How to simulate Mars soil?
Mix two parts crushed volcano rock, two parts basalt dust, one part sand, plus 0.2 parts feldspar. Autoclave (heat to very high temperature) three times to kill microbes. Experiment away!
The mineral matter in Martian soil comes from weathered volcanic rock. It has clay and silt-sized particles, but it's made mostly of sand. There is also a thin layer of very small dust particles on the surface. The soil has a reddish colour because it contains a lot of iron oxides, or rust.
Since there is no organic matter on Mars, there is technically no soil. The proper term for the surface material of Mars is regolith, which is a broad term for the loose material that covers the surface of some planets (Earth, Mars, Mercury) and Earth's moon. Soil is a type of regolith.
Despite its thin atmosphere, extreme cold and low oxygen, Mars' surface is known to contain the majority of plant essential nutrients, including nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. The presence of nutrients accomplishes one of the big hurdles, but there are still more challenges.
If we were to grow food on Mars, it would most likely need to be done hydroponically initially, using artificial light. Without the protective influence of a thick atmosphere, the radiation from the sun would mutate and damage the crops if grown on the 'surface'.
- SiO2 - 49.5%
- Fe2O3 - 17.9%
- Al2O3 - 7.2%
- MgO - 7.7%
- CaO - 6.7%
The NASA Phoenix lander first detected chlorine-based compounds such as calcium perchlorate. The levels detected in the Martian soil are around 0.5%, which is a level considered toxic to humans. These compounds are also toxic to plants.
The main problem with the water found on Mars is that it's salty. Possibly just as salty as Earth's oceans. And the salts are not like the kind you'd find in Earth's oceans. They're highly toxic if ingested in sufficient amounts.
In addition, lithium, cobalt, nickel, copper, zinc, niobium, molybdenum, lanthanum, europium, tungsten, and gold have been found in trace amounts.
Martian regolith simulant (or Martian soil simulant) is a terrestrial material that is used to simulate the chemical and mechanical properties of Martian regolith for research, experiments and prototype testing of activities related to Martian regolith such as dust mitigation of transportation equipment, advanced life ...
Is artificial soil possible?
Artificial soil has potential as a sustainable solution for mitigating soil erosion problems, and reducing the quantity of waste sent to landfill.
Good news! If (or when) we make it to Mars, we can grow plants from Earth in Martian soil! Scientists in the Netherlands tested out this idea using a mix of dirt from the Moon, Mars, and Earth, and were able to grow ten kinds of plants to eat.
Research suggests Martian soil has some of the nutrients plants need to grow and survive (see “Plants' Nutrients,” right). But because of Mars's extremely cold conditions, plants such as Watney's potatoes would need to grow inside a controlled environment, such as his Hab.