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NASA and DOE to land a radio telescope on the Moon's far side to explore Dark Ages of the Universe

NASA and the US Department of Energy (DOE) are working together to land a radio telescope on the Moon’s far side, with the aim of exploring the Dark Ages of the universe. The Dark Ages is a period in the universe’s history that occurred around 380,000 years after the Big Bang, during which no stars or planets had yet formed. This period is not observable through traditional means, as it occurred prior to the formation of celestial bodies. However, if cosmologists can detect radio waves from the Dark Ages, this could help unlock answers to some of the universe’s biggest mysteries, such as the formation of the universe and the nature of dark energy.

Picture: Kumaon Jagran
The far side of the Moon as seen and photographed by the Apollo 16 astronauts

The DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory notes that if predictions based on the cosmic microwave background benchmark do not match those based on the Dark Ages signal, it could signify new physics discoveries. However, detecting these signals requires a radio telescope, which must be placed on the far side of the Moon.

The far side of the Moon is also known as the “dark side,” but it is not always dark. It is called the dark side because it cannot be seen from Earth, but it experiences its own day and night cycles. The Lunar Surface Electromagnetics Experiment-Night (LuSEE-Night) is a collaboration between NASA and the DOE that aims to access signals from the Dark Ages for the first time.

Picture: Kumaon Jagran

The Moon and Earth are tidally locked, meaning the Moon rotates around its own axis at the same velocity as it does around the Earth, resulting in us always seeing the same side of the Moon. However, the lunar far side is shielded from many sources of radio interference at night by the Moon’s own mass, making it an ideal location for a radio telescope. Despite this, the far side of the Moon is a challenging environment, presenting little chance for scientific equipment to survive.

The Moon’s vacuum environment makes it difficult to remove heat and also makes equipment more susceptible to radiation. LuSEE-Night must reject heat in a vacuum environment during the day and keep itself from freezing at night, while also powering itself through 14 days of continuous darkness.

Brookhaven scientist Paul O’Connor notes that the Moon is easier to reach than Mars, but everything else is more challenging once you get there. Only one robotic rover has landed on the Moon in the last 50 years, while six have gone to Mars. However, the potential discoveries from LuSEE-Night make the mission a worthwhile challenge.

In conclusion, the LuSEE-Night mission to land a radio telescope on the far side of the Moon represents a significant milestone in our exploration of the universe. By accessing signals from the Dark Ages, we may be able to uncover new information about the formation of the universe and the nature of dark energy. The mission represents a significant technological challenge, but the potential rewards make it a worthwhile endeavor.

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