China builds an artificial moon that makes gravity disappear




China, the third power to reach the Moon, wants to have it on Earth as well. prepare a ‘Artificial moon’, a pioneering research facility that will simulate low gravity environments using powerful magnetic fields. The results can provide the Asian country, the third power to reach the Moon, valuable information for its space exploration activities. For its construction, scientists have been inspired by the famous experiments they did levitate a frog with magnets.

The facility is located in the city of Xuzhou, in the province of Jiangsu, and will be officially presented in the coming months. It consists of a vacuum chamber of about 60 centimeters where gravity decreases for as long as desired. The surface will be covered with dust and rocks to simulate the lunar landscape.

The chamber is “the first of its kind in the world,” says Li Ruilin, a geotechnical engineer at the China University of Mining and Technology, when
‘South China Morning Post’
. Scientists plan to use it to test the technology before sending it to the Moon, where gravity is only one-sixth that of Earth. In this way, they will be able to solve technological problems, such as knowing how some structures will respond to the lack of gravity before a human settlement is established up there, which is the ultimate goal of several space agencies.

“Some experiments, like an impact test, take only a few seconds,” says Li, “but others, like creep tests, can take several days.” A creep test measures how much a material will deform under constant temperature and stress.

One of the most curious aspects of the new artificial moon is that the researchers were inspired to build it by the experiment of Andre Geim, a physicist at the British University of Manchester, who won the Ig Nobel Prize -something like the Razzie of science – in the year 2000 for making a frog levitate with magnets.

diamagnetic levitation

The levitation trick used by Geim, who ten years later won the real Nobel Prize for Physics for his discoveries on graphene, and now on the artificial moon, consists of an effect of
diamagnetic levitation.
This type of levitation applies an external magnetic field to the atoms of an object, so that the electrons modify their movement, producing their own magnetic field to oppose the applied one. If the external magnet is strong enough, the repulsive magnetic force between it and the field of atoms will become strong enough to overcome gravity and levitate the object. On this occasion, as explained in
, the poor frog is replaced by a piece of technology intended for use on the Moon.

What is learned on the artificial moon will be used in China’s lunar exploration program, Chang’e, named after the Chinese divinity of the Moon. After launching Chang’e 1 in 2007 and Chang’e 2 in 2010, the Asian country managed to land a lander and a rover three years later. In 2019, Chang’e 4 carried another lander and rover on the far side, even allowing a seed to germinate in space. Both the Chang’e 3 and Chang’e 4 landers, as well as the Chang’e 4 rover, are still in operation today. In 2020, Chang’e 5 recovered rocks from the lunar surface. And China does not plan to stay there. It intends to create a research station at the lunar south pole in 2029.

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