Friday, July 18, 2008

On the Moon and Need a Telescope? Make Your Own!

Hauling stuff up to the moon can get heavy and expensive. That's why Peter Chen and other NASA researchers (right down the road in Greenbelt, MD) have been working on a way to build telescopes using moon materials.

They have already managed to make a telescope mirror out of moon dirt (called "regolith" in space jargon), carbon nanotubes, and a pinch of epoxy. In something like lunar pottery, they spun the concrete-like mixture into a parabolic bowl shape, characteristic of a telescope mirror.

The bowl was placed into a vacuum chamber, thinly coated it with aluminum to make a mirror 1 foot in diameter. So far the method used by Chen and others is working, lunar telescope builders wouldn't even need a vacuum chamber, thanks to the moon's lack of atmosphere.

There are a few challenges however, such as lunar dust contamination that builders would have to somehow prevent while working. Plus, a spinning table would still have to be loaded onto rockets from earth and carried up to make the parabolic bowl.

The next part of the project aims to solve the problems of lunar dust, by creating an even larger mirror (1.64 foot by 3.23 foot) using simulated lunar dust. Improving the quality of the mirror and perfecting it's surface are also goals.

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