A team of researchers is proposing the construction of a “Noah’s Ark” on the Moon to save millions of species of plants and animals. If the project seems technically very complicated, it is nonetheless fascinating.
Almost everyone has heard of Svalbard’s global seed store. Built to face the hard blows of wars, famines and disease, this arch is now home to more than a million species of seeds. Other “arches” were also built for the preservation of the animal world (samples of sperm, ova or tissues).
However, these structures may not be as strong as we would like. In 2016, for example, rising temperatures in the Arctic had indeed melted the permafrost, causing water to leak at the entrance to the tunnel.
If only the entrance hall had been affected at the time and no seeds had been damaged, this was a first alert. And with regard to climate projections, we know that incidents of this type, potentially much more serious, could happen again in the future. It remains to be seen whether these safes will be able to hold up.
Still, unfortunately, few (if any) places on Earth are actually completely safe. In fact, a team from the University of Arizona recently turned to the moon.
A Lunar Arch?
So could our satellite be our “insurance policy” guaranteeing the preservation of all forms of life on Earth? The idea might come as a surprise, but in some ways the Moon would be a perfect place for this type of installation. It is indeed very cold there, the environment is tectonically stable, there is never any meltwater and according to the latest news, there are no humans around.
In their study, the researchers draw on the famous biblical story of Noah’s Ark. However, instead of two representatives of each species, this moon arch is said to be aimed at storing cryogenically frozen seeds, spores, sperm and eggs from 6.7 million terrestrial animal, plant and fungal species.
According to the authors, this arch could be built inside lava tubes recently discovered below the moon’s surface. These structures formed billions of years ago, when streams of lava melted through the soft rock, forming underground caverns. These tunnels could then provide shelter from solar radiation, micrometeorites and changes in surface temperature.
The team’s model includes a set of aboveground solar panels that would provide electricity. Several elevator shafts would then lead to the facility where the Petri dishes would be housed in a series of cryogenic storage modules. Here the seeds should be stored at -180 ° C and stem cells at -196 ° C.
One of the big challenges to overcome with this type of cryogenic approach is maintaining the physical integrity of metal structures. However, there is a way to take advantage of extreme temperatures by using an otherworldly phenomenon called quantum levitation.
“In this process, a cryocooled superconducting material floats above a powerful magnet. The two pieces are locked together at a fixed distance, so wherever the magnet goes, the superconductor follows“, Explain Jekan Thanga, lead author of the study. “It’s like they’re held together by ropes, but invisible ropes“.
The idea would therefore be to rely on this phenomenon to float the sample shelves above metal surfaces, thus allowing robots to navigate the installation above magnetic tracks.
Another very important obstacle will be to deliver all these materials on site. A project of such magnitude weighs very heavy indeed, but would not be insurmountable according to the team. The researchers estimate that it would take about 250 launches to transport fifty samples of each of the approximately 6.7 million species on Earth.
Finally, it is also not known how these samples might be affected by the lack of gravity. In other words, the project seems interesting, but it also questions a lot. For now, this is just an idea on paper. It remains to be seen whether we have the technical and financial means to develop it. One thing is certain, it will not be for now!