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‘Lunar ark’ plan to store species’ DNA on the Moon

Charlotte Edwards, March 23, 2021 6:45PM The Sun

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A team of University of Arizona researchers has mapped out a plan for a lunar ark to store the DNA of 6.7 million species on the Moon in case a disaster destroys life on Earth. Picture: Jekan Thanga media_cameraA team of University of Arizona researchers has mapped out a plan for a lunar ark to store the DNA of 6.7 million species on the Moon in case a disaster destroys life on Earth. Picture: Jekan Thanga

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The DNA of 6.7 million species could be stored inside the Moon in case there’s a disaster that destroys life on Earth.

Scientists have a plan to create a “lunar ark”, which is essentially a Moon version of the biblical* Noah’s ark*.

The lunar ark would contain millions of samples of reproductive* cells and seeds from all the 6.7 million known plant, animal and fungi species on Earth.

The researchers think the lunar ark could be placed in hollowed out lava tubes that exist in the Moon’s surface. It is thought these cave-like networks were created by lava billions of years ago.

media_cameraThe above diagram shows what the lunar ark could look like. Picture: Jekan Thanga

Robots would be sent inside the tubes to start building the ark.

When the ark is complete, scientists think it could be powered by solar panels on the surface.

It will require power so that all the samples inside can remain cryogenically frozen*.

It will also need things like an airlock and lighting for human visitors.

The aim of having the ark underground is so it would be protected from asteroid strikes.

It is thought the ark would be in less danger on the Moon than similar projects on Earth such as the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, also known as the “doomsday vault”.

Researcher Jekan Thanga and a team of students from the University of Arizona in the US have mapped out the theory*.

They think it would take 250 rocket trips to the Moon to complete the lunar ark.

Professor Thanga’s team thinks it’s safer to store the samples on a celestial* body in case Earth is destroyed.

“Earth is naturally a volatile* environment,” Prof Thanga said.

“As humans, we had a close call about 75,000 years ago with the Toba supervolcanic eruption, which caused a 1000-year cooling period and, according to some, aligns with an estimated drop in human diversity*.

“Because human civilisation has such a large footprint*, if it were to collapse, that could have a negative cascading* effect on the rest of the planet.”

media_cameraThe ark would contain samples of reproductive cells and seeds from all the 6.7 million known plant, animal and fungi species on Earth. Picture: Jekan Thanga

The lunar ark concept was presented by the researchers at the IEEE Aerospace Conference in early March.

They listed super-volcanoes, asteroid impacts and climate change as reasons we might need to store samples of life in case we need to start again.

Not all of the technology needed to make the ark exists yet but the scientists think it could be made within the next 30 years.

GLOSSARY

  • biblical: from the Bible
  • Noah’s ark: the ship in which Noah saved animals from a flood, according to the Bible
  • reproductive: to do with reproducing or having babies
  • cryogenically frozen: frozen at very low temperature
  • theory: an idea that hopes to explain something
  • celestial: to do with the sky or space
  • volatile: likely to change suddenly
  • diversity: range of different types
  • cascading: passing on to others
  • footprint: the area affected by something

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. How many species could be stored in the lunar ark?
  2. How many rocket ship trips to the Moon would be needed to build the lunar ark?
  3. Name two of the reasons the researchers believe the lunar ark might be needed.
  4. Where on the Moon could the lunar ark be placed?
  5. How many years do the scientists think it will take for the technology needed to become available?

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CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Blueprint of a New Civilisation
This lunar ark is being planned for just in case something happens to Earth in the future. It’s not something we need to worry about in our lifetime but scientists need to be prepared. The lunar ark will have all the plant and fungi species to start again but your job is to design a blueprint of a new civilisation.

Use an A3 piece of paper and draw and write all the things you’d like to see on a new planet if they were starting fresh. Think about sustainable practices and things that will stand the new planet in good stead. 

Time: allow 40 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Critical and Creative thinking

2. Extension
List some of the reasons why we may need to start from scratch on Earth.

Is there any way we can minimise the risks of these possibilities or are they out of human control?

Time: allow 10 minutes to complete this activity 
Curriculum Links: English, Science Critical and creative thinking

VCOP ACTIVITY
Proper Noun Police
A proper noun is a noun that names a particular person, place or thing. It always has a capital letter.

How many proper nouns can you find within this article? Find them all and sort them into the category of name, place, time (date/month).

Can you find any proper nouns included in your writing? What are they? Can you sort them into their categories?

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