To make a telescope that's about half the size of a football field, all you need are about a ton of epoxy, a few pounds of aluminum, and a few tons of a secret ingredient: Moon dust. Oh, and you need to be on the Moon to do it.
That's the hope, anyway, of a team of researchers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.
Building a telescope on the Moon offers several advantages. There's no atmosphere to blur the view of distant stars and other objects, for example. Gravity is only one-sixth that of Earth, so a big telescope mirror wouldn't slump under its own weight, as it would on Earth. The Moon also offers a stable platform, and easier access for repairs and upgrades than space-based telescopes.
The problem, though, is that it's expensive to ship equipment to the Moon. Sending a giant telescope would cost billions. So the Goddard team proposes "living off the land."
The team built a small prototype mirror out of epoxy and a synthetic moondust patterned after the real thing. When it dried, the mixture was as strong as concrete. The team also spun the mixture to create a mirror's curved surface, with no problems. An aluminum coating gave the mirror a reflective surface.
Of course, more tests are needed to try out the real thing -- on the Moon. But if they work out, a few decades from now, giant telescopes on the Moon could be taking clear pictures of planets in other star systems -- including planets like Earth.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2008
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