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. While the project seems technically very complicated, it is nonetheless fascinating.
Almost everyone has heard of Svalbard’s global seed store. Built to withstand the hard blows of wars, famines and disease, this arch is now home to more than a million species of seeds. Other “arches” have also been 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 caused the permafrost to melt, 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 an early warning. And based on climate projections, we know that incidents of this type, potentially much more serious, may happen again in the future. It remains to be seen whether these safes will be able to hold up.
Still, unfortunately, few places on Earth (if any) 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 life on Earth? The idea might come as a surprise, but in some ways the Moon would be a perfect location for this type of installation. It is indeed very cold there, the environment is tectonically stable, there is never any meltwater and the latest news is that 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 under 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, seeds should be stored at -180 ° C and stem cells at -196 ° C.
One of the great challenges to overcome with this type of cryogenic approach is maintaining the physical integrity of metallic structures. However, there is a way to take advantage of extreme temperatures using an otherworldly phenomenon called quantum levitation.
“In this process, a cryocooled superconducting material floats above a strong magnet. The two pieces are locked together at a fixed distance, so wherever the magnet goes, the superconductor follows, ”says Jekan Thanga, lead author of the study. “It’s like they’re held together by ropes, but by invisible ropes.”
The idea would therefore be to use this phenomenon to float sample shelves above metal surfaces, allowing robots to navigate the facility over magnetic tracks.
Another very important obstacle will be to deliver all these materials on site. A project of this magnitude is indeed very heavy, but would not be insurmountable according to the team. Researchers estimate that it would take around 250 launches to transport fifty samples of each of the approximately 6.7 million species on Earth.
Finally, it is also unclear how these samples might be affected by the lack of gravity. In other words, the project seems interesting, but it also questions a lot. At the moment, that’s 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!