Extraterrestrial Photosynthesis

To the moon and beyond! 

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

To support life on the moon, oxygen is crucial! But there are no plants for photosynthesis. What can we do?!  

Enter Yingfang Yao from Nanjing University and team. They analyzed a sample of moon-dirt brought to earth by China’s Chang’e 5 spacecraft. They found compounds that can be used to make oxygen and fuel like methane! This led the scientists to propose a new photosynthesis tactic. 

In plant photosynthesis, plants make oxygen and food-fuel from water and carbon dioxide with sunlight. In extraterrestrial photosynthesis, scientists can use moon-dirt chemicals in place of plants to mimic this reaction! 

The water needed can be found on the moon. And astronauts breathe out carbon dioxide. Lastly, the extremely cold moon environment helps separate carbon dioxide from air.  

In extraterrestrial photosynthesis, resources available on the moon can be used to support life. What a SPACE-ious pitstop!

Attention deep-space travelers, this is your captain speaking. Next stop, the moon! 

Reference: Yao, Y., Wang, L., Zhu, X., Tu, W., et al. (2022). Extraterrestrial photosynthesis by chang’e-5 lunar soil. Joule. (2022) https://doi.org/10.1016/j.joule.2022.04.011