Scientists from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), Green Bank Observatory (GBO), and Raytheon Intelligence & Space (RIS) in collaboration with the National Science Foundation’s Green Bank Telescope (GBT) and Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) have developed a prototype radar that can shoot 2.1 million kilometres – the highest resolution images, to successfully take the images of the moon from the earth.
The development of the new observing systems on Earth that would aid in the study of the planets, moons, and asteroids in our solar system could be made possible by analogy. The prototype radar consists of a low-power transmitter that was developed by RIS, tested using the GBT, and targeted at the lunar surface, with the radar signals bouncing back and being received by NRAO’s ten 25-meter VLBA antennas.
“It’s pretty amazing what we’ve been able to capture so far, using less power than a common household appliance, said Patrick Taylor, the joint Radar Division Head for GBO and NRAO.”
The transmitter’s capacity to emit power at 13.9 GHz is limited up to 700 watts, which is far less than the 800-1000 watts of a typical household microwave. Tycho Crater, which is located in the southern hemisphere of the Moon and has an approximate diameter of 85 kilometres, was imaged by the prototype radar with a 5-meter resolution, which revealed amazing features of the crater’s bottom.
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Taylor described the Tycho Crater images as “…sort of linear or polygonal features on the crater floor, just showing that you could start doing geology with these images from the Earth,” and referred to it as “the highest resolution image of the Moon ever taken from the ground.”
In light of the fact that the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) on board the LRO can capture images of the Moon’s surface with a resolution of up to 0.5 meters, this prototype radar can capture images of the Moon’s surface from Earth almost as well as a satellite that is currently orbiting the Moon itself.
“So, the main takeaway from this, though, is that we were able to detect an asteroid five times further away than the Moon with less power than your microwave oven, which is pretty impressive, Taylor added.”