challenging environments on Earth that help us build a sustainable future,” she told Florida Tech News.

For more news on Mars, read about how there was once a salt lake on the red planet and how research reveals lakes beneath the surface of Mars.

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