Queen's chemists work with NASA to develop liquids for lunar telescope

July 10, 2007

Chemists at Queen's University Belfast are working with NASA and scientists in Canada and the United States to design a telescope that can be stationed on the Moon.

The instrument will have a mirror consisting of a liquid with a thin metal film on its surface that rotates to form a bowl shape, known as a parabola. When the liquid spins in a perfect parabola, it will be able to reflect infrared light from distant stars and galaxies that cannot be picked up by telescopes on Earth because of atmospheric interference and light pollution.

Telescopes with parabolic liquid mirrors are much cheaper and easier to make and maintain than conventional telescopes with glass mirrors. Liquid mirror telescopes employed in observatories on Earth traditionally use mercury as the reflective liquid. However, mercury cannot be used for a lunar liquid mirror telescope as the high-vacuum conditions on the Moon would cause the mercury to boil.

The Queen's team has been investigating the possibility of preparing a reflective liquid for the telescope consisting of an ionic liquid that can be coated on its surface with a thin layer of a reflective metal.

Ionic liquids are liquid salts. They consist essentially of ions (electrically-charged atoms or groups of atoms). Ionic liquids generally have negligible vapour pressures which mean that they do not boil, even under vacuum. Many ionic liquids do not freeze at the sub-zero temperatures found on the Moon. They have the added advantage that they are much lighter than mercury - a key consideration for transporting a telescope to the Moon.

In a report in the June 21 issue of the science journal Nature, the Belfast, Canadian, and U.S. scientists showed that a commercially-available ionic liquid can be coated with silver and that the coated fluid is stable over several months.

"The discovery that an ionic liquid can be coated with a very thin metal layer is a major breakthrough," said chemistry professor, Ken Seddon, who is one of the authors of the report and Director of Queen's University Ionic Liquids Laboratories (QUILL).

The authors also reported that the ionic liquid does not evaporate in a vacuum and remains liquid at temperatures down to 175 K (-98oC). The lunar liquid mirror telescope, however, will require a liquid with an even lower melting point.

Fortunately, there is a phenomenal choice of ionic liquids. More than 1,500 have been described in the scientific literature over the past ten years or so and about 500 are available commercially. According to Seddon, around one million simple ionic liquids are theoretically possible and they can be designed for a wide variety of applications. But most have yet to be prepared.

"We now plan to design and prepare ionic liquids with melting points of around 100 K that can be coated with a reflective metal for the lunar telescope" said Assistant Director of QUILL, Maggel Deetlefs.

Source: Queen's University Belfast

Explore further: Multidisciplinary analysis improves interpretation of complex systems

Related Stories

Clay makes better high-temp batteries

November 10, 2015

A unique combination of materials developed at Rice University, including a clay-based electrolyte, may solve a problem for rechargeable lithium-ion batteries destined for harsh environments.

Ionic liquids to extract molecules from wood

October 26, 2015

Thanks to their unique properties, ionic liquids are all in the rage as solvents as, for instance, "green" sustainable chemical processes. Recently, two research teams at Umeå University discovered how enzymes can perform ...

Scientists predict cool new phase of superionic ice

October 21, 2015

Scientists have predicted a new phase of superionic ice, a special form of ice that could exist on Uranus and Neptune, in a theoretical study performed by a team of researchers at Princeton University.

Ionic and covalent drug delivery

October 7, 2015

Researchers at Zelinsky Institute of Organic Chemistry, Russian Academy of Sciences compared three different drug delivery models based on ionic liquids. Scientists have developed a powerful API-IL concept to realize structural ...

World 'facing flood of new toxins'

September 14, 2015

The world needs to prepare for a flood of potentially dangerous new pollutants, an international expert in environmental chemistry has warned.

Recommended for you

'Material universe' yields surprising new particle

November 25, 2015

An international team of researchers has predicted the existence of a new type of particle called the type-II Weyl fermion in metallic materials. When subjected to a magnetic field, the materials containing the particle act ...

CERN collides heavy nuclei at new record high energy

November 25, 2015

The world's most powerful accelerator, the 27 km long Large Hadron Collider (LHC) operating at CERN in Geneva established collisions between lead nuclei, this morning, at the highest energies ever. The LHC has been colliding ...

Study suggests fish can experience 'emotional fever'

November 25, 2015

(Phys.org)—A small team of researchers from the U.K. and Spain has found via lab study that at least one type of fish is capable of experiencing 'emotional fever,' which suggests it may qualify as a sentient being. In their ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.