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Wednesday, 3 June 2015

An observatory on the Moon...

China to set up second UV lunar observatory

Above: An Apollo lunar buggy and crew, on the Moon. America has yet to really return to the lunar surface, but it seems China may have plans for it...Courtesy of  NASA.
For a very long time an observatory on the Moon was a staple of proposals for future space exploration. The Moon does definitely have advantages over Earth: No pesky atmosphere to block the wavelengths of light we want to observe, and distort others. No noisy human technology putting out interference to swamp ultra faint signals. But the Moon has fewer advantages over a location in deep space - and those it does have haven't been compelling enough to convince space agencies to site an observatory there instead of Earth orbit.

Above: A proposed lunar observatory.
Until now: China is going to base a UV light observatory on the Moon, to perform long term monitoring of variable stars, and UV surveys of the low latitudes of our galaxy.The reason that China has decided to do this now is that they're sending their Chang'e 5 space probe to do a lunar sample return in 2017. If you're sending a ship to the Moon anyway, adding an observatory to the part of the lander that will stay on then Moon is more cost effective than setting up the observatory in low Earth orbit independently.

As they say, get the most Buck Rogers for your buck.

Above: The Chang'e 3 lander, with its UV observatory.
If this sounds a little familiar then that's because the Chinese space agency have already pulled the same trick once before*: They added a UV observatory to the lander portion of the Chang'e 3 space probe, which has been operating ever since Chang'e 3 landed - amongst other things it has imaged galaxies in the UV....

Above: A negative image of an espresso.Or possibly just a picture of a distant galaxy, taken in UV light, from the Moon. Courtesy of the Chinese Space Agency
...and measured the content of the ultra thin lunar atmosphere. The rest of Chang'e 3 and the (now paralysed but operational) lunar rover Yutu have spent their time studying the lunar geology.

While the Chinese penchant for doing lunar astronomy isn't the visions of massive, crewed, lunar radio telescopes that I grew up with, it's a start.

The Earth has a massive magnetic field shielding us all from solar storms and  radiation,. and let's not forget the auroras. It's a wonderful thing to have for our planet -  but it does do some odd things sometimes.  One is such is gigantic ropes of plasma, hanging above our atmosphere-and now they've been detected for the first time...

* Or the matrix just glitched. Damn thing, I knew I shouldn't have based it on Windows 3.1.
**That thing you just thought of? Yeah it's possible. It's incredibly unlikely, but it's possible. And don't think things like that, it's disgusting.

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