NASA funds proposal to build a telescope on the far side of the moon

The proposed telescope would be a 1km-diameter wire-mesh that can gaze out into the cosmos without being hindered by the Earth's atmosphere.
The proposed telescope would be a 1km-diameter wire-mesh that can gaze out into the cosmos without being hindered by the Earth's atmosphere. (Image credit: © Saptarshi Bandyopadhyay)

NASA is funding an early-stage proposal to build a meshed telescope inside a crater on the far side of the moon, according to Vice.

This "dark side" is the face of the moon that is permanently positioned away from Earth, and as such it offers a rare view of the dark cosmos, unhindered by radio interference from humans and our by our planet's thick atmosphere. 

The ultra-long-wavelength radio telescope, would be called the "Lunar Crater Radio Telescope" and would have "tremendous" advantages compared to telescopes on our planet, the idea's founder Saptarshi Bandyopadhyay, a robotics technologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory wrote in a proposal

Related: 10 interesting places in the solar system we'd like to visit

NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts Program is awarding $125,000 for a Phase 1 study to understand the feasibility of such a telescope, Bandyopadhyay told Vice. 

The telescope — designed as a wire mesh — would be deployed into a 2- to 3-mile-wide (3 to 5 kilometers) crater on the moon's far side. The 0.62-mile-diameter (1 km) wire-mesh telescope would be stretched across the crater by NASA's DuAxel Rovers, or wall-climbing robots, according to the proposal summary. 

If built, the "Lunar Crater Radio Telescope" would be the largest filled-aperture radio telescope in the solar system, Bandyopadhyay wrote. A filled-aperture radio telescope is a telescope that uses a single dish to collect data rather than many dishes, according to Vice. 

Because this telescope would be on the far side of the moon, it would avoid radio interference from Earth, satellites and even the sun's radio-noise during the lunar night. It would also let us gaze out into the cosmos without the veil of Earth's atmosphere. 

The atmosphere reflects low-frequency wavelengths of light greater than 32.8 feet (10 meters), essentially blocking them from reaching ground-based telescopes. The telescope "could enable tremendous scientific discoveries in the field of cosmology by observing the early universe in the 10– 50m wavelength band...which has not been explored by humans till-date," Bandyopadhyay wrote. 

Editor's Note: This story was updated on April 14 at 1:50 pm to clarify a statement about the radio-noise from the sun.

The telescope would be deployed in a lunar crater on the far-side.

The telescope would be deployed in a lunar crater on the far-side. (Image credit: Saptarshi Bandyopadhyay)

Originally published on Live Science.

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Yasemin Saplakoglu
Yasemin is a staff writer at Live Science, writing about biology and neuroscience, among other science topics. Yasemin has a biomedical engineering bachelors from the University of Connecticut and a science communication graduate certificate from the University of California, Santa Cruz. When she's not writing, she's probably taking photos or sitting upside-down on her couch thinking about thinking and wondering if anyone else is thinking about thinking at the exact same time.
  • Henderrj
    The inefficiency of driving up and down a craterside to drag wires seems too much. Would it not be better to use a simple projectile launch? Something like at 22 caliber bullet? Something spring powered? With the extremely light gravity it would seem that this would produce the desired effect much more quickly and probably at a lower weight.Then the rovers at top would simply grab each wire and attach it. This ideamight require pull wires which woud then reel up the telescope wires, but even that might save quite a bit of weight over the initially proposed solution.
  • Homer10
    I worked for the SETI Institute, and Ames Research Center NASA from 1992 to 1998. I remember they were talking about a facility on the dark side of the Moon back in 1995. It was one of those very much future proposals. You know, the way things are now going, this might not be such a far out concept. The crater approach might be accomplished with robots. The potential performance could be amazing. Not just for SETI, but all manner of Radio Astronomy. This could be a very interesting project.
  • Lovethrust
    Reminds me of building a spiders web. The science return from this would be truly jaw dropping.
  • bolide
    What happens during the phase of the moon (new moon) when the far side is directly facing the sun?
  • Synthmind
    To transmit the signal back to Earth they will need to have a functioning lunar satellite array, a land based radio relay to the earth side, or ground lay fiber to the earth side to transmit. On the dark side solar energy would not help so a small reactor? Lots more involved than placing and sagging suspension strands.