Wednesday, March 26, 2008

What better view?

Physics professor Jacqueline Hewitt, director of MIT's Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Science, stands behind a prototype of a radio telescope array. A team she leads has been chosen by NASA to develop plans for such an array on the far side of the moon. Photo / Donna Coveney MIT

NASA is treating the idea seriously enough to set aside $12 million in its stretched budget to examine the possibility of an array of radio telescopes to be situated on the dark side of the Moon.

Facing away from earth and its excessive broadcast noise, the telescopes would take advantage of the Moon's lack of an atmosphere to listen for ultra-low frequency radio waves from the midst of the universe.

The better listening conditions would improve the chances of picking up radio waves which may help astronomers in their quest to uncover the evolution of the universe.

The proposal, first suggested by a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), consists of an number of telescopes over an area of 2 square kilometres which would be constructed by robots. Scientists from the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) will now study how best to take the idea and turn it into a practical working telescope.

Among the concepts to be studied will be the Dark Ages Lunar Interferometer (DALI), the so-called "Dark Ages" interval between the Big Bang and the formation of the stars.

"Probing the Dark Ages presents the opportunity to watch the young universe evolve," says Dr Joseph Lazio, with the Washington DC-based Naval Research Laboratory, which is sharing a US$500,000 NASA grant with MIT for another lunar observatory.

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