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Scientists in Peru Grow small Potato Plant in Mars Simulator influenced by Hollywood movie ” The Martian”

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Live-streaming cameras caught every tiny movement as a potato bud sprouted and grew several leaves while sensors provided around-the-clock monitoring of simulator conditions in Lima, Peru, March 16, 2017, VOA
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Lima, April 1, 2017: Could potatoes one day support human life on Mars?

Scientists in Peru have used a simulator that mimics the harsh conditions on the Red Planet to successfully grow a small potato plant.

It’s an experiment straight out of the 2015 Hollywood movie ” The Martian” that scientists say may also benefit arid regions already feeling the impact of climate change.

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“It’s not only about bringing potatoes to Mars, but also finding a potato that can resist noncultivable areas on Earth,” said Julio Valdivia, an astrobiologist with Peru’s University of Engineering and Technology who is working with NASA on the project.

The experiment began in 2016 — a year after the Hollywood film “The Martian” showed a stranded astronaut surviving by figuring out how to grow potatoes on the red planet.

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Mars simulator

Peruvian scientists built a simulator akin to a Mars-in-a-box: below-zero temperatures, high carbon monoxide concentrations, the air pressure found at 6,000 meters (19,700 feet) altitude, and a system of lights imitating the Martian day and night.

Though thousands of miles away from colleagues at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California providing designs and advice, Peru was in many ways an apt location to experiment with growing potatoes on Mars.

The birthplace of the domesticated potato lies high in the Andes near Lake Titicaca, where it was first grown about 7,000 years ago. More than 4,000 varieties are grown in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, where potatoes have sprouted even in cold, barren lands.

The Peruvian scientists didn’t have to go far to find high-salinity soil similar to that found on Mars, though with some of the organic material Mars lacks: Pampas de la Joya along the country’s southern coast receives less than a millimeter of rain a year, making its terrain somewhat comparable to the Red Planet’s parched ground.

International Potato Center researchers transported 700 kilos (1,540 pounds) of the soil to Lima, planted 65 varieties and waited. In the end, just four sprouted from the soil.

In a second stage, scientists planted one of the most robust varieties in the even more extreme conditions of the simulator, with the soil — Mars has no organic soil — replaced by crushed rock and a nutrient solution.

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Bud sprouts

Live-streaming cameras caught every tiny movement as a bud sprouted and grew several leaves while sensors provided around-the-clock monitoring of simulator conditions.

The winning potato: a variety called “Unique.”

“It’s a ‘super potato’ that resists very high carbon dioxide conditions and temperatures that get to freezing,” Valdivia said.

NASA itself also has been doing experiments on extraterrestrial agriculture, both for use on spacecraft and perhaps on Mars.

Ray Wheeler, the lead for advanced life support research at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, said plant survival in the open on Mars would be impossible, given the planet’s low pressure, cold temperature and lack of oxygen, but showing plants could survive in a greenhouse-type environment with reduced pressure and high carbon dioxide levels could potentially reduce operating costs. Most research on growing plants in space has focused on optimizing environments to get high outputs of oxygen and food.

“But understanding the lower limits of survival is also important, especially if you consider predeploying some sort of plant growth systems before humans arrive,” he said.

In the next stage of the experiment, scientists will build three more simulators to grow potato plants under extreme conditions with the hope of gaining a broader range of results. They will also need to increase the carbon dioxide concentrations to more closely imitate the Martian atmosphere. (VOA)

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NASA Discovered Evidence of Life on Mars 40 Years Ago, Then Set It On Fire

Nasa's Viking landers were sent to Mars to search for possible signs of life and study the physical and magnetic properties of the soil and atmosphere

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The Primetime Emmys will be awarded by the ATAS in Los Angeles on September 17.
The Primetime Emmys will be awarded by the ATAS in Los Angeles on September 17. Flickr

It may sound a bit bizarre but a NASA probe may have accidentally destroyed organic molecules found on the surface of Mars more that 40 years ago, according to a report from New Scientist.

The US space agency in June announced that its robot explorer Curiosity found organic molecules in rocks formed three billion years ago — a discovery that could indicate that there was life on the Red Planet at that time.

However, in 1976, NASA’s twin Viking landers conducted the first experiments that searched for organic matter on the Red Planet.

“Because small, carbon-rich meteorites so frequently pelt the Red Planet, scientists have suspected for decades that organics exist on Mars.

“But researchers were stunned in 1976, when NASA sent two Viking landers to Mars to search for organics for the first time and found absolutely none,” the report said late on Wednesday.

“It was just completely unexpected and inconsistent with what we knew,” Chris McKay, Planetary Scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center, was quoted as saying.

NASA’s Phoenix lander found perchlorate, a type of salt mainly used for propellants and in making fireworks, on Mars in 2008.

“The discovery of perchlorate reignited scientists’ convictions that the Viking landers could have found organics on Mars,” the report noted.

Mars
Representational Image, Pixabay

Among organic molecules that Curiosity recently found included chlorobenzene.

“This molecule is created when carbon molecules burn with perchlorate, so scientists suspect that it could have been created when the soil samples were burnt during Viking exploration,” said the report.

In a separate study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, a team from LATMOS research centre in France revisited the Viking lander data.

They found that the Viking landers also detected chlorobenzene.

According to Melissa Guzman, a scientist at LATMOS research centre, while the findings are interesting, the chlorobenzene may have come from material carried on the probe from Earth.

But some researchers are convinced.

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“This paper really seals the deal,” Daniel Glavin, astrobiologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre who was not involved in the study, was quoted as saying.

Nasa’s Viking landers were sent to Mars to search for possible signs of life and study the physical and magnetic properties of the soil and atmosphere.

The probes continued their mission until the final transmission to Earth on November 11, 1982 (Viking 1) and April 11, 1980 (Viking 2). (IANS)