Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory are attempting to design and land a radio telescope on the dark side moon in the hopes of being the first to begin the exploration of the Dark Ages of the universe.
The Dark Ages started approximately 380,000 years after the Big Bang when no stars or planets existed. Radio waves on the moon’s dark side could give us insight into this mysterious period.
“Modeling the universe is easier before stars have formed. We can calculate almost everything exactly,” explained Brookhaven physicist Anže Slosar. “So far, we can only make predictions about earlier stages of the universe using a benchmark called the cosmic microwave background. The Dark Ages Signal would provide a new benchmark.”
The new project, the Lunar Surface Electromagnetics Experiment-Night (LuSEE-Night), seeks to move beyond predictions by accessing the Dark Ages Signal for the first time.
The task is not simple due to environmental conditions. The dark side is in total darkness for 14 Earth days, followed by intense sunlight. This dramatic change means the area can go from -280 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Building a telescope that can sustain these temperature fluctuations presents many challenges.
“The moon is easier to reach than Mars, but everything else is more challenging,” said Paul O’Connor, a senior scientist in Brookhaven’s Instrumentation Division and LuSEE-Night Project Instrument Scientist. “There’s a reason only one robotic rover has landed on the Moon in the last 50 years, while six went to Mars, which is 100 times farther away. It’s a vacuum environment, which makes removing heat difficult, and there’s a bunch of radiation.”
Despite these challenges, the Brookhaven team feels confident that they can build a capable telescope.
“LuSEE-Night is not a standard radio telescope,” said Slosar. “The spectrometer is at the heart of it. Like a radio tuner, it can separate out radio frequencies. That’s where our expertise gives us a starting point. Even though nobody has built an instrument like this before, we know how to build the most crucial component – a very sensitive spectrometer.”
The LuSEE-Night’s primary goal is to test whether radio cosmology experiments are possible on the moon’s far side. The team is also designing the telescope to collect data for two years in the hopes that it will uncover some of our universe’s darkest mysteries.
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