NASA contemplates turning a moon crater into a giant, powerful telescope

The far side of the moon would be a great place to stare out into the cosmos.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
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This concept design shows how a lunar telescope would use a wire mesh with a suspended receiver in the middle. Locating it on the far side would shield it from pesky "noise" from Earth.

Saptarshi Bandyopadhyay

We have telescopes on Earth. We have telescopes in space. So how about a telescope on the moon? It has so many lovely craters that are already in the shape of a telescope dish.

NASA has selected a lunar-crater radio telescope idea to receive funding through its NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, the agency announced on Tuesday. The Phase I award goes to projects in very early stages of development. 

Saptarshi Bandyopadhyay, a robotics technologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is the mind behind the moon dream. Making it happen would require sending robots to the far side of the moon and using the machines to deploy a wire mesh over a crater. 

Bandyopadhyay's proposal lists the benefits of locating a telescope on the far side of the moon, including that "the moon acts as a physical shield that isolates the lunar-surface telescope from radio interferences/noises from Earth-based sources, ionosphere, Earth-orbiting satellites, and sun's radio-noise during the lunar night."

The moon telescope project is one of 23 concepts that received part of a $7 million (£5.6 million, AU$11.2 million) investment through NIAC. The Phase I award consists of $125,000 to fund a nine-month study of the idea. Other concepts include investigating solar sails, lunar landing pads and a robotic explorer for Saturn's moon Enceladus.

NASA pointed out that these projects will mostly require a decade or more of technology development, and that they are not official NASA missions. These fascinating ideas are worthy of deeper investigation, though, and could one day move from concept to reality.

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