At the foot of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains (an area known for advanced space technology), Jack Burns, a longtime professor of astrophysics at the University of Colorado at Boulder, will finally see a decades-old vision. A low-frequency lunar radio telescope is realized.
Beginning in the mid-1960s, Burns and colleagues said the far side of our Moon would be the perfect location for low-frequency radio astronomy.
Burns said in the Boulder office: To get this quiet, he says, you have to go all the way to Jupiter’s equivalent orbit to reduce the amount of radio noise coming from Earth to the same level as on the other side of the moon.
However, unlike previous initiatives to make lunar distant telescope arrays a reality, this time around, the accessibility of commercial space technology has shifted the paradigm, allowing new space players such as Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin to be strong enough to bring these telescope arrays to the moon. expressed interest. . However, it remains to be seen whether this ambitious billion-dollar far-end array will ultimately be funded solely by NASA or through a public-private partnership.
Blue Origin wants to fund NASA to take our telescope to the moon, Burns says. But Bezos himself is interested in science, Burns says.
Although FARSIDE technology is already in place for radio scientific investigations into the Dark Ages and exoplanets, the lunar lander itself still needs finishing work. Therefore, FARSIDE is not expected to see the first light from the lunar surface until as early as 2030.
The array will then be able to precisely measure the dark ages of the universe, before the formation of the first stars and before the formation of the first galactic structures. Operating well below the FM band in the frequency range between 10 and 40 MHz, FARSIDE was able to observe the universe 15 to 80 million years ago. Or less than 100 million years after the Big Bang.
FARSIDE consists of 128 pairs of dipole antennas robotically deployed by four lunar probes. When an array of 10 km in diameter is set up, it electronically combines the signals.
And in one landing, Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lander is large enough to bring everything you need for your FARSIDE array. The array itself extends from the center like a spiral wagon wheel in four basic directions on the southern equatorial plains.
Part of my research team is learning how to remotely control this rover from a distance. Everything lays out the equipment without getting tangled. FARSIDE Array lead researcher Burns told me to maneuver around rocks and craters. The opposite communication satellite relays the data back to Earth.
FARSIDE’s main scientific goal is to study highly redshifted primordial neutral hydrogen in the 21 centimeter band of the radio spectrum. This will give Burns and his colleagues a wireless glimpse of the earliest structures that such low frequencies allow.
Because the universe is expanding, these wavelengths can range from tens to hundreds of meters before they reach us. That’s why the frequencies are so low, Burns says.
The early universe, says Burns, began in a high-energy soup of elementary particles (electrons and protons) after the Big Bang. As the universe expanded, it cooled. Eventually, he points out, electrons and protons can combine to form neutral hydrogen atoms.
There were no stars yet, but the nuclei of the first stars in the universe were forming and collapsing.
About 100 to 200 million years ago, the first stars were lit. Each is about 100 times the mass of our Sun.
“Gravity affects neutral hydrogen, so we can see the first stellar trail in the signal we’ll observe with FARSIDE,” Burns said. We are trying to understand how the first stars and galaxies formed and how their paths eventually got to us, he says.
Another major scientific goal of FARSIDE is to find coronal mass ejections and solar flares from nearby stars and measure their effects on the inner solar system. If there are Earth-like planets in such a system, the FARSIDE team will look for signs that those planets have Earth’s magnetic field.
The reason we have life on our planet and obviously no life on the surface of Mars is because we have a magnetic field but Mars doesn’t, Burns says. Mars, he says, had one on Mars billions of years ago and then turned off, and the solar wind stripped its atmosphere and burned its surface, he says.
Even exoplanets in the habitable zone of a given solar system would be significantly less likely to exist without Earth’s magnetic field. Therefore, one of the next steps in determining the habitability index of a nearby exo-Earth is to determine whether a magnetic field currently exists. FARSIDE is here to help.
FARSIDE will be able to measure the magnetic field strength around these planets, Burns says.
FARSIDE remains the holy grail of observation moon-based. But NASA and its commercial contractors have planned two lunar radio telescope precursor missions to prove both the science and technology needed to make FARSIDE a reality.
Radio observations from the lunar surface from the Photo-Electron Sheath (ROLSES) will land near the moon later this year. And the Lunar Surface Electromagnetic Experiment (LuSEE) will make a far-end landing in 2025.
“The moon is now more accessible and affordable than ever,” Burns said. “There are advanced technologies that can do it cheaply.”
All we need is a lander, a lunar communications satellite and money, he says.