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Gardening on the Red Planet.

STUDENTS TAKING PART in the Red Thumbs Mars Garden Project found that, under certain conditions, Martian soil would grow nutritious plants reasonably well, Edward Guinan (Villanova University) announced at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Washington, DG.

Future Mars colonists will have to grow their own food in order to survive. But the Red Planet's surface receives less than half the sunlight that Earth does, as well as more ultraviolet radiation, and its dirt is more iron-rich, particularly in iron oxides. (It's also rich in poisonous perchlorates, which would have to be removed before gardening.)

The students planted vegetable and herb seedlings, such as lettuce, kale, garlic, potatoes, and hops, in a simulant that's 90% like Martian soil. Then they monitored the plants' growth in a campus greenhouse, testing various soil additives such as fertilizer.

Mixed greens such as lettuce and kale did well, but potatoes did not. The clay-like Martian simulant was so thick that it crushed the growing taters. Most plants fared better when the students added filler such as coffee grounds to the Martian simulant, which fluffed the dirt up and allowed water to percolate through to the roots.

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Caption: Villanova students grew garlic, kale, sweet potatoes, hops, lettuce, and other plants in simulated Martian soil.

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Title Annotation:MARS; Red Thumbs Mars Garden Project
Author:Carlisle, Camille M.
Publication:Sky & Telescope
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:1U5DC
Date:May 1, 2018
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