Amazing prototype reveals the moon like we’ve never seen it before: ScienceAlert

Everyone loves taking pictures of the Moon. Whether with their phones or through the wonders of astrophotographyphotographing the Moon reminds us of the wonders and grandeur of the Universe.

But while we can take stunning images of Earth’s entire Moon, it’s extremely difficult to get close-up images of its surface, given the enormous distance we are from our nearest celestial neighbor at 384,400 km (238,855 miles).

This is because the closer we zoom in on its surface, the blurrier or more pixelated the images become. Essentially, the resolution of the images becomes worse and worse.

But what if we could take high-resolution images of Earth’s Moon surface instead of relying on satellites currently orbiting the Moon to capture them for us?

Taking high-resolution images of Earth is precisely what a collaborative team of scientists and engineers from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), Green Bank Observatory (GBO) and Raytheon Intelligence & Space (RIS) set out to do with the National Green Bank. Science Foundation Telescope (GBT) and Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA).

Through their efforts, the GBT, which is currently the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope, could be home to a high-powered, next-generation planetary radar system for scientists to use to study the planets, moons, and even asteroids within. of our planet. Solar System itself.

The radar prototype consists of a low power transmitter that was developed by RIS, tested using the GBT and aimed at the lunar surface, with the radar signals reflecting and being received by NRAO’s ten 25 meter VLBA antennas.

The most notable thing about the transmitter is that it only produces up to 700 watts of power, which is less than a standard 800-1000 watt kitchen microwave at 13.9 GHz.

The prototype radar was able to image Tycho Crater, which is located in the southern hemisphere of the Moon and measures approximately 85 kilometers in diameter, with a resolution of 5 meters revealing incredible details of the crater floor.

Grayscale image of a large crater with hills in the middle
Prototype radar image of Tycho Crater taken from Earth. (Raytheon Technologies)

“It’s amazing what we’ve managed to capture so far, using less energy than a typical household appliance,” Patrick Taylor, head of the GBO and NRAO joint radar division, said in a statement.

Taylor presented the prototype radar findings at the American Astronomical Society’s 241st Conference in Seattle, Washington in January 2023 in a short talk entitled, “The Next Generation Planetary Radar on the Green Bank Telescope”where it displayed radar images of the lunar surface and other discoveries between 2020 and 2021, and can be seen in the first ten minutes of the video below.

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Taylor described the Tycho Crater images in his talk as “… sort of linear or polygonal features on the bottom of the crater, just showing that you can start doing geology with these ground (Earth) images”. It also displayed a single radar image of the Apollo 15 landing site with an impressive resolution of 1.25 meters, which he called “the highest resolution image of the Moon ever taken from the ground”.

For context, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) can take images of the surface of the Moon with a resolution of up to 0.5 meters, which means that this prototype radar can image the surface of the Moon from Earth almost as well as a satellite currently orbiting it. the moon itself!

Along with the lunar images, the prototype radar also detected a “potentially hazardous” asteroid in 2021 known as (231937) 2001 FO32, which is labeled “potentially hazardous” due to its size, approximately 1 kilometer in diameter, along with the proximity can reach Earth, in this case just over 2 million kilometers away. The asteroid detection showed up as a spike in its data.

“And now it’s not the same as images of the Moon,” Taylor said in his talk.

“But from that little peak, you can figure out how fast this object is moving, you can figure out its orbit, you can figure out its trajectory in the future, you can determine its impact risk, you can assess how much danger or that is, you can restrict its rotation state, its size, its composition, its dispersion properties, and so on.

“So even if it doesn’t sound like a lot, this small detection could provide a lot of information about the characterization of the asteroid. So the main takeaway from this though is that we were able to detect an asteroid five times farther than the Moon with less energy than your microwave oven, which is pretty impressive.”

Details of the hills inside Tycho crater on the moon.
Magnification of the prototype radar image of the floor of Tycho Crater in detail with a resolution of 5 meters. (Raytheon Technologies)

Next steps include scaling up the radar to up to 500 kilowatts, which is nearly 1,000 times more powerful than the current 700-watt prototype, and design work on this flagship system is ongoing using the VLBA and future Next Generation Very Large Array (ngVLA) as terrestrial receivers.

This radar could also potentially detect objects in what’s known as cislunar space, aka high Earth orbit space, in hopes of protecting future lunar astronauts and spacecraft as we send humans back to the moon in the coming years.

Along with its potential planetary defense capabilities, the GBO’s future radar system could also be used for planetary science purposes, including imaging, astrometry, and physical and dynamic characterizations of planetary objects within the Solar System.

What exciting discoveries will the GBO’s new radar system reveal about our solar system in the coming years and decades? Only time will tell, which is why we do science!

As always, keep doing science and keep looking up!

This article was originally published by Universe Today. Read the original article.

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