How to do photosynthesis on the moon

The oxygen What we breathe comes from plants and other photosynthetic organisms such as cyanobacteria, and they produce it as they convert carbon dioxide.COtwo) and the Sun light into energetic sugars. Now, Chinese researchers are proposing to carry out a similar photosynthesis process on the Moon, according to the study published this week in the journal Joule.

Lunar soil sample returned by Chinese spacecraft Chang’e 5. / Yingfang Yao

After analyzing the moon soil brought by the Chinese spacecraft Chang’e 5, the authors found that the sample contains some compounds – such as substances rich in iron and titanium – that could function as catalysts to make oxygen and fuel from solar radiation and COtwo that future astronauts will exhale.

alien photosynthesis

The team, led by scientists Yingfang Yao s Zhigang Zou from Nanjing University, proposes a strategy to ‘alien photosynthesis‘ that could be used to facilitate human exploration on the Moon and beyond.

After analyzing the lunar soil brought by the Chang’e 5 spacecraft, it was found to have compounds that can act as catalysts to produce oxygen and fuel from solar radiation and the CO2 exhaled by astronauts.

With the help of solar radiation, the system uses lunar soil to electrolyze the Waterwhich could be extracted from the Moon itself and dehydrating the gases exhaled by the astronauts, generating two products: oxygen and hydrogen.

The carbon dioxide emitted by the future inhabitants of the Moon can also be stored and combined with this hydrogen through a hydrogenation process catalyzed by the lunar soil. This is how hydrocarbons are generated, as methanethat can be used as fuel.

Schematic showing how lunar soil can act as a catalyst for extraterrestrial photosynthesis to produce the oxygen and fuels needed to survive on the Moon. /Yingfang Yao

this strategy does not use external energy, just sunlight, to produce a range of products of interest (such as water, oxygen and fuel) that could support life on a lunar base, according to the researchers. The team is already looking for an opportunity to test this system in space, likely with the future manned lunar missions from China.

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Use what’s there and don’t take it

“We use environmental resources on site to minimize rocket payload, offering a strategy for a sustainable and affordable ALI scenario,” says Yao.

We use in-situ resources to minimize rocket payload, providing a strategy for a sustainable and affordable extraterrestrial life environment.

Yingfang Yao (Nanjing University)

While the catalytic efficiency of lunar soil is lower than that of catalysts available on Earth, Yao says the team is testing different approaches to improve its design, such as melt moon soil into a “high entropy nanostructured material”, which is a better catalyst.

The authors note that many extraterrestrial survival options have been proposed, but most require energy sources from Earth. For example, he wanderer perseverance NASA has an instrument that can use COtwo from the atmosphere of Mars to produce oxygen, but it is powered by a nuclear battery.

According to Yao, “In the near future, we will see the human spaceflight industry develop rapidly. Just like the ‘Age of Sailing’ in the 17th century when hundreds of ships went to sea, we now enter a ‘space age‘.

But, he continues, “if we are to undertake large-scale exploration of worlds beyond our own, we will have to think of ways to reduce the payloadi.e. relying on as few Earth supplies as possible and using extraterrestrial resources instead.”

Nanjing University research team with lunar soil sample./ Yingfang Yao

Reference:

Yingfang Yao et al. “Extraterrestrial Photosynthesis by Chang’E-5 Lunar Soil”. Joule2022

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