Chinese scientists have designed an "artificial moon" research facility that will allow them to use magnetism to replicate low-gravity settings.

Scientists intend to utilize the facility to test equipment in low-gravity situations for extended period of time before sending it to the moon, where gravity is only one-sixth of what it is on Earth. This will allow them to iron out any costly technical hitches, as well as test if certain structures will survive on the moon's surface and examine the practicality of establishing a human settlement there.

The facility, which is set to open this year, will use high magnetic fields inside a 2-foot-diameter (60-centimeter) vacuum chamber to make gravity "disappear."

The chamber, which will be filled with rocks and dust to simulate the lunar surface, is the "first of its kind in the world," according to Li Ruilin, a geotechnical engineer at the China University of Mining and Technology, and it could maintain such low-gravity conditions for "as long as you want."

"Some experiments, such as an impact test, need just a few seconds [in the simulator]," Li said. "But others, such as creep testing, can take several days." A creep test measures how much a material will deform under a constant temperature and stress.

The chamber was inspired by Andre Geim, a physicist at the University of Manchester in the U.K., according to the researchers. In 2000, he was awarded the satirical Ig Nobel Prize for developing an experiment that used a magnet to make a frog float.

An effect known as diamagnetic levitation is responsible for the levitation trick by Geim and now in the artificial-moon chamber. Atoms are made up of atomic nuclei and tiny electrons that orbit them in tiny current loops, causing tiny magnetic fields to be created. Whether a drop of water or a frog's atoms have randomly oriented magnetic fields, they usually balance out, and no material-wide magnetism appears.

When an external magnetic field is supplied to those atoms, however, everything changes: the electrons shift their velocity, producing their own magnetic field to counter the applied field. If the external magnet is strong enough, the magnetic force of repulsion between it and the field of the atoms will become strong enough to overcome gravity and levitate the object - whether it's a sophisticated piece of lunar technology or a confused frog - into the air.

The results of the chamber's experiments will be used to guide China's Chang'e lunar exploration mission. China has also stated that a lunar research outpost will be established on the moon's south pole by 2029.