Not content with building an artificial sun, Chinese scientists have gone ahead and built an artificial moon too.
A (literally) space-age research facility in the eastern city of Xuzhou mimics the moon’s environment with low gravity and a rocky, barren surface.
It’s set to be officially launched in the coming months and will serve as a research and development zone for China’s escalating space-based ambitions. It will also allow the country to train astronauts more effectively.
Currently, anyone wanting to experience low gravity on Earth has to be in free fall in an aircraft.
But China’s artificial moon is a small two-foot room inside a vacuum chamber.
Gravity on the moon is about a sixth as powerful as Earth, and inside the artificial gravity room the team make use of a strong magnetic field to simulate the ‘levitation effects’ of a low gravitational force.
‘Some experiments such as an impact test need just a few seconds,’ said lead scientist Li Ruilin, from the China University of Mining and Technology.
He added: ‘others such as creep testing can take several days.’
The concept of using magnetic fields for levitation came from Russian physicist Andre Geim, who won an Ig Nobel prize in 2000 for making a frog float.
As well as the lower gravity – the artificial moon also features rocks and dust equivant to that on the moon.
This means that rovers and other equipment can be tested on similar terrain that they will experience once they get up there.
China is setting grand ambitions for its future in the space race.
The country plans to send astronauts back to the moon by 2030 and – in partnership with Russia – set up a permanent space base on our lunar neighbour.
Earlier this month, the Chinese lunar rover Chang’e-5 reported the first ever on-site evidence of water molecules inside the rock and soil on the moon.