Story at a glance

  • The space agency last week announced a round of grants to support and encourage researchers to develop projects.
  • Among the projects is the development of the Lunar Crater Radio Telescope, an ultra-long wavelength radio telescope that could analyze radio waves from space.
  • The telescope could help understand more about the beginnings of the universe.

NASA is funding research that could one day put a radio telescope on the far side of the moon to better understand the origins and makeup of the universe. 

The space agency last week announced a round of grants to support and encourage researchers to develop projects focused on understanding and exploring space. 


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Among the projects is the development of the Lunar Crater Radio Telescope (LCRT), an ultra-long wavelength radio telescope that could collect radio waves from space and amplify them so they could be analyzed by researchers. 

The lunar telescope would work similarly to the Arecibo telescope that collapsed in Puerto Rico in December and has been shut down permanently. The iconic Arecibo had made key astronomical discoveries over several decades, including observations of pulsars and assessments of near-Earth objects such as asteroids and comets. It was the largest observatory of its time until 2016 when China erected the Five Hundred Meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST). 

The LCRT would be built in an existing crater just as the Arecibo was built, but would have a number of advantages over any similar Earth-bound observatory. 

A radio telescope on the moon would be able to observe the universe in wavelengths that are reflected by the Earth’s atmosphere. The Earth’s ionosphere absorbs radio waves with a wavelength higher than 10 meters, wavelengths where NASA says critical cosmological or extrasolar planetary signatures may be found. 

“This is the stage when the first stars were being formed in the universe, or even before that, when the first matter was formed but the stars hadn’t been formed yet,” Saptarshi Bandyopadhyay, a NASA engineer leading the effort on the project, told Business Insider

The lunar telescope would also be able to observe signals without radio interference from the Earth. 

“The Moon acts as a physical shield that isolates the lunar-surface telescope from radio interferences/noises from Earth-based sources, ionosphere, Earth-orbiting satellites, and Sun’s radio-noise during the lunar night,” NASA says

The project is in early stages and is not considered an official NASA mission. The space agency has awarded the research team $500,000 to continue developing the concept. 


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Published on Apr 16, 2021