Lunar telescope will study the dark ages of the Universe

March 12th, 2008 - 3:24 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, March 12 (ANI): A team of scientists and engineers, led by the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), are going to design a telescope based on the moon, that would study the dark ages of the young Universe - during the first 100 million years of its existence.

Although the night sky is filled with stars, these stars did not form instantaneously after the Big Bang. There was an interval, now called the Dark Ages, in which the Universe was unlit by any star.

The most abundant element in the Universe, and the raw material from which stars, planets, and people are formed, is hydrogen. Fortunately, the hydrogen atom can produce a signal in the radio-wavelength part of the spectrum, at 21 cm; a wavelength far longer than what the human eye can detect.

If these first signals from hydrogen atoms in the Dark Ages can be detected, astronomers can essentially probe how the first stars, the first galaxies, and ultimately the modern Universe evolved.

Known as the Dark Ages Lunar Interferometer (DALI), this NRL-led concept is part of the Decadal Survey, an effort undertaken every 10 years by astronomers and physicists to help establish priorities for future research directions in astronomy and astrophysics.

With no atmosphere and shielding from the Earth, the far side of the Moon presents a nearly ideal environment for a sensitive Dark Ages telescope.

In NRLs DALI concept, scientists and engineers will investigate novel antenna constructions, methods to deploy the antennas, electronics that can survive in the harsh lunar environment, and related technology in preparation for developing a roadmap for research and development of a lunar telescope over the next decade.

According to the project leader at NRL, Dr. Joseph Lazio, DALI will be one of the most powerful telescopes ever built and will bring us closer than we have ever been to understanding where our Universe came from and where it is going.

Probing the Dark Ages presents the opportunity to watch the young Universe evolve, said Dr. Lazio.

Just as current cosmological studies have both fascinated and surprised us, I anticipate that DALI will lead both to increased understanding of the Universe and unexpected discoveries, he added. (ANI)

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