While not an official full-fledged NASA mission, the concept of the Lunar Crater Radio Telescope, or LCRT, has been in development for years. The project recently received a $500,000 boost upon entering the second phase of NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts program.
The telescope could measure radio waves from a few hundred million years after the Big Bang that created our universe, before the first stars ever appeared.
The details of this chapter in the history of our universe have eluded cosmologists, and these radio waves could reveal what happened during that time.
“While there were no stars, there was ample hydrogen during the universe’s Dark Ages — hydrogen that would eventually serve as the raw material for the first stars,” said Joseph Lazio, LCRT team member and radio astronomer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, in a statement.
“With a sufficiently large radio telescope off Earth, we could track the processes that would lead to the formation of the first stars, maybe even find clues to the nature of dark matter.”
Projects like LCRT are selected by the program during a peer-review process of assessing proposals for missions that would further our understanding and exploration of space. It’s early days for this telescope, which could require years of technology development, but this approach fuels NASA’s selection of future missions.
“Creativity is key to future space exploration, and fostering revolutionary ideas today that may sound outlandish will prepare us for new missions and fresh exploration approaches in the coming decades,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, in a statement.
The far side of the moon
The radio telescopes scientists use on Earth can’t assess the radio waves from this cosmic era because they’re blocked by the ionosphere, which are the charged particles in our planet’s upper atmosphere. Earth is also full of its own radio emissions that can prevent faint signals from being tracked by radio astronomy.
“Radio telescopes on Earth cannot see cosmic radio waves at about 33 feet (10 meters) or longer because of our ionosphere, so there’s a whole region of the universe that we simply cannot see,” said Saptarshi Bandyopadhyay, lead researcher for LCRT and a robotics technologist at JPL, in a statement. “But previous ideas of building a radio antenna on the Moon have been very resource intensive and complicated, so we were compelled to come up with something different.”
The larger the radio telescope, the better the sensitivity for tracking long radio wavelengths.
A crater stretching over 2 miles (3 kilometers) wide could host a radio telescope with an antenna over 0.5 mile (1 kilometer) wide.
For reference, Arecibo was 1,000 feet (305 meters) wide and the…
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