A lunar ear on the early universe

Nasa is backing space scientists’ plans to build a new £500,000 observatory on the far side of the Moon. The new radio telescope will be more powerful than any on Earth. And shielded from interference from TV stations and electronic equipment, it will listen in to the earliest days of the universe.

The far side of the MoonInstead of a single dish, such as at Jodrell Bank, in Cheshire, the lunar telescope will comprise of an array of hundreds of separate antennae.

Robotic rovers will steer them to different parts of the side of the Moon which is never seen from Earth because it always presents the same face to us.

The network of aerials, all working together like a giant ear on the sky, is likely to be built in 2025 at the earliest, five years or so after the US plans to return men to the Moon.

The fantastic new telescope would tune in to one of the greatest mysteries in astronomy – the so-called Dark Ages when the first stars and galaxies were being born, shortly after the Big Bang.

It is also a time when invisible dark matter which is thought to make up most of the universe condensed to form a cosmic scaffolding which holds everything in place.

Such observations are impossible from Earth because of the overpowering noise of radio and TV transmissions plus natural interference from a layer of electrically-charged gas in the upper atmosphere.

The telescope would also be able to study violent eruptions from the sun that can disrupt communications on Earth, zap satellites’ electronics and even knock out power grids.

Proposals to build the telescope are being led by astronomers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who have been awarded a £250,000 grant by Nasa to advance their plans. They follow a similar proposal for an optical telescope with a liquid mirror for the lunar surface.

Professor Ian Morison, of Jodrell Bank, told Skymania News: “There is no atmosphere on the Moon and, if you built a telescope on the far side, you could avoid radio interference from Earth and the ionosphere.

“It would be a wonderful place to carry out low-frequency observations which we are unable to do at the moment. That would allow us to learn more about the origin of the universe.”

Last year it was announced that Jodrell Bank is to be the HQ of another vast radio telescope array to be built in Australia or South Africa.

Picture: The far side of the Moon, photographed from Apollo 16. (Nasa).

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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