In a few years, a small radio telescope on the far side of the moon could help scientists look into the ancient past of the universe.
The lunar instrument, called the Lunar Surface Electro Magnetics Experiment-Night (LuSEE-Night), is a pioneer being developed by the Brookhaven and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories of the US Department of Energy, the UC Berkeley Space Science Laboratory and NASA. Science Mission Directorate.
LuSEE-Night is currently scheduled to launch on a private robotic lunar lander in late 2025. (will open in a new tab). After it touches the far side of the Moon, it will attempt to collect the first of its kind measurements from the “Dark Ages” of the universe.
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The Dark Ages refer to the period in the early universe, roughly between 400,000 and 400 million years after the Big Bang, before stars and galaxies began to fully form. On the far side of the Moon, LuSEE-Night will use onboard antennas, radios and a spectrometer to measure the weak Dark Age radio waves in search of what scientists call the Dark Age Signal.
“So far, we can only make predictions about the earlier stages of the universe using a benchmark called the cosmic microwave background. The signal of the Dark Ages will become the new benchmark,” said Ange Slosar, a physicist from Brookhaven. (will open in a new tab). “And if the predictions based on each test don’t match, that means we’ve discovered new physics.”
It is not necessary to expect LuSEE-Night to make such a big breakthrough on its own; after all, it is a trailblazer meant to pave the way for more ambitious tools in the future. The larger project could eventually shed light on important cosmic questions like the nature of dark energy and the creation of the universe, team members say.
The far side of the Moon is a great place to look for faint signals that might hold such clues, because it offers something that the Earth can’t: deep and deep silence. The constant radio bombardment of our planet creates an environment that is too noisy for the ultra-sensitive instruments that LuSEE-Night will use. However, local distance also presents problems.
It takes a feat of engineering to survive there. Although sometimes erroneously referred to as the “dark side” of the Moon, the part of Earth’s natural satellite that faces away from us in the night sky actually has a day/night cycle, each phase lasting about 14 Earth days. Temperatures on the far side of the moon range from 250 to minus 280 degrees Fahrenheit (121 to minus 173 degrees Celsius).
As such, LuSEE-Night must be designed to withstand two weeks of intense, unforgiving, uninterrupted lunar day, as well as stay on for two weeks of harsh cold darkness—and do it over and over again. The estimated lifetime of a mission on the lunar surface is two years.
“In addition to the significant potential scientific payoff, the demonstration of LuSEE-Night’s lunar night survival technology is critical to long-term, high-priority scientific research from the lunar surface,” said Joel Kearns, Associate Associate Administrator for Research at NASA Science. The same statement was made in a statement from the Office of the Mission.
When everything is in place, LuSEE-Night will launch the Future Commercial Lunar Payload Delivery (CLPS) mission, a NASA initiative that, according to the space agency’s website, “allows for the rapid acquisition of payload delivery services to the Moon from US companies that expand possibilities”. for science, exploration or commercial exploitation of the Moon.”
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