Dutch radio antenna launched from Chinese base to position behind the Moon

May 22, 2018, Astronomie.nl
Credit: Radboud Radio Lab

Yesterday evening Central European Summer Time, the Netherlands Chinese Low-Frequency Explorer (NCLE) was launched on board the Chinese Queqiao satellite from Xichang in the south of China, to a position behind the Moon. It is the first Dutch scientific instrument ever to travel on a Chinese space mission, and it opens a new chapter in radio astronomy. The launch of the satellite is the starting point of the Chang'e-4 mission, later this year, the first mission to land on the far side of the Moon. The relay satellite is required for communication with the Earth.

NCLE project leader Marc Klein Wolt (managing director Radboud Radio Lab) was present at the launch together with colleagues and representatives from the Dutch embassy in China. "Everything has been successful and our antenna is now on its way to the so-called second Lagrange point (L2) of the Earth-Moon system. That is about 65,000 kilometers behind the moon. "The team watched the launch at a distance of 2 km from the platform. Klein Wolt: "I have never heard such an impressive sound. The rocket came over our heads at a height of 100 kilometers and we all got a bit emotional. We have been working hard on this mission for two years and now NCLE has to continue this journey on its own."

The antenna was developed and built by a team of scientists and engineers from the Radboud Radio Lab of Radboud University, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy in Dwingeloo (ASTRON), and the Delft based company ISIS. It is a pathfinder experiment to detect the weak radio signals from the dark ages of the very early universe, when the universe still largely consisted of hydrogen.

Credit: Radboud Radio Lab

Observing at the far side of the moon has the advantage that part of the radio radiation from the universe that does not pass through the Earth atmosphere can still be detected. Here on Earth astronomers can receive almost all radio waves from the universe, but the part below 10 to 30 MHz is blocked by the atmosphere. Precisely in those frequencies information about the early universe is hidden: the period immediately after the Big Bang, in which the first stars and galaxies were formed. When the satellite has arrived at the L2 point in about 2 months, it will wait for the main lander mission (early 2019). Afterwards the three five-meter-long antennas will be rolled out and the scientific work will start.

Albert-Jan Boonstra (project leader at ASTRON) hopes that this Chinese-Dutch collaboration will lead to future larger radio interferometers in space. Principal Investigator Heino Falcke (scientific director, RRL, Radboud University) adds: "We have worked towards this goal for almost 15 years. Now it is an honor to be part of this space adventure. We hope that the far side of the moon will remain a 'radio quiet' environment, where we can conduct also in the future. "

Explore further: Dutch radio antenna to depart for the moon on Chinese mission

Related Stories

Experts: China far side lunar mission potentially historic

May 22, 2018

China's ambition to soft-land a spacecraft on the far side of the moon later this year faces considerable challenges, but if successful would propel the country's space program to the forefront of one of the most important ...

Looking at the universe through very different 'eyes'

January 22, 2018

We are bathed in starlight. During the day we see the Sun, light reflected off the surface of the Earth and blue sunlight scattered by the air. At night we see the stars, as well as sunlight reflected off the Moon and the ...

Recommended for you

Planetary nebula lasers

June 25, 2018

Astronomical masers (the radio wavelength analogs of lasers) were first identified in space over fifty years ago and have since been seen in many locations; astronomical lasers have since been seen as well. Some of the most ...

HESS J1943+213 is an extreme blazar, study finds

June 21, 2018

An international group of astronomers have carried out multi-wavelength observations of HESS J1943+213 and found evidence supporting the hypothesis that this gamma-ray source is an extreme blazar. The finding is reported ...

The Rosetta stone of active galactic nuclei deciphered

June 21, 2018

A galaxy with at least one active supermassive black hole – named OJ 287 – has caused many irritations and questions in the past. The emitted radiation of this object spans a wide range – from the radio up to the highest ...

'Red nuggets' are galactic gold for astronomers

June 21, 2018

About a decade ago, astronomers discovered a population of small, but massive galaxies called "red nuggets." A new study using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory indicates that black holes have squelched star formation in these ...

0 comments

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.