Washington, June 5 : Scientists working at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in the US, have developed an innovative method for making giant telescope mirrors on the Moon.
According to the scientists, all that would be needed to make a mirror that dwarfs anything on Earth, would be a little bit of carbon, some epoxy, and lots of lunar dust.
"We could make huge telescopes on the moon relatively easily, and avoid the large expense of transporting a large mirror from Earth," said Peter Chen of NASA Goddard and the Catholic University of America.
"Since most of the materials are already there in the form of dust, you don't have to bring very much stuff with you, and that saves a ton of money," he added.
For years, Chen had been working with carbon-fiber composite materials to produce high-quality telescope mirrors.
But Chen and his colleagues decided to try an experiment.
They substituted carbon nanotubes (tiny tubular structures made of pure carbon) for the carbon-fiber composites.
When they mixed small amounts of carbon nanotubes and epoxies (glue-like materials) with crushed rock that has the same composition and grain size as lunar dust, they discovered to their surprise that they had created a very strong material with the consistency of concrete.
This material can be used instead of glass to make mirrors.
They next applied additional layers of epoxy and spun the material at room temperature. The result was a 12-inch-wide mirror blank with the parabolic shape of a telescope mirror.
"After that, all we needed to do was coat the mirror blank with a small amount of aluminum, and voila, we had a highly reflective telescope mirror," said Douglas Rabin from Goddard. "Our method could be scaled-up on the moon, using the ubiquitous lunar dust, to create giant telescope mirrors up to 50 meters in diameter," he added.
Such an observatory would dwarf the largest optical telescope in the world right now: the 10.4-meter Gran Telescopio Canarias in the Canary Islands.
According to NASA, the capabilities of a 50-meter telescope on the Moon boggles the imagination.
With a stable platform, and no atmosphere to absorb or blur starlight, the monster scope could record the spectra of extra solar terrestrial planets and detect atmospheric biomarkers such as ozone and methane.
Two or more such telescopes spanning the surface of the Moon can work together to take direct images of Earth-like planets around nearby stars and look for brightness variations that come from oceans and continents.
Among many other projects, it could make detailed observations of galaxies at various distances, to see how the universe evolved.