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The Internet goes to the moon

the moon

We’re used to the Internet linking computers all over the globe in a network of networks, but now there are plans afoot to build an internet on the moon. Being able to join up networks of computing devices makes new applications possible, and that’s the idea behind the lunar internet. You can’t expect to get YouTube from up there yet, though – it’s more about finding out why the moon’s there at all.

Joining up with the ILN

The surface of the moon is already home to a range of unmanned probes from many countries, with more on the way. The idea behind the ILN, the International Lunar Network, is that there will be a common protocol – a shared way to communicate – between probes from any country. The internet has a protocol at its heart too. It’s just an agreed set of ways to pass messages between computers. This communications protocol is what allows your PC to be able to talk with all the other computers in the world. All you need to know is the address of the computer you want to contact, and how to send the data. This computer science opens up a whole range of exciting new ways to explore our rocky near space neighbour.

Core secrets

How did the moon form? It’s still a mystery. We know quite a bit about the Earth’s core, but what about the Moon’s? Is it solid and metallic, or molten, or perhaps both? One way to discover the answer is through seismology. You hit the surface of the moon, then watch how the waves travel through the lunar ground and reflect back. There have been experiments looking at this already, but the problem is that good results depend on taking your measurements at fairly large distances apart. In the past that was difficult. For example, the astronauts in the Apollo moon landings weren’t able to separate the seismic stations by a great distance, so their results, while useful, were limited. Now imagine having an internet linking a whole range of seismic stations, all on different probes, and each on different parts of the moon. The result is bigger, better ways to probe the lunar core. The same trick works with other devices, like the ones that measure heat flow, or others that detect changes in the moon’s magnetic field. Different probes in different places can combine their data, to produce bigger, better scientific instruments.

Long day’s night

One of the technical problems still to be overcome is how to power the probes. Now you have connected up probes all over the surface of the moon, you want to be able to collect and combine data from them all the time. Most probes work using solar panels, converting the sun’s light into electricity. When you’re linking together probes all over the place, though, there’s a problem. What happens during the lunar night? Some of the probes will be in darkness, with no power. But it’s worse that that, because on the moon a ‘night’ lasts for 14 Earth days. Scientist are looking at the possibility of using small nuclear reactors to power the probes, but that’s not without its own problems. Powering the lunar internet is still a problem to be solved.