NASA must install lunar telescopes to investigate the universe

If a telescope were able to see the universe more than 13 billion years ago, when there were only gases coming from the Big Bang, what would it see? If it depends on NASA, this mystery will be solved soon. Scientists and astronomers plan to install lunar observatories in the coming years and currently two projects are under study: the Lunar Crater Radio Telescope – LCRT and the Farside Array for Radio Science Investigations of the Dark Ages and Exoplanets – FARSIDE.

Both projects have some particularities, but, in short, they share the same ambition: to be the first telescope installed on the moon – more precisely on its dark side. Beside them, there is the fact that there are already missions leaving there, and they could take the necessary equipment for the construction of the observatories.

NASA plans to install a radio telescope on the dark side of the moon.Source: Pixabay

There is currently a spectrometer already built, scheduled for launch in early 2022, known as Radiowave Observations at the Lunar Surface of the photoElectron Sheath – ROLSES. He will study how sunlight carries the light lunar atmosphere. The next step is to reach the dark side of the moon.

“This idea has existed since the beginning of manned moon missions in 1960,” Saptarshi Bandyopadhyay, a robotics technician at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in an interview with United Press International. “Only now do we have the robotic technology to do this much cheaper than ever – and we have a lot of new lunar missions planned,” he said.

Lunar missions include a series of rovers and landers that will help prepare NASA and the moon for human visits again, but the missions will also carry scientific equipment, such as telescopes. The space agency’s goal is to get people to the moon again in 2024, but the agency has not yet received the funding it requested from Congress.

When funding is available, building a telescope in a lunar crater will be simpler than building a similar structure on Earth, according to Bandyopadhyay. “Suspending something on the moon is significantly easier because the moon is 1/6 of the Earth’s gravity,” he explained.

NASA studies two lunar telescopes

Lunar Crater Radio Telescope – LCTR

The project would transform a lunar crater about half a mile in diameter – almost a kilometer – into an observatory, building a receiver and extending a wire mesh along the walls of the hole. Studies indicate that the components can be transported to the moon in a single mission. The bold plan has already received $ 500,000 for additional studies. NASA scientists propose the use of robots or rovers to deploy the mesh.

Illustration of the FARSIDE project.Illustration of the FARSIDE project.Source: University of Colorado-Boulder / Reproduction

Farside Array for Radio Science Investigations of the Dark Ages and Exoplanets – FARSIDE

The project, which in Portuguese means something like “Radiocience Investigations from the Dark Ages and Exoplanets on the far side” (with “Dark Ages” referring to the astronomical period when there were no stars) plans to extend wires and sensors over a huge area 6 miles in diameter – almost 10 kilometers – on the dark side of the moon. The idea is also to deploy them using robots.

Who wins?

So far, NASA has not decided which of the two lunar observatories would work best, or whether both would be necessary, said Jack Burns, principal investigator at FARSIDE and professor of astrophysics at the University of Colorado in Boulder, in the United States. NASA believes that both proposals could be made with mere millions of dollars, compared to the billions that these telescopes could cost here on Earth.

For Burns, a radio telescope on the other side of the moon would be so isolated from Earth’s light and radiation that it could pick up low-frequency radio waves left over from the “dawn of the universe”. So, if NASA manages to carry out at least one of the projects, humanity must win – in the form of knowledge.

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