Jun 17, 2021

NASA Might Put a Huge Telescope on the Far Side of the Moon

Posted by in categories: cosmology, materials, robotics/AI

Observing the secrets of the universe’s “Dark Ages” will require capturing ultra-long radio wavelengths—and we can’t do that on Earth.

The universe is constantly beaming its history to us. For instance: Information about what happened long, long ago, contained in the long-length radio waves that are ubiquitous throughout the universe, likely hold the details about how the first stars and black holes were formed. There’s a problem, though. Because of our atmosphere and noisy radio signals generated by modern society, we can’t read them from Earth.

That’s why NASA is in the early stages of planning what it would take to build an automated research telescope on the far side of the moon. One of the most ambitious proposals would build the Lunar Crater Radio Telescope, the largest (by a lot) filled-aperture radio telescope dish in the universe. Another duo of projects, called FarSide and FarView, would connect a vast array of antennas—eventually over 100000, many built on the moon itself and made out of its surface material—to pick up the signals. The projects are all part of NASA’s Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, which awards innovators and entrepreneurs with funding to advance radical ideas in hopes of creating breakthrough aerospace concepts. While they are still hypothetical, and years away from reality, the findings from these projects could reshape our cosmological model of the universe.

“With our telescopes on the moon, we can reverse-engineer the radio spectra that we record, and infer for the first time the properties of the very first stars,” said Jack Burns, a cosmologist at the University of Colorado Boulder and the co-investigator and science lead for both FarSide and FarView. “We care about those first stars because we care about our own origins—I mean, where did we come from? Where did the Sun come from? Where did the Earth come from? The Milky Way?”

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