Researchers fired radio waves to illuminate the Moon, thus giving us the most detailed photos of the Moon in history.
Using a radar beam less powerful than a microwave oven, researchers at the Green Bank Observatory have managed to capture the most detailed photos of the Moon in history. The resolution is simply stunning, so much so that it can show objects as small as 1.5 meters in size.
The photos of the Moon were presented during the 241st meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in Seattle, Washington. They are high-resolution photographs that even captured the landing site of Apollo 15, which was the ninth human mission of NASA’s eponymous lunar exploration program. The images also show Tycho Crater, which is one of the most important landforms in the lunar southern hemisphere highlands.
[Photo: Green Bank Telescope]
How the Photos of the Moon Were Taken
Using the 100-meter Green Bank Telescope (GBT), located in West Virginia, which is currently the world’s largest steerable radio telescope and is designed to point its dish at different parts of the sky, the researchers fired radio waves less powerful than those emitted by a microwave oven to illuminate the Moon.
During the American Astronomical Society conference, Patrick Taylor, head of the radar division at Green Bank Observatory and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, said the GBT fired radio waves that arrived directly at the Moon and their echoes were later picked up by an array of four 25-meter-diameter radio telescopes at the Very Long Baseline Array in Hawaii.
Most impressively, the GBT only sent out a beam of 700 watts of power, which is “comparable to a household appliance or a bunch of light bulbs,” Taylor said. Nevertheless, this was enough to capture the highest-resolution photos of the Moon in history.
Taylor explains that they managed to capture features around the Apollo 15 landing site as small as 1.5 meters, in addition to photographing the Tycho crater where it is possible to admire objects up to 5 meters in size. The latter is a very prominent impact crater located in the high elevations in the lunar southern hemisphere, believed to be the youngest crater of all those that can be seen on the visible face of the Moon, dating back some 108 million years, according to data collected by Apollo 17.
[Photo: Green Bank Telescope]
They Also Examined an Asteroid
Researchers at the observatory also used the radio telescope to capture data from an asteroid about 1 kilometer in diameter that crossed close to Earth a few months ago. Thanks to the power to collect data, it was possible to obtain specific information about the asteroid with high precision, such as its size, velocity, spin, and composition.
Now that the GBT has shown the pictures of the Moon that can be taken with low-power radio signals, scientists hope to develop a more advanced version of the same instrument to achieve 700 times more power (equivalent to 500 watts) to observe objects in space and also to perform geological studies on the Earth’s natural satellite, as well as to obtain even more detailed pictures of the Moon.
Story originally published in Spanish in Cultura Colectiva
Cover Photo: Green Bank Telescope