Team:UNIK Copenhagen/Soil

Can Moss Grow on Martian Soil?

Testing if moss can survive in soil similar to Martian soil is an interesting experiment for two reasons:

  • It would save launch mass if the moss could grow in the soil already present on Mars, although it would be possible to bring a media for the moss to grow in.
  • Mars soil contains perchlorate which is poisonous and moss could potentially be used to detoxify the martian soil and make it safe for astronauts.

  • Mars in its natural environment. Credits to Josephine Schrøder.

    What is JSC Mars-1 Simulant Soil?

    JSC Mars-1 is a Martian soil stimulant that has been developed for the study of Mars both in the context of education and scientific research. The simulant is made from soil found on Pu'u Nene, a cinder cone on the Island of Hawai'i. It was chosen for a number of reasons:

  • It's spectral analogue to the bright regions on Mars
  • It has been characterized vigorously by other scientists
  • A large quantity is available for collection
  • JSC Mars-1 has been characterized using a number of techniques, both chemical and physical, and then compared to our knowledge of martian soil collected by various rovers on the surface of Mars.

    Fig 1: Graphing similarity between JSC-Mars-1-Simulant and Martian soil

    Table 1: Showing chemical composition of JSC Mars-1 simuant vs Martian soil

    JSC-Mars-1-simulant soil comes from the sadle area between the volcanoes Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on Big Island Hawaii. Team member Christina Toldbo went there to visit - check out the video below.

    Experimental Setup


    The aim of this experiment is to test whether moss can survive when spread over martian soil simulant: JSC Mars-1


  • Wild type moss
  • Petri dishes
  • Phys B (moss growth medium)
  • Moss Blender
  • Martian soil simulant; JSC Mars-1 (MS)
  • Brightfield microscope

    Using the microscope to take images of moss grown in JSC Mars-1 simulant


  • Blend wild type moss in a moss blender
  • Spread wild type moss on petri dish on the following to seperate mediums: Phys B+ MS and Water + MS
  • Create control by spreading wild type moss on petri dish with just Phys B medium
  • Place petri dishes for growth under optimum growth conditions
  • Let moss grow for 3-4 weeks
  • Take images of the moss with a microscope and the following filters:

  • Table 3: Detailed characteristics of the two filters used on the images taken of moss

    Results of Soil Experiment

    Figure 1: Moss growing on Phys B medium taken using UV filter

    Figure 2: Moss growing on Phys B medium taken using eGFP2 filter

    Figure 3: Moss growing on Phys B and MS taken using UV filter.

    Figure 4: Moss growing on Phys B and MS taken using eGFP2 filter

    Figure 5: Moss growing on water and MS taken using UV filter

    Figure 6: Moss growing on water and MS taken using eGFP2 filter.


    From this simple experiment, we can conclude that moss can survive when spread on JSC Mars-1 simulant. Due to the similarities of JSC Mars-1 simulant to martian soil we can conclude that there is a potential that martian soil will not kill the moss, however it should be noted that JSC Mars-1 simulant contains more water and nutrients than martian soil. It should also be taken into account that the moss was grown in optimum growth conditions that are not present on Mars, where the moss is also exposed to high UV radiation and perchlorites in the soil. However we were encouraged to atleast see some survival in the simulant.

    [1] Carlton C. Allen, Richard V. Morris, Karen M.Jager, D. C. Golden, David J. Lindstrom, Marilyn M. Lindstrom, John P. Lockwood and Lockheed Martin, MARTIAN REGOLITH SIMULANT JSC MARS-1, Lunar and Planetary Science XXIX, http;//