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Incredible radar image of the moon was actually taken from Earth

Rob Waugh
·2-min read
The radar image of where Apollo 15 landed in 1971. The snake-like feature is Hadley Rille, a remnant of ancient volcanic activity, probably a collapsed lava tube (NRAO/GBO/Raytheon/NSF/AUI)
The radar image of where Apollo 15 landed in 1971. The snake-like feature is Hadley Rille, a remnant of ancient volcanic activity, probably a collapsed lava tube. (NRAO/GBO/Raytheon/NSF/AUI)

A new transmitter fitted to the world’s largest steerable radio telescope has captured an incredible image of the Apollo 15 landing site – by bouncing radio waves off the moon.

The radar tool could be used to capture incredibly detailed images of near-Earth objects such as asteroids, or moons orbiting other planets, researchers at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in West Virginia said.

Designed by Raytheon Intelligence and Space, the radar transmitter was attached to the Green Bank Telescope (GBT) at the Green Bank Observatory (GBO), beaming a radar signal at the moon.

The reflected signal was picked up by a continent-wide radio telescope, the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA).

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The researchers plan to add a new, more powerful transmitter to the telescope that will allow enhanced detection and imaging of small objects passing by Earth, moons orbiting around other planets and other debris in the Solar System.

The technology was developed as part of a cooperative research and development agreement between NRAO, GBO and Raytheon.

Tony Beasley, director of the NRAO, said: “This project opens a whole new range of capabilities for both NRAO and GBO.

“We’ve participated before in important radar studies of the Solar System, but turning the GBT into a steerable planetary radar transmitter will greatly expand our ability to pursue intriguing new lines of research.”

The researchers want to build a 500-kilowatt, high-power radar system that can image objects in the Solar System with unprecedented detail and sensitivity.

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The increased performance also will allow astronomers to use radar signals as far away as the orbits of Uranus and Neptune, increasing our understanding of the Solar System.

Karen O’Neil, GBO site director, said: “The planned system will be a leap forward in radar science, allowing access to never before seen features of the Solar System from right here on Earth.”

“Raytheon’s radar techniques could ultimately improve our ability to explore the Solar System,” said Steven Wilkinson, principal engineering fellow at Raytheon Intelligence & Space.

“Working with the astronomy community allows us to apply decades of radar know-how to a project that provides high-resolution images of near-Earth objects.”

The NRAO and GBO are facilities of the National Science Foundation, operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities.

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