University of Groningen Professor Léon Koopmans will be placing a radio telescope on the moon at the request of the European Space Agency (ESA). It’s expected that the telescope will be sent in 2035.
Koopmans wants to find out what the universe looked like in the period right after the Big Bang, known as the Cosmic Dark Ages, according to the University of Groningen (RUG). This period predates the formation of the first stars in our universe.
Koopman’s telescope will be a radio telescope which is not the same as an optical telescope. Optical telescopes, which even amateur star gazers might use in their garden, work by collecting visible light. They allow us to see stars and glowing gas but other objects in space remain hidden. Radio telescopes can be used during both the day and the night since their job is to pick up radio waves from space. Receivers from such telescopes provide scientists with numerical data which can then be converted into actual colour pictures.
While there are radio telescopes on Earth, they can’t detect radiation coming from the Cosmic Dark Ages. This is because signals from that time are largely deflected by the outer layer of our planet’s atmosphere. Whatever little signals are left after this deflection are drowned out by the radio signals we emit from Earth, the RUG said.
Koopmans and his team now need to figure out how to build a radio telescope that is compact, simple, and light enough for the ESA’s space mission.
“We need to develop good algorithms to process the data, but also a good system that can withstand the extreme temperatures, fluctuating between –170 °C and +100 °C,” Koopmans told the RUG.
Overall Koopmans is very motivated about this project.
“If I talk to a neighbour about our work, I can say: I’m going to put a radio telescope on the back side of the Moon. How many people can say such a thing?”, he said.