Seems like there's a cheap way to create a telescope on the Moon

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Moon is often brought up as a good place to conduct astronomy, because it's a location much better than the Earth and even better than LEO (low Earth orbit) close to the Earth, because even in space you have to deal with frequent sunrises and sunsets, but on the Moon you have a 14-day night which allows for much more long-term observation, which is important when trying to discover extrasolar planets for example.

So according to the news today there seems to be a way to build the mirror on the Moon itself, which would mean that we wouldn't have to ship the whole thing there but rather just part of it, and the heavy mirror could be constructed over there. Here are the details:

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."


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.

Sounds good to me. Let's do it.


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