Imagine if you own a house on Mars surfaceAnd you want to secure your food from crops close to your home, can you then do the farming process as we are currently doing on our planet since the inception of all civilizations and human gatherings?
A recent study published in Frontiers tried to answer this complex question, as researchers from Wageningen University and the Institute for Nuclear Research at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands conducted practical experiments to explore the possibility of cultivating plants on the Red Planet.
Nink Tak, an undergraduate student at Delft University of Technology, tried to investigate the effect of gamma rays, as recorded by the Curiosity Mars probe, on two types of crops: cress (a type of watercress) and rye (similar to wheat and used to make bread).
“Because the radiation on Mars is much higher than on Earth (230 µg/day, about 17 times higher than on Earth), the experiment was conducted under strict safety precautions,” says Tack.
Before conducting the experiment, scientists believed that the high level of radiation might affect the growth of crops in greenhouses on Mars, which could make human settlement more complicated.
The researchers conducted the experiment by simulating radiation levels on the surface of Mars, where plants were continuously exposed for 28 days to a radiation field similar to that found on Mars, and then they were harvested.
According to the study, only gamma rays were used, as cosmic radiation on Mars consists of alpha, beta gamma and ultraviolet rays, so there are still differences, but the dose was roughly the same as that likely to be experienced by a plant on Mars.
Although the germination rates were not affected by radiation, there was a significant negative effect on the growth of the two types of crops, as the growth of biomass significantly decreased by 32 percent in the “Cress” plant, and 48 percent in the rye plant during the first four weeks after germination.
After monitoring the negative effects on plants, the research team was able to come up with an option to protect plants from harmful cosmic rays, through the use of natural daylight with the addition of LED lights.
“Now that we can anticipate negative effects on plant growth from radiation on Mars, we have to protect the plants,” says Nink Tak. It also protects humans as well.”
She continues: “Growing underground on the Red Planet is more challenging than growing plants in rooftop greenhouses, but it also makes life easier as we can grow plants under fully controlled conditions, using LED light.
“This was the reason why we are now starting the first trials in a Cold War bunker in Arnhem near Wageningen, underground but in a fully airtight setting,” Tack explains.