An irresistible story swept the world of science and technology journalism Tuesday when China’s space program said that its Moon lander had sprouted a cotton seedling inside a sealed grow container — the first plant ever grown on another world.
“China’s Moon mission sees first seeds sprout,” trumpeted the BBC. “Cotton seed sprouts in China’s lunar lander,” screamed NPR. Even Futurism got swept up in the hype, writing that “China’s lander just sprouted first-ever plants on the Moon.”
Make no mistake: the seedling was a coup for lunar science. But all that present tense, it turns out, was misplaced — because the Moon plant is already dead.
That’s according to Xie Gengxin, the lead scientist behind the lunar plant experiment, who told the news service Xinhua that the cotton sprouts would not survive sundown on the Moon, which caused the temperature of the container to fall as low as -170 degrees Celsius (-274 degrees Fahrenheit).