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Recipe for Giant Lunar Telescopes

Someone has finally figured out something useful for all the dust on the moon’s surface: mix it with some epoxy and a pinch of carbon to create giant telescope mirrors. “We could make huge telescopes on the moon relatively easily, and avoid the large expense of transporting a large mirror from Earth,” said Peter Chen at a press conference today at the American Astronomical Society meeting. “Since most of the materials are already there in the form of dust, you don’t have to bring very much stuff with you, and that saves a ton of money.”

Chen and is team had been working with carbon-fiber composite materials to produce high-quality telescope mirrors. But then they decided to try an experiment. They substituted tiny carbon nanotubes for the carbon-fiber composites, and mixed in epoxies with crushed rock that has the same
composition and grain size as lunar dust, they discovered to their surprise that they had created a very strong material with the consistency of concrete. This material can be used instead of glass to
make mirrors.

Then they spun their concoction at room temperature to create a 12-inch-wide telescope mirror form, which they then coated with aluminum to create a highly reflective surface.

“Our method could be scaled-up on the moon, using the ubiquitous lunar dust, to create giant telescope mirrors up to 50 meters in diameter,” said collaborator Douglas Rabin. Currently the world’s largest optical telescope is the 10.4-meter Gran Telescopio Canarias in the Canary Islands, so this would be quite a step up.

Like liquid mirror telescopes, these large telescopes on the moon have definite advantages. With a stable platform, and no atmosphere to absorb or blur starlight, the monster scope could record the spectra of extra solar terrestrial planets and detect atmospheric biomarkers such as ozone and methane. Two or more such telescopes spanning the surface of the Moon can work together to take direct images of Earth-like planets around nearby stars and look for brightness variations that come from oceans and continents.

“Constructing giant telescopes provides a strong rationale for doing astronomy from the moon,” says Chen. “We could also use this on-site composite material to build habitats for the astronauts, and mirrors to collect sunlight for solar-power farms.”


Nancy Atkinson is currently Universe Today's Contributing Editor. Previously she served as UT's Senior Editor and lead writer, and has worked with Astronomy Cast and 365 Days of Astronomy. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Chuck Lam June 8, 2008, 7:54 PM

    It doesn’t make any sense to transport any kind of machinery to the surface of the moon to manufacture anything. The proponents of this folly have absolutely no idea of what is involved in the simplest manufacturing process, especially on the moon. For example, it would take a small factory and dozen or so people to produce, say, a hand full of small functional $100 on earth telescopes. Not to mention the power requirements and life support systems, ad infinitum. And to colonize the moon for some meaningful purpose even for a few weeks aint going to happen in this or the next century, if ever.. There is simply no reasonable return on investment even for military defense purposes. Scientific curiosity is great! But at a cost of tens of billions of dollars to verify the presense of water or microbial life on the moon is totally ludicrous. We have enough mystery here on earth to keep viturally all scientific disciplines busy for centuries.