The human race has had a limited view of the sky, and the cosmos beyond. At first we had our own eyesight, then lenses, then telescopes, then non-visual spectrum sensors, and now a few satellite platforms for the same technologies.

As the move to habitation of the Moon and Mars moves forward, what does this mean for our cosmological viewing capabilities?

There is no atmosphere to obscure our telescopic vision from the Moon.

Mars' atmosphere is far less dense than Earth's, so that's also less-occluded view of the sky from Mars.

So, considering that some of our most interesting observations have been made by ganging up several terrestrial telescopes and using them in unison, what further capabilities might we gain from having permanent viewing platforms on Earth, the Moon, and Mars?

Are the orbital mechanics too difficult? While it is possible to calculate the correct viewing time/location on both Earth and Mars, would the window of opportunity simply be too small to view a single point in the sky from both vantage points simultaneously?

Do we leverage more asynchronous viewing, like they did recently with the black hole photos? (Have all three viewing platforms take images of Location X, then composite the images together later?)

It seems like this "tripod for cosmic imaging" idea would allow us "better" views of the galaxy... but I'm not smart enough to work out what "better" means, or what additional capabilities might be opened up when we have viewing platforms on multiple planetary bodies.

Anyone wanna try and think this through with me?


The problem is mainly how light works. The people who took this image are collecting photons (reminder, this is in radio wavelengths, and radio waves are light). The distance from peak to peak of these radio waves is on the order of 1.3mm (millimeters). They then had to time the observations so that all of the telescopes were observing at the same time. Then, THEN, then needed very accurate atomic clocks. What you are trying to do is get all the telescopes to get the same wavelength at the same time, taking into account the curvature of the earth's surface and the rotation of the planet itself. With the way that radio waves work, you can then do some math, compare the photon at the exact time needed and then do some interpolation and get the image presented.

Optical light, is on the order of 1/2 to 1/3 the size of a radio wavelength. That does not mean that doing the same thing with optical light is twice or three times as hard, oh no, it is about a cube of resolution and timing needed. This needs the accuracy of the atomic clocks at the current limit of the technology. The Event Horizon Telescope used a hydrogen atomic clock, which i did not realize they were using outside of a lab. When you get to the X-Ray range, you are talking 1/4 the wavelength of visible light, with the increase in cost of detectors, etc.

Now, we do use inferometry on some optical systems. The one that is currently working is the Large Binocular Telescope The light from the two mirrors is routed into a single point to make a bigger mirror, for much less money. The Giant Magellan Telescope is not using inferometry as it collects light as a single mirror, not two observatories.

So, let's play. Put a giant radio telescope on Earth. One on the moon. One on each of the L4 and L5 Lagrangian Points. Now you need to have the most accurate atomic timing ever built by people. and a very, VERY high bandwidth data link (which does not exist) and the power needed to keep the whole system running. The stuff on the moon and Mars will also have to be compensated due to the radical change in temperatures from day to night. THEN you have to make sure that you are all observing the same object at the same time. THEn you have to get the data back, petabytes of it. THEN you have to process the data (In this case it took two years.)

So is it possible? sure. $4 Billion for the Mars telescope. $3 Billion for each of the Lagrangian telescopes. $10 billion for the lunar scope and the manned mission to build it and operate it. Then $2-$5 billion for the team to do the work.

posted by goobster: 168 days ago