Could humanity’s return to the moon spark a new age of lunar telescopes?

Science | AAAS | 7/18/2019 | Staff
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Could humanity’s return to the moon spark a new age of lunar telescopes?

In the undulating, dust-covered Descartes Highlands, 380 kilometers southwest of Tranquility Base, where Apollo 11 landed half a century ago, a lonely gold-plated telescope has sat inert since 24 April 1972, when Apollo 16 astronauts John Young and Charles Duke blasted off the surface and left it behind. It was a small part of their 3-day mission, but a milestone for astronomers: the first observatory on another world.

Designer - Telescope - George - Carruthers - Researcher

The designer of the telescope was George Carruthers, a young researcher at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., who had made his name building ultraviolet (UV) telescopes for sounding rockets, which make short flights above the UV-blocking atmosphere. A big question at the time was whether the hydrogen in interstellar gas clouds was made of individual atoms or molecules of hydrogen (H2). The answer lay in its UV spectrum, which is difficult to capture from a sounding rocket.

Following the Apollo 11 landing, NASA called for science experiments to fly on future moonshots. Carruthers saw an opportunity to answer the hydrogen question—and gain a unique look at the gases surrounding Earth. Once his proposal was accepted, Carruthers had only 2 years to build the UV sensor—which converted photons to electrons and recorded that signal on film—and train Young and Duke to use the telescope. To block the sun's glare, the astronauts had to set it up in the shadow of the lunar landing module. Every so often, they would return to point the telescope at another target on Carruthers's list. At the end of the mission, the astronauts extracted a film cartridge and left the camera to its fate. That roll of film contained 178 frames, a meager haul, but enough for Carruthers to confirm the existence of interstellar molecular hydrogen—and...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Science | AAAS
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