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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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Habitability Of Surrounding Planets Affected By Super Flares Of Red Dwarfs: NASA

Red dwarfs -- especially young red dwarfs -- are active stars, producing flares blast out energy

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NASA, space, red dwarf
Superflares from red dwarfs may affect habitability of planets Pixabay

Using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have found that violent outbursts, or superflares, from red dwarf stars could affect the habitability of any planets orbiting it.

Young low-mass stars flare much more frequently and more energetically than old stars and middle-age stars like our Sun, the findings of the study published in the Astrophysical Journal showed.

The findings are based on observations of the flare frequency of 12 red dwarfs.

Hubble is observing such stars through a large programme called HAZMAT — Habitable Zones and M dwarf Activity across Time.

“M dwarf” is the astronomical term for a red dwarf star — the smallest, most abundant and longest-living type of star in our galaxy.

Hubble Telescope. red dwarf
Hubble Telescope. Flickr

The HAZMAT programme is an ultraviolet survey of red dwarfs at three different ages — young, intermediate, and old.

“The goal of the HAZMAT programme is to help understand the habitability of planets around low-mass stars,” explained the programme’s principal investigator, Evgenya Shkolnik from Arizona State University.

“These low-mass stars are critically important in understanding planetary atmospheres,” Shkolnik added.

Stellar flares from red dwarfs are particularly bright in ultraviolet wavelengths, compared with Sun-like stars.

Red dwarf  planet
Artist’s view of planets transiting red dwarf star in TRAPPIST-1 system. Flickr

Hubble’s ultraviolet sensitivity makes the telescope very valuable for observing these flares.

The flares are believed to be powered by intense magnetic fields that get tangled by the roiling motions of the stellar atmosphere.

When the tangling gets too intense, the fields break and reconnect, unleashing tremendous amounts of energy.

The team found that the flares from the youngest red dwarfs they surveyed — just about 40 million years old — are 100 to 1,000 times more energetic than when the stars are older.

This younger age is when terrestrial planets are forming around their stars.

Red dwarf
This illustration shows a red dwarf star orbited by a hypothetical exoplanet. NASA

About three-quarters of the stars in our Milky Way galaxy are red dwarfs. Most of the galaxy’s “habitable-zone” planets — planets orbiting their stars at a distance where temperatures are moderate enough for liquid water to exist on their surface — orbit red dwarfs.

In fact, the nearest star to our Sun, a red dwarf named Proxima Centauri, has an Earth-size planet in its habitable zone.

Also Read: NASA Plans For Science Payloads For Delivery To Moon

However, red dwarfs — especially young red dwarfs — are active stars, producing flares that could blast out so much energy that it disrupts and possibly strips off the atmospheres of these fledgling planets. (IANS)