Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Earthrise


Isn't this amazing? Japan's Kaguya probe is rapidly becoming a star. Today Kaguya has reproduced the famous Earthrise photo in HD! Photo below is an Earthset over the South Pole, so South is up. Australia is on Earth's left side and Asia below. We can easily imagine the lights of a base at the lunar South Pole. More about the Moon to be added soon!

Astronomers have long dreamed about a giant radio telescope on the lunar farside. Here they could observe the distant Universe while shielded from Earth's electronic racket. Thanks to the Vision for the Moon, today a seemingly impossible dream is becoming a plan. Thursday at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, astronomer Kurt Weiler will talk about a Dark Ages Lunar Interferometer. DALI would have a collecting area of at least 10 square kilometres built on the far side of the Moon. Tended by humans on the Moon, it would explore a mysterious time in evolution of the Universe.

The cosmic microwave background dates from a time of recombination about 380,000 years after the Big Bang. The next 500 million years saw formation of the first stars and galaxies. Because there was no starlight, that time is known as the Dark Ages. Almost nothing is known about what happened in this critical period. How diffuse interstellar gas could have collapsed into stars and galaxies has been a complete mystery.

Previously scientists have believed that Black Holes formed after stars. Physicists like Hawking believe that Primordial Black Holes formed shortly after the Big Bang. Mass of PBH's is thought to be limited by a horizon distance related to the speed of light. Because c was much higher, Black Holes could have formed in almost any size. Their presence could have seeded formation of galaxies, stars and even smaller objects.

Weiler's talk is part of a conference this week on Large Space Missions Beyond the Next Decade. Wednesday afternoon Harvey Tananbaum talked optimistically about the Constellation-X mission. (There were no talks about JDEM or "dark energy.") Wes Traub of JPL talked about exoplanet missions that will be enabled by Ares V. Its huge payload, bigger than the old Saturn V, will create possibilities for all kinds of science. In addition to taking humans beyond Earth orbit, a heavy booster is needed for the future of astronomy.

The missions people have dreamed about, from exploring asteroids to radio telescopes on the Moon, require getting beyond LEO. The next American administration must keep the Vision going. Humanity can not afford to turn inward again. If we turn back, humans will never again see this view.

UPDATE: Tonight at 8 PM EST Discovery Channel Canada will be airing a 30-minute special RETURN TO THE MOON, featuring HD footage from Kaguya.

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12 Comments:

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Earth looks like a plate painted by a two-year-old. Reminds me of painting at secondary school: we made plates out of clay, glazed them, then fired them in a kiln. One had some air bubbles in it and exploded when being fired, ruining the whole batch. But they were almost all a complete mess anyway. (Might pass for modern art, though.)

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