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China Grew Two Cotton Leaves on the Moon (ieee.org)
331 points by headalgorithm 21 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 129 comments


Recent article with actual photo (not just the CGI rendering)

> ‘They said, perhaps feeling a little embarrassed, that they wanted to make use of our relay satellite when they make their own mission to the far side of the moon.’

lol to the "perhaps feeling a little embarrassed" bit - small jab.

Does not seem recently updated: "Updated: 13:29 EDT, 16 January 2019"

I don’t think I have ever seen such an aggressive shaking gdpr popup

And that pop up might be the least offensive thing about that paper.

How is this much different than growing within a space station in orbit? Didn’t the plant grow in its own mini biosphere (soil) separate from the moon surface, essentially isolated from the lunar environment other than light and heat?

Well, it's undergoing a ~1.6m/s gravitational acceleration instead of earth's ~9.8, or the microgravity of the space station. Even from the small amount of growth seen in the photo, it looks like that's enough for it to orient its stem better than space station grown plants. That strikes me as interesting.

Partially isolated. The article mentions that it died during the 14 day lunar night.

Maybe the moon's gravity? Or temperature cycle differences?

From the article, "But, the plants will not be able to survive the lunar night, when temperatures dip down to -170 degrees Celsius."

I wonder if that part was expected or if something broke down. Strange to go to all the work of planting a seed and creating the proper environment with light routing knowing that it will last only a single lunar day.

Seems likely that the insulation or power system did not work as designed.

I'd suspect it's a "tack on" experiement. They were doing a bunch of experiments and wanted to see if a plant could even germinate in a low gravity environment. Now that they know it can germinate, it is worth the money to see if i t could last longer.

Or this was just a propaganda play.

I searched google for a plant growing in actual Moon soil (regolith) and found nothing. Several labs have tried simulated Moon soil. Chang'e used a bioreactor rather than Moon soil.

Isn't the photo some bad CGI?

I doubt it. Similar experiments on the ISS looked exactly the same.

Edit: Nevermind, the IEEE article photo is definitely a render. I was referring to the picture on the Guardian.

It really appears that way. Even the "earth" surrounding the leaves is odd. I'm not sure it could be attributed to any weird artificial lighting.

Looks like a bad 3D render... which it is?

Why do we get titles like this? It's so weird.

If this were a NASA thing I promise you the title wouldn't be "USA Grew Two Cotton Leaves on the Moon".

Everything Chinese is reduced to "China".

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcissism_of_small_difference... - people see their ingroup as distinct and unique while reducing outgroups to a borg. It's basically a logical fallacy perpetuated by everybody.

NASA's brand is much better known than CNSA's.

Gee... do you think maybe that's because NASA's achievements are attributed to NASA while CNSA's are attributed to "China"?

I think it is because NASA

1. is 30 years older

2. did that whole "men on the moon" thing

3. is featured frequently in U.S. media, which is consumed around the world.

Also, the CNSA refers to everything it does as China's accomplishments: http://www.cnsa.gov.cn/english/index.html.

That's both a cause and an effect. Getting a brand off the ground is hard, and presumably CNSA is not too bothered by representing its host country.

(edit: found the link to article with the real picture)

Not going to lie, I'm impressed that they pulled this off, and it's really, really cool!

It is interesting that something similar was the original concept for what turned into Space X. So it's not really an original idea.


(VIDEO) https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=bjGiY8Suk9o

I was hoping they would use lunar "dirt". I mean this experiment doesn't seem like it even had to be on the moon due to the closed-off environment. It's still cool but I feel like more could have been learned here.

Do plants grow well in microgravity/low gravity is still not well understood. Growing stuff on the moon, especially more complex plants, is still quite valuable to our understanding of whether we can sustain life off world.

I'm less familiar with Lunar "dirt" (aka regolith) than Martian regolith, but it's very likely that Lunar regolith isn't capable of supporting life. Martian regolith is a highly toxic blend of perchlorates, oxides, and extremely dry jagged minerals. The lack of a water cycle means that weathering behaves very differently, and the resulting material is considerably sharper and finer than the stuff on Earth. It also, of course, lacks any of the organic content that you'd need to make healthy soil.

With all the lunar rocks brought back by the Apollo missions, it's sad if no researchers tried to grow things in it.

Those rocks are highly controlled, however there are scientists investigating whether soil can be made from simulated regolith.

Many have wound up in private hands, and others just sit uselessly in museums.

Besides, what more valuable research could be done with them than answering "can we grow crops in lunar dirt" and "what do we need to mix in the lunar dirt to get crops to grow"?

I believe most still remain in a sealed vault, stored in a nitrogen environment, and only rarely are damaged or passed to other scientists for study.

We might want to understand:

The rate at which solar radiation impacts one side of lunar rock vs another (all the specimens were sampled with their orientation photographed). The composition of different lunar materials in different places. The alignment of various internal crystal or magnetic elements to better understand the moon and Earth's history. If we get very lucky, we might pick up a rock that came from Mars, or somewhere else, and we can understand the creation of our own solar system. Solar radiation leaves its mark on the rocks, and provides us a record of our sun's history if we can learn to read it.

We might want to understand whether a lunar regolith sample was capable of sustaining life, but the way we do that is not just grab the existing samples and put a seed in them. They are far too rare and precious. Better to try and understand everything about them and their formation, then try to create as accurate a simulation as possible.

> Better to try and understand everything about them and their formation, then try to create as accurate a simulation as possible.

Why is that better? Learning if they can support life seems far, far more valuable and practical than better understanding of its geological history.

If crops can grow in it, then a moon base becomes far more practical, and with a moon base you'll have all the rocks you want for further study.

I.e. priority should go to "what do we need to know to build a sustainable moon base". Understanding solar formation history is of doubtful immediate value.

Good question. I'm guessing that solar history could inform things like the histories of other world and their compositions. We might be better able to predict where to find water, or learn why Mars has no magnetic field.

If we can manufacture lunar regolith, and it's 99.9 percent the same, why use the real stuff (which is literally priceless) ?

If we can manufacture lunar regolith, then the real thing is not needed for any other studies, either!

> which is literally priceless

The price we'll pay for not using it will be the cost of extra missions to the moon to do those experiments there. We cannot plan a moon base without knowing whether crops will grow there or not.

is the photo real? looks like cheap cgi render.

Doesn't look like any lunar regolith was involved.

Yeah, it's one thing to ship a canister to the lunar surface and then witness a tiny bit of growth, it's quite another to actually grow using the base aggregates available on the moon. While I appreciate their experiment, it's really a pretty small result. And perhaps the real headline would be something like "4 out of 5 expected growths failed to occur and scientists don't know why". The fruit flies didn't hatch, the yeast didn't colonize, and the other two seedlings failed to grow at all. The theory was that all of them would grow in the artificial biozone and maybe even provide a CO2/O2 cycle. But they didn't, and that's the real science.

Why does it say image processing? How did they record the experiment if they had to process or maybe even render the picture?

Does this mean we have colonised moon? (in reference to The Martian movie)

I think the main difference at least in accordance to the movie is this wasn't activating lunar soil, it was using earth soil on the moon.

Did they send a seedling or did they actually grow something from a seed?

So where's the planetary protection complaints on this one?

This image is fake?

Re-read these comments; there's lots of links to better sources/images.

Link is down- heres'a an older related article with a photo of the sprout https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/jan/16/china-first-...

Yours has a much more believeable photo. Here's a mirror of the original with the weird picture everyone is talking about. https://web.archive.org/web/20190930160024/https://spectrum....

Is it acceptable that ieee.org posts an article with a faked photo?

Calling it "faked" is somewhat hyperbolic.

The article refers to it as an "image" (as opposed to a raw source photo) that it clearly states is the result of "image processing".

It's common practice in science to produce such representative images, e.g. in a lot of astronomy, space photgraphy, and things like SEMs

it clearly states is the result of "image processing".

I see no such statement, clearly or otherwise.

It's common practice in science to produce such representative images

Maybe this is one reason why a growing number of people don't believe scientists anymore.

"Representative images" sounds like the fine print in a used car ad.

"The team behind a pioneering biological experiment sent to the lunar far side has released an image showing two green leaves grown on the moon."

"Image processing has now shown that two cotton leaves had grown—rather than just one as initially thought—in what was the first biological growth experiment on the moon."

"Photo: Chongqing University

Two cotton leaves grown in the Chang’e-4 lander on the far side of the moon."

Photo = "Photograph"

Photo ≠ "We made this cool rendering of what we imagine something like this would look like."

Replying to the other comment on this, it's too deep for a normal reply but a hubble composite and a 3d render have very little to do with one-another outside the fact that they're both images.

"Photo" is used synonymously with "image" or "rendering" depending on the context, e.g. try searching for "Hubble photography" and you'll find plenty of examples of cool renderings from aggregated photographic source data.

Sure, Hubble images are seldom seen raw, but the resulting images are based on actual photos. This however seems to have been an outright illustration, and should have be labelled as such.

The caption for the image on the IEEE article :

"Photo: Chongqing University

Two cotton leaves grown in the Chang’e-4 lander on the far side of the moon."

I don't maintain the IEEE site, so I guess I can't be sure, but that seems more of a CMS default label for image credits than a deliberate statement on the nature of the content.

Spectrum has been a verily low quality publication for a long as I know it (about 10y).

ieee.org (and IEEE Xplore, etc) has gone downhill very fast recently accompaning their design downgrade to an all JS based website. I guess content follows form.

> The plant relied on sunlight at the moon’s surface, but as night arrived at the lunar far side and temperatures plunged as low as -170C, its short life came to an end.

  Yossarian, I want you to do something for me. 
  [removes item from small bag] 
  I want to serve this to the men. 
  Taste it and let me know what you think.

  [Yossarian takes a bite]
  What is it?

  Chocolate-covered cotton.

  What are you, crazy?
  No good, huh?
  For Christ's sake, you didn't even take the seeds out!
  Is it really that bad?
  It's cotton!  
  They've got to learn to like it!


  Look, I saw this great opportunity to corner the market
  in Egyptian cotton. How was I supposed to know there
  was going to be a glut? 
  I've got a hundred warehouses stacked with the stuff all 
  over the European theater.
  I can't get rid of a penny's worth. People eat cotton 
  candy, don't they? 
  Well this stuff is better - it's made out of real cotton.
  Milo, people can't eat cotton!

  They've got to - it's for the Syndicate!
  It will make them sick! - why don't you try it yourself 
  if you don't believe me?

  I did - and it made me sick.
There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.

Please don't use the code tag for quoting, it is incorrect syntax. This is what your quote looks like on mobile: https://i.imgur.com/GnxokMn.png

If rotation lock is off, placing the display in landscape mode might improve your experience.

I can safely say this would not improve my experience even if it happens to fix the word-wrap issue here.

Also, this "fix" isn't sure-fire. In many cases, people who use code blocks for quoting aren't even inserting newlines, let alone in the places that match up with your screen's landscape width.

It’s better but still not great. Some lines still cut off, and one third of the screen is blank. Why doesn’t the code know how wide my screen is?

are you somehow unable to read monospace text or something? That looks fine to me

I assume the complaint is that it doesn't word wrap so most of the text is cut off.

Off-topic: has anyone seen the new Catch-22 series on Hulu? Is it worth watching? I recently finished the book and happened to notice they made a miniseries of it!

It's pretty good but not amazing. I enjoyed it because I read the book a long time ago. I bet if you read the book recently you wouldn't enjoy it as much.

I stopped after a couple of episodes. Maybe it picks up, but the book is one of my most treasured reads, and it just didn't seem to fit for me. It somehow misses the absurdism of the book. I could be being overly harsh, but... it just didn't seem to hit home.

I haven’t seen it. I only watch shows I’ve already seen.

Very decent, definitely watchable!

Did not even know this existed. Thanks!

I loved it, best thing I've seen in a while. Though I haven't read the book and didn't know how great it was.

Re-reading this right now. All time favorite.

I think Milo was my favorite character, too.

Please don't use code blocks for quotations. It ruins display/readability on mobile.

it feels like this is the 1.23E23th time I've read this - wouldn't it be time for HN to fix the css to make code-tags more readable (especially on mobile)?!

Sounds nice in theory, but the intention of code block is to capture how code looks--including where the lines break. That aspect of code blocks isn't broken.

The problem is people who use code blocks for what it wasn't intended to do-display quoted content.

Perhaps HN can add support for quotes, but even now there's nothing difficult with indicating a quote by adding a ">" to the start of the paragraph. Most, if not all, of HN readers will know what that means.

The problem is people who use code blocks for what it wasn't intended to do-display quoted content.

The problem is that it doesn't work, even on mobile, whether you're posting code or the Declaration of Independence.

At its heart, this web site is about communicating information. The current state of the code block fails at that mission.

Would you use an IDE without word wrap?

> Would you use an IDE without word wrap?

I wasn't aware it was controversial to use an IDE without word-wrap. I do not have it enabled on any of my editors.

"Enabled" is one thing. But it should be available. In HN's code blocks, it's not even an option.

How do you read code from codebases that don’t respect the arbitrary column limit?

I am flexible about how wide my editor is. Pretty much all code I read bounds itself to some sort of limit around 80-120 characters. If there are a few individual lines that exceed the current editor width, I can scroll. I don't have to work with any codebases that have ridiculously long lines.

To be honest, I don't often read such code, or I try to run it through a formatter prior to reading. I guess I should have said that I _generally_ don't have soft wraps enabled. Sometimes I just have to plug my nose and soft-wrap.

I just suck it up and scroll like a normal person.

A normal person has word wrap toggled

> Would you use an IDE without word wrap?

Yes? I find word wrap in code really weird.

Long lines are just annoying, wrap or no wrap.

I don't want to hit 'j' and drop down two 'lines' because what I thought was the next line was actually the end of this line.

I also don't want to hit '$' and go not to the end of the 'line' but somewhere below (and potentially left) because of the same.

But I also don't want to hit '$' and go out into space to the right and lose context from the surrounding reasonably-lengthed lines.

Just use the return key and nobody has to worry about whether to wrap or not to wrap.

We know what it means, but it’s still hard to distinguish at a glance what is quoted and what is not. It works in (plaintext) email because emails are traditionally word-wrapped and “>” is inserted at the start of each line – not once at the start of an arbitrarily long paragraph. And even then, email clients often color quoted blocks to further visually distinguish them.

Never had an issue with it on HN. 99% of quotes occur at the start of the post and the rest of the post is a reply.

Posts that interleave their content with quoted bits are rarely as constructive as they think (almost always just point-by-point bickering) that I find impossible to follow no matter what formatting they could've used for the quotes.

Also a single ">" prefix on a long wrapped line is a bit of internet convention with younger crowds probably thanks to 4chan. I doubt most people using it these days even remember seeing it in emails.

If anything, HN should post-process lines that start with ">" to indent them.

Code tags should not mess with line length. Instead you should quote formatting (`>`) for quotes (which HN doesn't support so it's all a bit moot).

He's quoting the font from catch 22 as well.

Please don't use mobile. Mobile form factor limitations are ruining the web.

People look at me funny when I take my laptop to the bathroom, though.

Are you serious?


It is from the novel Catch-22.

catch 22 by joeseph heller

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller


The pasted text is from the film script, which isn't really optimal for reading. The passage from the book[1] is a bit more readable. The scene does work well in the film, but it leaves a little something to be desired on the page.

The book is a classic; the film is pretty good but not groundbreaking the way the book is. The passage out of context lacks a bit of the overall flow that helps the book work. It looks like mere absurdism rather than the rigid but off-kilter logic that pervades the narrative. It's about the way the military forces you to buy into an authoritarian system as the only way to risk your own life for no reason you can see, which manifests as ridiculous incentives. And that goes well beyond military life, which is why the book is widely held as a classic.

I really can't say if you'd enjoy it or not, but if you like Monty Python and Douglas Adams you might find it reminiscent.

[1] https://www.google.com/books/edition/Catch_22/Xfze51E7TEoC?h...

Why do you think it is a terrible passage?

The scenario and dialog seems incredibly obtuse like a scene between Spongebob and Patrick.


The quote is totally irrelevant to this thread. The slight tangential relationship to the article is they both involve cotton. I'm wearing cotton right now, but it would be silly to think that's somehow relevant to the conversation about plants growing on the moon.

First thought, they didn't grow anything, they germinated a seed.

2nd thought, great we now left more fingerprints on the Petrie dish that is the moon.

What's with the obsession with keeping the moon and other planets barren?

There is an incomprehensible number of barren planets: 21.16 quadrillion in the Virgo Supercluster alone. We should be spreading life, not obsessing with keeping things 'clean'.

I don't want them to stay barren, to want to know if life exists before spreading our germs, and sneezing cotton everywhere.

If we find life surviving on one of the planets that we've been exploring, and it's so similar as to be indistinguishable from Earth life, then it almost certainly came from Earth on one of our missions. Even if an asteroid transplanted something that managed to take root millions of years ago, it would have endured some pretty severe evolutionary pressure by now (and probably didn't have any competition from native life).

Still, there are plenty of other planets where we can look for life and both the moon and mars are quite large, very unlikely we will contaminate any significant portion of it.

I'd like to see SpaceX grow Cannabis leaves on the moon.

This is actually sort of a ripoff of one of Elon's ideas. One of the original concepts that eventually snowballed into Space X was very similar.

He wanted to grow plants on Mars, and use the images to try to stir up interest in space exploration.


(VIDEO) https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=bjGiY8Suk9o

So would Elon.

> So would Elon

Symbolically, a mayflower [1] would be smarter.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epigaea_repens


> Personally I view Elon's action as a profound statement on why you shouldn't smoke cannabis.

I'll bite, what is your take on why you shouldn't?

Because Elon's success has nothing to do with cannabis. Maybe if he had taken up smoking cannabis, he wouldn't have been successful. He certainly demonstrated that he doesn't smoke cannabis.

How do you know that? What about that Carl Sagan guy? What a filthy worthless pothead, he did nothing of significance...

(Note: Carl Sagan was a huge advocate for marijuana, and credits it to the development of 'Cosmos' and some of his other scientific, spiritual, and creative endeavors. His widow, Ann Druyan, is on the boards of directors of NORML, which is a marijuana legalization/advocacy organization).

I think the obvious counter argument is: how much more could he have done?

Why is that obvious, or logical? He expanded his consciousness with plant compounds. If anything, I think the argument is: he would've done less.

Do you realize how much Carl Sagan achieved?

> Maybe if he had taken up smoking cannabis, he wouldn't have been successful

And maybe he would have been more successful. Maybe he also would have grown tiny little wings and horns. Who knows what could happen if he had taken it up?

This is nothing but pure speculation at this point lol

Because space man bad

I'd rather they grew the flowers!

Am I the only one who thinks the scientists are a bit immoral? They wanted to send a turtle and the only thing that stopped them were the constraints of the experiment. Not the fact that they would be killing a turtle for literally no reason.

Kinda makes me think about the fact that we need stronger ethics rules in the new space race.

Is that any more unethical than going out for wings, even if you aren't really hungry? Maybe you consider both of those things immoral, which is fine, but in that case there are far more animals dying for no real reason on Earth than in space. I would worry about those first.

The difference is that turtles are cuter than chickens, and despite what many people will argue, cuteness, physical beauty etc do have inherent moral worth.

Both NASA and the soviets sent animals into space that they knew weren’t coming back alive. Read up on Laika the dog if you’d like an example. I agree that it’s cruel but it’s no more cruel than things we’ve already done.

I’d argue that just because we have done something before doesn’t mean we should be doing it again. Also during the previous space race you could argue that it was a state of war and... (unfortunately) you have casualties.

”it is very meaningful to choose tortoise”

Can anyone explain this reference?

Well, besides the Soviet mission it mentioned that used tortoises in the past, I suspect the origin of the reference is in regard to the classic saying "It's tutles all the way down"


Not positive about that, but that's where my mind went :)

Tortoises are one of the celestial animals in feng shui, and are considered lucky.

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