New lunar telescopes would probe the formation of the earliest structures in the Universe

February 20th, 2008 - 3:33 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, Feb 20 (ANI): NASA has selected a proposal by an MIT-led team to develop plans for an array of radio telescopes on the far side of the moon that would probe the earliest formation of the basic structures of the universe.

The new MIT telescopes would explore one of the greatest unknown realms of astronomy, the so-called “Dark Ages” near the beginning of the universe when stars, star clusters and galaxies first came into existence.

This period of roughly a billion years, beginning shortly after the Big Bang, closely followed the time when cosmic background radiation, which has been mapped using satellites, filled all of space.

This unobserved span of time in the universe’s infancy includes a time when dark matter - an unknown component of the universe that accounts for more than three-quarters of all the matter that exists -collapsed from a uniform soup of particles into clumps that formed the scaffolding for all the structures that emerged later, from stars and black holes to entire galaxies.

Learning about this unobserved era is considered essential to filling in our understanding of how the earliest structures in the universe came into being.

Known as the Lunar Array for Radio Cosmology (LARC) project, it is planned as a huge array of hundreds of telescope modules designed to pick up very-low-frequency radio emissions.

According to Hewitt, observations of the cosmic Dark Ages are impossible to make from Earth, because of two major sources of interference that obscure these faint low-frequency radio emissions.

One is the Earth’s ionosphere, a high-altitude layer of electrically charged gas. The other is all of Earth’s radio and television transmissions, which produce background interference everywhere on the Earth’s surface.

The only place that is totally shielded from both kinds of interference is the far side of the moon, which always faces away from the Earth and therefore is never exposed to terrestrial radio transmissions.

The new observations could test current theories about how the universe formed and evolved into its present state, including the theory of cosmic inflation.

In addition to their primary mission, the new telescopes would also be useful for studying huge eruptions from the sun, called coronal mass ejections, which can sometimes disrupt communications and electrical grids on Earth.

They could also study space weather, the radio emissions from other planets and emissions from collisions between galaxies. (ANI)

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