Researchers are building an ‘artificial moon’ to simulate microgravity

Chinese researchers have built an enclave which plays the role of an “artificial moon”, where they will be able to carry out microgravity experiments on Earth and without time limit.

Recently, we told you about the progress of the Chinese artificial sun, which has achieved an impressive record in the context of work on nuclear fusion. Today, we change register with not a star, but an artificial moon in the service of science.

Let’s start by sweeping the most obvious question: it is obviously not a miniature celestial body. This “moon” is in fact a sixty centimeter vacuum chamber located in a state-of-the-art research center, and designed to simulate microgravity conditions directly on Earth.

A history of magnetic field

The inspiration came to them from a particularly curious experiment, carried out at the end of the 2000s. At the time, Dutch and British researchers managed to make a frog and a grasshopper levitate in a magnetic field.

The concept is based on the very structure of the atoms that make up living beings. These feature electrons that orbit around a nucleus, each generating a tiny magnetic field. Under normal conditions, the direction of the different fields is more or less random; they therefore cancel each other out without any perceptible effect on our scale.

On the other hand, everything changes when a new, more powerful external magnetic field is applied. This modifies the trajectory of the body’s electrons and aligns their magnetic fields; very summarily, they then enter into competition against this external magnetic field. If the latter is intense enough, the force developed can take over gravity, which has the effect of lifting the object.

An invaluable tool for research

It is this concept that Chinese researchers have sought to exploit. But rather than tweaking their Wingardium Leviosa on frogs, they have other ideas in mind. Their prototype enclave is still too small to accommodate a taikonaut; but while waiting to be able to test this technology on humans, they intend to use it to carry out a large number of routine materials science experiments.

And the least we can say is that this “moon” will be a fantastic tool. Indeed, during their experiments, researchers always seek to reproduce real conditions as faithfully as possible. Unfortunately, it’s extremely complicated when it comes to piecing together something that doesn’t exist on Earth, like the near absence of gravity. Of course, there is always a way of cunning; for example, astronauts spend a large part of their training in pools specially designed for this purpose.

A very useful approximation, but still very far from the real conditions. To really reproduce them, it is necessary to have recourse to considerable logistical means, such as access to the ISS or a parabolic flight aboard a specialized aircraft. This is very disabling, because it is an absolutely crucial question for all fields of research related to space, from astrobiology to engineering.

These are indeed disciplines that often require many successive tests before arriving at the final product. However, since the experimental conditions are difficult to reproduce, especially over long periods of time, many fascinating projects fall by the wayside due to lack of time and resources. It was therefore urgent to find other methods to reproduce such conditions on Earth, and it will be very interesting to follow the news around this project because it could considerably accelerate research in aerospace… with exceptional discoveries to be made. the key.

Leave a Comment