ECE: Electrical & Computer Engineering
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DALI on the dark side

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Antenna ray

An artist's conception of one of the antenna arrays comprising the radio telescope. The antennas are printed on a thin material which is rolled out from a central electronics hub that contains receivers and communication gear.

Blue sky is simulation of what telescope sees at radio wavelengths.

Astronomers have long dreamed about putting telescopes on the far side of the moon, away from Earth's turbulent ionosphere and torrent of radio signals. In the moon's radio-free shadow, radio telescopes might possibly pick up faint signals from the early universe that could not be otherwise detected.

ECE's Steve Ellingson is part of a Naval Research Laboratory team fleshing out ideas for rolled-up radio antennas that would pop open after being dropped on the lunar surface for transmitting data and for taking advantage of the planned presence of astronauts on the moon around 2019.

The team wants to build radio telescopes (antennas) that can capture signals at the very long wavelengths generated by events that occurred within hundreds of thousands &mdash as opposed to billions &mdash of years after the big bang. The universe consisted then of still-dark matter, hydrogen and helium. Efforts to test theories about the Universe's origins would benefit from the kind of data a moon-based radio telescope could provide.

The team, which includes researchers from Berkeley, the University of Colorado, Harvard, and Yale, is working under a $500,000 NASA-funded planning grant as part of the Dark Ages Lunar Interferometer (DALI) project. The team has recently merged with a similar effort led by MIT. The Dark Ages refers to the time after the initial universe explosion and before stars and galaxies formed.