Chinese scientists have built an “artificial moon” research facility that allows them to simulate a low-gravity environment using magnetism.
The inspiration to build an artificial moon came from last year’s retrograde Nobel Prize for a flying frog.
The facility, slated for a formal launch this year, will use a strong magnetic field inside a vacuum chamber 60 centimeters in diameter to make gravity “disappear”. The scientists were inspired by an earlier experiment using a magnet on a frog.
Li Ruilin, a geotechnical engineer at the University of Mining and Technology of China, said that the chamber, filled with rocks and dust to simulate the lunar surface, is the first of its kind in the world and it can maintain Maintain such low-gravity conditions for as long as you want.
The scientists plan to use the facility to test the technology in a prolonged low-gravity environment before it is sent to the moon, where gravity is only one-sixth of its strength on Earth.
This will allow them to fix any costly engineering flaws, as well as test to see if certain structures exist on the lunar surface and assess the possibility of a settlement. of the people there.
According to the researchers, the inspiration came from Andre Geim, a physicist at the University of Manchester in the UK who won the 2000 Ig Nobel (reverse Nobel) for devising an experiment that made a frog suspended by a magnet.
The levitation trick used by Geim and now in the artificial moon comes from an effect called magnetic retrograde. Atoms are made up of atomic nuclei and small electrons that revolve around them in small currents; These moving currents, in turn, create microscopic magnetic fields.
Apply an external magnetic field to those atoms, however, and everything changes: The electrons will change their motion, creating their own magnetic field to counteract the applied field. If the external magnet is strong enough, the repulsive magnetic field between it and the fields of the atoms will grow strong enough to overcome gravity and repel the object – whether it’s a technologically advanced lunar device or a bewildered amphibians – up into the air.
Tests completed in the chamber will be used to inform China’s lunar exploration program Chang’e, which takes its name from the Chinese goddess of the Moon.
This initiative includes Chang’e 4, which landed a rover on the far side of the moon in 2019, and Chang’e 5, which took rock samples from the lunar surface in 2020. China also announced that they will establish a study of the Moon on the Moon’s south pole in 2029.
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