ST. LOUIS ? A team of astronomers has cooked up an out-of-this-world recipe for lunar concrete that could be used to build homes on the moon.
The innovative recipe of carbon, glue and moon dust, which produces what looks like a hockey puck, could also be helpful in building other structures on the moon, including giant telescopes and solar power arrays.
Lunar living aside, many astrophysicists think that large telescopes on the moon have their advantages: The moon lacks the clouds and blurring atmosphere that can distort images taken from ground-based observatories. In addition, the moon offers a permanent and stable platform ? the lunar surface.
One limiting factor for making the concrete could be the amount of material a rocket can reasonably haul up to the moon. But if the bulk of the material was already on the moon, that would lighten the Earth-to-moon payload. And that is the case, Chen says.
"We could make huge telescopes on the moon relatively easily, and avoid the large expense of transporting a large mirror from Earth," said Peter Chen of NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. "Since most of the materials are already there in the form of dust, you don't have to bring very much stuff with you, and that saves a ton of money."
Chen also notes that like concrete on Earth, the lunar type could have many uses.
"We could build structures on the moon, perhaps habitats for astronauts on the moon, maybe igloos," Chen said during a press briefing here today at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS).
To arrive at the concrete recipe, Chen and his Goddard colleagues including Douglas Rabin, mixed small amounts of carbon nanotubes and epoxies (glue-like materials) with simulated lunar dust, or crushed rock that has the same composition and grain size as dust on the moon.
After several iterations, one of which yielded what Chen described as "gooey and smelly," the team created a strong material with the consistency of concrete. Next, they coated the material with epoxy and spun the wet lunar concrete to form a 12-inch-wide (30-centimeter-wide) bowl-like structure shaped like a telescope mirror.
"After that, all we needed to do was coat the mirror blank with a small amount of aluminum, and voil?, we had a highly reflective telescope mirror," Rabin said. "Our method could be scaled-up on the moon, using the ubiquitous lunar dust."
Giant lunar observatory
To build a telescope the size of the Hubble Space Telescope, Chen suggests scaling up the recipe to about 130 pounds (60 kilograms) of epoxy and 1.3 tons, or 2,600 pounds (nearly 1,200 kg) of lunar dust.
Chen and Rabin envision creating a telescope mirror spanning 164 feet (50 meters) in diameter on the moon. Such an observatory would dwarf the largest optical telescope in the world ? the 34-foot (10.4-meter) Gran Telescopio Canarias, also called the Great Telescope Canary Islands.
A monster telescope or two such telescopes working in concert on the moon could help in the search for extrasolar planets and make detailed observations of distant galaxies, Chen said.
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