CHINA: China is planning to launch a revolutionary lunar radio telescope project that could provide unprecedented insights into the mysteries of the universe. The ambitious endeavour, known as the “Discovering Sky at the Longest Wavelength” or Hongmeng Project, aims to put a small constellation of satellites in orbit around the moon to create a powerful radio telescope.
This innovative approach would allow astronomers to explore the cosmos in a part of the electromagnetic spectrum currently inaccessible from Earth’s surface. The proposed lunar array would consist of a central “mother” satellite and eight mini “daughter” satellites.
The mother satellite would process data and communicate with Earth, while the daughter satellites would detect radio signals from the universe’s farthest reaches.
This configuration offers several advantages over building a telescope directly on the lunar surface, including simplified engineering requirements and the ability to utilize solar power during the moon’s two-hour orbit.
According to Xuelei Chen, an astronomer at the China National Space Administration (CNSA), the Hongmeng Project could be operational as early as 2026.
The telescope’s primary objective is to observe radio waves longer than 33 feet (10 meters), corresponding to frequencies below 30 megahertz (MHz).
This part of the electromagnetic spectrum is challenging to study from Earth due to the atmosphere’s strong absorption of the signals.
Scientists believe exploring this low-frequency range could unveil the universe’s “Dark Ages,” shedding light on the first few hundred million years after the Big Bang.
During this period, a dense fog of hydrogen atoms prevented light from penetrating, but it emitted a signal known as the 21-centimeter line.
While scientists have studied this signal within our galaxy, the longer wavelengths associated with the earliest epoch of the universe are inaccessible from Earth’s surface.
The moon’s far side presents an ideal location for such observations. Shielded from Earth’s radio interference and atmospheric disturbance, the moon’s far side is considered the most radio-quiet place in the solar system.
Astronomers anticipate that this lunar radio telescope could reveal not only the 21-centimeter line from the universe’s infancy but also other intriguing phenomena, such as the magnetospheres of exoplanets and potential signals from intelligent extraterrestrial life.
China’s lunar radio telescope project builds upon previous attempts to test this concept.
The Longijang 1 and Longijang 2 microsatellites, part of the “Discovering the Sky at Longest Wavelengths Pathfinder” mission, provided valuable insights into the moon’s radio environment.
Despite Longijang 1’s failure to enter the moon’s orbit, Longijang 2’s measurements confirmed the extraordinary radio silence on the moon’s far side.
By opening a new window into the universe, astronomers hope to make groundbreaking discoveries and unlock the secrets of the cosmos.
The Hongmeng Project represents a significant step forward in our quest to understand the universe’s origins and potentially make contact with other intelligent civilizations.
As China pushes the boundaries of space exploration, the world eagerly awaits the remarkable insights that this lunar radio telescope could reveal.