Preparing for a doomsday scenario that could destroy the Earth, scientists from the University of Arizona have proposed building an underground ark hidden in a network of tubes on the Moon that could provide a genetic backup for the planet, CNN reported.
"Earth is naturally a volatile environment," said researcher Jekan Thanga, a professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering in the University of Arizona College of Engineering. "As humans, we had a close call about 75,000 years ago with the Toba supervolcanic eruption, which caused a 1,000-year cooling period and, according to some, aligns with an estimated drop in human diversity. Because human civilization has such a large footprint, if it were to collapse, that could have a negative cascading effect on the rest of the planet."
Dubbing their project a "modern global insurance policy," the scientists’ plan is to fill the ark with millions of seed, spore, sperm and egg samples from Earth's species that would be cryogenically preserved.
They said the vault could protect the genetic materials in case of "total annihilation of Earth," which would be triggered by a major drop in biodiversity.
The researchers stressed that the idea is dependent on advancements in cryo-robotics technology and that any move to construct such a bunker is a long way off.
They presented their idea at the recent IEEE Aerospace Conference, saying that the Moon would have the advantage of being removed from the "doomsday" scenario that could destroy the Earth, IFL Science reported.
The scientists also admitted that they are not sure how a lack of gravity could affect preserved seeds, or how to communicate with an Earth base.
The network of 200 lava tubes beneath the surface of the Moon in which the ark would be stored was uncovered in 2013.
Scientists think the tubes – some 300 feet in diameter and formed when streams of lava melted through soft rock to form underground tunnels billions of years ago - could provide the perfect shelter for the ark, protecting it from solar radiation, surface temperature changes and micrometeorites.
They added that the extremely low temperature underground would be suitable for storing the samples, according to IFL Science
Scientists envision the project being powered by solar panels and that elevator shafts would provide access to the underground ark, CNN reported.
Scientists estimate that some 250 rocket launches would be needed to transport approximately 50 samples from each of 6.7 million species to be preserved to the Moon.
The researchers have has also proposed ways to study the Moon's lava tubes by using hopping and flying robots called SphereX, adding that the tubes could also be ideal for a permanent presence of humans on the Moon, IFL Science reported.
Álvaro Díaz-Flores Caminero, a University of Arizona doctoral student involved in the project, said "what amazes me about projects like this is that they make me feel like we are getting closer to becoming a space civilization, and to a not-very-distant future where humankind will have bases on the Moon and Mars," adding that "multidisciplinary projects are hard due to their complexity, but I think the same complexity is what makes them beautiful."
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