Chinese scientists have an “artificial MouthResearch facility that will allow them to simulate low-gravity environments using magnetism.
The facility, which is scheduled to officially launch this year, will be powerful magnetic fields in a 2 foot diameter (60 centimeter) vacuum chamber heaviness “disappear.” The scientists were inspired by an earlier experiment that used magnets to make a frog levitate.
Li Ruilin, Geotechnikingenieur an der China University of Mining and Technology, to the South China Morning Post that the chamber, which will be filled with rocks and dust to mimic the lunar surface, is the “first of its kind in the world” and that it can sustain such low-gravity conditions “as long as you want”.
Scientists plan to use the facility to test the technology in prolonged low-gravity environments before sending it to the moon, where gravity is only one-sixth its strength Earth. This allows them to iron out costly engineering problems, test whether certain structures will survive on the lunar surface, and assess the viability of a human settlement there.
“Some experiments, such as an impact test, only take a few seconds [in the simulator]’ said Li. ‘But others, such as For example, creep tests can take several days.” A creep test measures how much a material deforms under a constant temperature and load.
According to the researchers, inspiration for the chamber came from Andre Geim, a physicist at the University of Manchester in the UK, who won the satirical Ig Nobel Prize in 2000 for developing an experiment that used a magnet to levitate a frog.
The levitation trick used by Geim and now in the artificial lunar chamber relies on an effect called diamagnetic levitation. Atom consist of atomic nuclei and tiny electrons that orbit them in small current loops; these moving currents in turn induce tiny magnetic fields. Normally, the randomly oriented magnetic fields of all atoms in an object, whether they belong to a drop of water or a frog, cancel out and no material-wide magnetism is manifested.
However, if you apply an external magnetic field to these atoms, everything changes: the electrons change their motion and create their own magnetic field that opposes the applied field. If the external magnet is strong enough, the magnetic repulsion force between it and the field of atoms becomes strong enough to overcome gravity and levitate the object – whether it’s an advanced piece of lunar technology or a deranged amphibian – into the air .
The tests conducted in the chamber will be used to inform China’s lunar exploration program, Chang’e, which takes its name from the Chinese moon goddess. This initiative includes Chang’e 4, which landed a rover on the far side of the moon in 2019, and Chang’e 5, which collected rock samples from the lunar surface in 2020. China has also said it will set up a lunar research station at the moon’s south pole by 2029.
Originally published on Live Science.