The test of a new space imaging instrument installed on the Green Bank Telescope (West Virginia) recently produced a very detailed image of the Apollo 15 landing site on the Moon.
For several years, Raytheon Intelligence & Space, an American company, has been developing a new radar imaging tool. The technology is not new, but researchers are trying to push the boundaries. In a test last November, the new transmitter installed on the Green Bank Telescope (West Virginia) sent a radar signal to the Moon, specifically targeting the Apollo 15 landing site on a 3474.2 km diameter disc.
When it bounced back, this signal was then collected by the Very Long Baseline Array. It is a collection of radio telescopes scattered across the United States, essentially combining to create a gigantic and unique radio telescope. The researchers were finally able get spectacular resolution, showing structures as small as five meters.
The Apollo 15 site from Earth
In the image below is a crater called Hadley C about six kilometers in diameter (top middle). The winding path, the Hadley Rille, is an ancient lava tube that collapsed millions of years ago. In the second image, the inset identifies the landing site of the Apollo 15 mission. Launched in July 1971, it consisted of astronauts David R. Scott, James B. Irwin and Alfred M. Worden (remained in lunar orbit) .
This technology was only a proof of concept allowing us to appreciate its full potential. It now paves the way for even more powerful radar imagery in the future. The team will soon be working on a high-powered 500-kilowatt radar system, potentially allowing scientists tostudy objects even as far away as Neptune.
“The planned system will be a leap forward in radar science, allowing access to unheard of features of the Solar System from here on Earth“, a declared the director of the Green Bank Observatory, Karen O’Neil.
Ultimately, this tool would indeed be useful to observe our Moon more closely, but not only. We could also appreciate the surfaces of other moons and planets in our system, or even image asteroids and other space debris too weak to be seen by optical telescopes. This detection and monitoring work could then help us to better understand the population of natural and human-made objects in near-Earth space, which could then aid planetary defense against potentially dangerous objects.