Texas Astronomers Revive Idea For 'Ultimately Large Telescope' On the Moon

Texas Astronomers Revive Idea For 'Ultimately Large Telescope' On the Moon

A group of astronomers from The University of Texas at Austin has revived an idea shelved by NASA to build a lunar liquid-mirror telescope on the moon to study the first stars in the universe. “The team, led by NASA Hubble Fellow Anna Schauer, will publish their results in an upcoming issue of The Astrophysical Journal,” reports Phys.Org. From the report: These first stars formed about 13 billion years ago. They are unique, born out of a mix of hydrogen and helium gasses, and likely tens or 100 times larger than the Sun. New calculations by Schauer show that a previously proposed facility, a liquid mirror telescope that would operate from the surface of the Moon, could study these stars. Proposed in 2008 by a team led by Roger Angel of The University of Arizona, this facility was called the Lunar Liquid-Mirror Telescope (LLMT). NASA had done an analysis on this proposed facility a decade ago, but decided not to pursue the project. According to Niv Drory, a senior research scientist with UT Austin’s McDonald Observatory, the supporting science on the earliest stars did not exist at that point. “This telescope is perfect for that problem,” he said.

The proposed lunar liquid-mirror telescope, which Schauer has nicknamed the “Ultimately Large Telescope,” would have a mirror 100 meters in diameter. It would operate autonomously from the lunar surface, receiving power from a solar power collection station on the Moon, and relaying data to satellite in lunar orbit. Rather than coated glass, the telescope’s mirror would be made of liquid, as it’s lighter, and thus cheaper, to transport to the Moon. The telescope’s mirror would be a spinning vat of liquid, topped by a metallic — and thus reflective — liquid. (Previous liquid mirror telescopes have used mercury.) The vat would spin continuously, to keep the surface of the liquid in the correct paraboloid shape to work as a mirror. The telescope would be stationary, situated inside a crater at the Moon’s north or south pole. To study the first stars, it would stare at the same patch of sky continuously, to collect as much light from them as possible. The team is proposing that the astronomical community revisit the shelved plan for a lunar liquid-mirror telescope, as a way to study these first stars in the universe.

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