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Thread: The history and future of telescopes on the Moon

  1. #1
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    The history and future of telescopes on the Moon

    "For generations, astronomers have dreamed of building telescopes on the lunar farside. And that dream may soon be a reality."

    https://astronomy.com/news/2020/06/t...es-on-the-moon

    For radio astronomers, Earth is a noisy place. Many modern electronics leak radio signals, which interfere with the long, faint wavelengths of light studied by radio observatories. And for decades, this invisible light pollution has pushed radio observatories deeper into so-called “radio quiet zones.” This forces radio astronomers far from other people, out to places like the barren Atacama Desert in Chile.

    But it’s not just human-made devices that obstruct faint radio signals. Natural phenomena from Earth and the Sun can interfere, too. Adding insult to injury, Earth’s ionosphere — where solar radiation ionizes molecules in our upper atmosphere — blocks the longest radio wavelengths from reaching our planet’s surface at all.

    Scientists have long eyed a solution: the farside of the Moon. Because it always faces away from Earth, a radio telescope placed on the lunar farside would be almost completely sheltered from Earth-generated radio noise. There, astronomers would study a range of phenomena that can’t be seen from our planet, or even by Earth-orbiting space telescopes. A telescope on the Moon could show us what happened before the universe formed its first stars and galaxies, or let us see electromagnetic fields around distant exoplanets, revealing extremely subtle yet fundamental properties related to a world’s true potential for hosting life.
    I am because we are
    (African saying)

  2. #2
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    I have a small nit to pick with the author of that story:

    But Burns is optimistic. He’s now working with Jeff Bezos’ space company, Blue Origin, which has built a Moon lander capable of landing 5 tons’ worth of cargo on the lunar surface. That’s more than enough to carry FARSIDE. All they need now is the roughly $1 billion in funding to make it happen.
    Blue Origin have done no such thing; they have built a mockup around a design.

  3. #3
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    During the days of the Vision for Space Exploration, Dan Lester made few friends in the initiative with this paper: Dirt, Gravity, and Lunar-Based Telescopes: The Value Proposition for Astronomy

    This was sort of "he said it out loud!" for how many astronomers saw things at the time - advances in pointing and stability for free-flying telescopes meant that the Moon made sense as an observatory site only under certain conditions:

    1 - the need to block interference, which, truth be told, is becoming harder and harder to deal with on the ground at frequencies higher than the earlier idea of low frequencies blocked by the ionosphere. At very low frequencies, the Earth's auroral oval emits so strongly that the lunar farside may be the only place within an AU where low-frequency radio astronomy can be done all the time. (This is why Explorer 49 = Radio Astronomy Explorer B deployed 230-meter antennas in the shape of an X in lunar orbit in 1973.

    2 - the seismically quiet environment and rigid baselines (some kinds of interferometry, blendable with (1) for radio work

    3 - the economic side of the proposition may change if a transportation system and the presence of humans for installation and service (but not so close as to be a nuisance) has been developed and paid for for some independent reason. If there is a steady stream of landers and crew exchange with, say the lunar south pole, carrying gear to erect and operate telescopes is obviously very different than building a platform solely to carry and erect that gear.

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