of the Moon to Explore the Early Universe
National Radio Astronomy Observatory | DAPPER | 2020 Sep 22
DAPPER will study “dark ages” of the universe in radio waves
The National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) has joined a new NASA space mission to the far side of the Moon to investigate when the first stars began to form in the early universe.Artist illustration of the Dark Ages Polarimetry Pathfinder (DAPPER), which will
look for faint radio signals from the early universe while operating in a low lunar
orbit. Its specialized radio receiver and high-frequency antenna are currently
being developed by NRAO. Credit: NRAO/AUI/NSF, Sophia Dagnello
The universe was dark and foggy during its “dark ages,” just 380 thousand years after the Big Bang. There were no light-producing structures yet like stars and galaxies, only large clouds of hydrogen gas. As the universe expanded and started to cool down, gravity drove the formation of the stars and black holes, which ended the dark ages and initiated the “cosmic dawn,” tens of millions of years later.
To learn more about that dark period of the cosmos and understand how and when the first stars began to form, astronomers are trying to catch energy produced by these hydrogen clouds in the form of radio waves, via the so-called 21-centimeter line.
But picking up signals from the early universe is extremely challenging. They are mostly blocked by the Earth’s atmosphere, or drowned out by human-generated radio transmissions. That’s why a team of scientists and engineers have decided to send a small spacecraft to lunar orbit and measure this signal while traversing the far side of the Moon, which is radio-quiet.
The spacecraft, called the Dark Ages Polarimetry Pathfinder (DAPPER), will be designed to look for faint radio signals from the early universe while operating in a low lunar orbit. ...