NASA is Getting Serious About a Radio Telescope on the Moon

Artist's impression of a radio telescope on the far side Moon. Credit: Vladimir Vustyansky

It’s widely known by now that the “dark side” of the moon, made famous by Pink Floyd, isn’t actually dark. It gets as much sunlight as the side that is tidally locked facing Earth.  However, it is dark in one very important way – it isn’t affected by radio signals emanating from Earth itself.  What’s more, it’s even able to see radio waves that don’t make it down to Earth’s surface, such as those associated with the cosmic “Dark Ages” when the universe was only a few hundred million years old.  Those two facts are the main reasons the far side of the moon has continually been touted as a potential location for a very large radio telescope.  Now, a project sponsored by NASA’s Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) has received more funding to further explore this intriguing concept.

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A 100-Meter Rotating Liquid Mirror Telescope on the Moon? Yes Please.

New results from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope suggest the formation of the first stars and galaxies in the early Universe took place sooner than previously thought. A European team of astronomers have found no evidence of the first generation of stars, known as Population III stars, when the Universe was less than one billion years old. This artist’s impression presents the early Universe. Image Credit: ESA/Hubble, M. Kornmesser.

In the coming years, some truly awesome next-generation telescopes are going to be gathering their first light. Between space telescopes like James Webb and Nancy Grace Roman, and ground-based telescopes like the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) and the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), astronomers will be able to study aspects of the Universe that were previously inaccessible.

For instance, there are Population III stars, which are the first stars to have formed in the Universe. These stars are not observable in visible light and even next-generation facilities (like those mentioned above) will not be able to see them. But according to a team led by NASA Hubble Fellow Anna Schauer, the solution could be to build what she has named the “Ultimately Large Telescope” (ULT) on the Moon.

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