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Illuminate the dark ages of the universe



Concept Lunar Crater Radio Telescope

This image depicts a conceptual lunar crater radio telescope on the far side of the moon. The early concepts were researched under grant funding from NASA’s Advanced Concepts Program for Innovation, but were not NASA’s mission. Image credit: Vladimir Vustyansky

Early stage NASA This concept can see the robot hanging a wire mesh in a crater on the other side of the moon, creating a radio telescope to help detect the dawn of the universe.

After years of development, the “Lunar Meteorite Radio Telescope” (LCRT) project has received US$500,000 in funding to support its entry into the second phase of NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program. Although LCRT is not yet a NASA mission, the mission concept it describes may change mankind’s view of the universe.

The main goal of LCRT is to measure the long-wave radio waves produced in the dark age of the universe, which lasted for billions of years. Big explosion, But existed before the first stars blinked. Cosmologists know very little about this issue, but the answer to some of the biggest scientific mysteries may be related to the long-wave radio emissions produced by the gas that filled the universe during that time.

“Although there are no stars, hydrogen is still abundant in the dark ages of the universe-hydrogen will eventually become the raw material for the first stars,” said Joseph Lazio, a radio astronomer at the Southern California Space Agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. LCRT team. “With the help of a radio telescope large enough from the Earth, we can track the process that led to the formation of the first stars, and even find clues about the nature of dark matter.”

Radio telescope lunar crater

The surface of the moon is covered with craters, and a natural depression can provide a support structure for the dish antenna of a radio telescope. As shown in this picture, the DuAxel rover can fix the barbed wire on the edge of the crater. Image credit: Vladimir Vustyansky

Radio telescopes on Earth cannot detect this mysterious period because the long-wave radio waves at that time are reflected by a layer of ions and electrons on the top of our atmosphere. This area is called the ionosphere. Random radio emissions from our noisy civilization can also interfere with radio astronomy, drowning out the weakest signals.

But on the other side of the moon, there is no atmosphere to reflect these signals, and the moon itself will block the earth’s radio tremors. The far side of the moon may be the main real estate for unprecedented research in the early universe.

“Radio telescopes on Earth cannot see cosmic radio waves at about 33 feet [10 meters] Even longer, because of our ionosphere, we can’t see the entire region of the universe at all,” Joint police And the lead researcher of the LCRT project. “But the previous idea of ​​building a radio antenna on the moon was very resource intensive and very complicated, so we had to come up with a different idea.”

Build a telescope with a robot

In order to be sensitive to longer radio wavelengths, the LCRT must be large. The idea is to create an antenna that is more than half a mile (1 km) wide in a crater that is more than 2 miles (3 kilometers) wide. The largest single-dish radio telescopes on Earth, such as China’s 1,600-foot (500-meter) 100-meter-aperture spherical telescope (FAST) and the now-defunct 1,000-foot-wide (305-meter-wide) Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico – built in Natural bowl-shaped recessed interior to provide support structure.

Wire Mesh Vegetable Moon Crater

Conceptual radio telescopes can be constructed from barbed wire in a crater. In this illustration, the receiver can be seen hanging above the petri dish via a cable system anchored at the edge of the crater. Image credit: Vladimir Vustyansky

This type of radio telescope uses thousands of reflectors suspended inside the recess to make the entire dish-shaped surface reflect radio waves. Then, the receiver is suspended at the focal point above the dish by a cable system, and is fixed by the dish on the tower around the dish to measure the radio waves reflected from the curved surface below. However, despite its size and complexity, even FAST is not sensitive to radio wavelengths exceeding about 14 feet (4.3 meters).

Bandyopadhyay and his team of JPL engineers, roboticists, and scientists condense this type of radio telescope into its most basic form. Their concept eliminates the need to transport bulky materials to the moon and uses robots to automate the construction process. The LCRT does not focus the incident radio waves by thousands of reflectors, but is made of fine wire mesh in the center of the crater. One spacecraft will launch the mesh-like object, and the other lander will drop the DuAxel rover to build the dish in a few days or weeks.

A robot concept developed by JPL, DuAxel, consists of two single-axle rover vehicles (called Axel), which can be separated from each other but can be kept connected by a tether. One half will serve as an anchor point on the edge of the crater, while the other rope slopes downward to build the building.

Patrick Mcgarey, a robotics expert at JPL and a member of the LCRT and DuAxel project team, said: “DuAxel solves many problems related to suspending such a large antenna in a lunar crater.” “A single Axel rover can be driven into the crater when restrained. Connect the wires, apply tension, and then lift the wires to hang the antenna.”

Identify challenges

In order for the team to take the project to a new level, they will use NIAC funds from the second phase to improve the telescope’s functions and various mission methods, while identifying challenges along the way.

At this stage, one of the team’s biggest challenges was the design of the wire mesh. In order to maintain its parabolic shape and precise spacing between the lines, the grid must be strong and flexible, and light enough to be transported.The filter must also be able to withstand drastic temperature changes on the lunar surface-as low as 280 degrees (Minus 173 degrees Celsius) To temperatures as high as 260 degrees Fahrenheit (127 degrees Celsius)-will not deform or fail.

Another challenge is to determine whether the DuAxel rover should be fully automated or involve human operators in the decision-making process. Can the construction of DuAxels be supplemented by other construction techniques? For example, shooting a harpoon into the surface of the moon may better fix the LCRT grid, requiring fewer robots.

In addition, although the far side of the moon is currently “quiet”, it may change in the future. After all, the current mission of the China Space Administration is to explore the far side of the moon, and further development of the lunar surface may affect possible radio astronomy projects.

In the next two years, the LCRT team will also work hard to identify other challenges and issues. If they succeed, they can be selected for further development, which is an iterative process that inspired Bandyopadhyay.

He said: “The development of this concept may make some major breakthroughs in the process, especially in the process of deploying technology and using robots to build giant structures outside the earth.” “I am very happy to work with this diverse expert. Working as a team, they inspire the world to think about major ideas that can make groundbreaking discoveries about the universe in which we live.”

NIAC is funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)’s Space Technology Mission Agency, which is responsible for developing the new cross-domain technologies and capabilities required by the agency.




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