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Scientists to grow potatoes on Earth under Mars conditions

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Washington:  To save millions of lives on Earth, a team of world-class scientists is ready to grow potatoes in the most inhospitable environments under the tough Martian conditions.

The experiment, led by the International Potato Centre (CIP) in Peru and NASA, is a major step towards building a controlled dome on Mars capable of farming the invaluable crop.

“I am excited to put potatoes on Mars and even more so that we can use a simulated Martian terrain so close to the area where potatoes originated,” said Julio E Valdivia-Silva, research associate of NASA who is leading the project’s science team.

By using soils almost identical to those found on Mars, sourced from the Pampas de La Joya Desert in Peru, the teams will replicate Martian atmospheric conditions in a laboratory and grow potatoes.

The increased levels of carbon dioxide will benefit the crop, whose yield is two to four times that of a regular grain crop under normal Earth conditions.

The Martian atmosphere is near 95 percent carbon dioxide.

“The extraordinary efforts of the team have set the bar for extraterrestrial farming. The idea of growing food for human colonies in space could be a reality very soon,” added Chris McKay, planetary scientist of the NASA Ames research centre.

Beyond the ability to thrive in challenging conditions, potatoes are also highly nutritious.

An excellent source of vitamin C, iron and zinc, they contain critical micro-nutrients missing in vulnerable communities globally.

“How better to learn about climate change than by growing crops on a planet that died two billion years ago?” noted Joel Ranck, CIP head of communications.

“We need people to understand that if we can grow potatoes in extreme conditions like those on Mars, we can save lives on Earth,” he added.

Currently, famine affects 842 million people around the world.

Global warming creates poor soil conditions and increases the number of pests and disease which have the combined effect of limiting harvests globally but particularly in vulnerable areas where poverty, malnutrition and food insecurity already exist.

Understanding atmospheric changes on the surface of Mars will help build more dynamic and accurate simulation centres on the Earth.

The goal is to raise awareness of the incredible illness due to potatoes and fund further research and farming in devastated areas across the globe where malnutrition and poverty are common, the authors concluded. (IANS) (image courtesy:i.imgur.com)

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Scientists spot massive ice deposits on Mars

Recent observations by MRO's ground-penetrating Shallow Radar instrument revealed a buried ice layer that covers more ground than the state of New Mexico.

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Scientists found layers of ice on the surface of Mars. Wikimedia Commons
  • Recently, scientists have found layers of ice on the Martian land.
  • Scientists think this ice might be a useful source of water for future humans.
  • The researchers had researched 8 locations on the surface of Mars.

Scientists have unearthed thick and massive deposits of ice in some regions on Mars.

The images taken by the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) showed the three-dimensional structure of massive ice deposits on Mars.

The ice sheets extend from just below the surface to a depth of 100 meters or more and appear to contain distinct layers.

It extending downward from depths as shallow as 1 to 2 meters below the surface, which could preserve a record of Mars’ past climate, the researchers noted in the journal Science.

This ice which was found can help scientists understand the climate history of Mars. IANS
This ice which was found can help scientists understand the climate history of Mars. IANS

“We expect the vertical structure of Martian ice-rich deposits to preserve a record of ice deposition and past climate,” said Colin M. Dundas, from the US Geological Survey.

“They might even be a useful source of water for future human exploration of the red planet,” Dundas added.

The researchers investigated eight locations on Mars and found thick deposits cover broad regions of the Martian mid-latitudes with a smooth mantle.

However, erosion in these regions creates scarps that expose the internal structure of the mantle.

The scarps are actively retreating because of sublimation of the exposed water ice.

The layers of ice can be used as water source by future humans on Mars, VOA
The layers of ice can be used as water source by future humans on Mars, VOA

The ice deposits likely originated as snowfall during Mars’ high-obliquity periods and have now compacted into massive, fractured, and layered ice.

Previous researchers have revealed that the Red Planet harbours subsurface water ice.

Recent observations by MRO’s ground-penetrating Shallow Radar instrument revealed a buried ice layer that covers more ground than the state of New Mexico.

NASA’s Phoenix lander had also dug up some ice near the Martian north pole in 2008, however, it is not clear if that is part of the big sheet. IANS

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