IF civilisation is wiped out on Earth, salvation may come from space. Plans are being drawn up for a “Doomsday ark” on the moon containing the essentials of life and civilisation, to be activated in the event of earth being devastated by a giant asteroid or nuclear war.
Construction of a lunar information bank, discussed at a conference in Strasbourg last month, would provide survivors on Earth with a remote-access toolkit to rebuild the human race.
A basic version of the ark would contain hard discs holding information such as DNA sequences and instructions for metal smelting or planting crops. It would be buried in a vault just under the lunar surface and transmitters would send the data to heavily protected receivers on earth. If no receivers survived, the ark would continue transmitting the information until new ones could be built.
The vault could later be extended to include natural material including microbes, animal embryos and plant seeds and even cultural relics such as surplus items from museum stores.
As a first step to discovering whether living organisms could survive, European Space Agency scientists are hoping to experiment with growing tulips on the moon within the next decade.
According to Bernard Foing, chief scientist at the agency’s research department, the first flowers - tulips or arabidopsis, a plant widely used in research - could be grown in 2012 or 2015.
“Eventually, it will be necessary to have a kind of Noah’s ark there, a diversity of species from the biosphere,” said Foing.
Tulips are ideal because they can be frozen, transported long distances and grown with little nourishment. Combined with algae, an enclosed artificial atmosphere and chemically enhanced lunar soil, they could form the basis of an ecosystem.
The first experiments would be carried out in transparent biospheres containing a mix of gases to mimic the earth’s atmosphere. Carbon dioxide given off by the decomposing plants would be mopped up by the algae, which would generate oxygen through photosynthesis.
The databank would initially be run by robots and linked to earth by radio transmissions. Scientists hope to put a manned station on the moon before the end of the century.
The databank would need to be buried under rock to protect it from the extreme temperatures, radiation and vacuum on the moon. It would be run partly on solar power. The scientists envisage placing the first experimental databank on the moon no later than 2020 and it could have a lifespan of 30 years. The full archive would be launched by 2035.
The information would be held in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish and would be linked by transmitter to 4,000 “Earth repositories” that would provide shelter, food, a water supply for survivors.
Nasa sees light
A Nasa satellite has detected radiation emitted trillionths of a second after the big bang, the closest humans have got to directly observing the explosion that created the universe, writes Jonathan Leake.
The pattern of radiation - at 13.7 billion years, the oldest light detected - shows how the universe expanded. The results give scientists the most detailed timeline on the evolution of the universe.