Space

Experimental planetary radar captures incredible high-res Moon images

Experimental planetary radar c...
In this new radar image, mountains, craters and a snaking feature called Hadley Rille can be clearly seen
In this new radar image, mountains, craters and a snaking feature called Hadley Rille can be clearly seen
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In this new radar image, mountains, craters and a snaking feature called Hadley Rille can be clearly seen
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In this new radar image, mountains, craters and a snaking feature called Hadley Rille can be clearly seen
(Inset) The radar image of the Apollo 15 lunar landing site and surrounds, pulled out of a wider map of the Moon
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(Inset) The radar image of the Apollo 15 lunar landing site and surrounds, pulled out of a wider map of the Moon

Astronomers have captured stunning new high-resolution radar images of the Moon, using an experimental instrument mounted on a ground-based telescope. This proof of concept test paves the way for a more powerful radar telescope that could see as far as Neptune.

The new technology was developed by the Green Bank Observatory (GBO), National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) and Raytheon Intelligence & Space. The new radar transmitter was fitted onto the Green Bank Telescope (GBT), which allows it to beam radar signals into space. The reflected signals are then captured by the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA), a series of radio antennas spread across North America, and processed to produce images.

(Inset) The radar image of the Apollo 15 lunar landing site and surrounds, pulled out of a wider map of the Moon
(Inset) The radar image of the Apollo 15 lunar landing site and surrounds, pulled out of a wider map of the Moon

The team conducted the first proof of concept test last November, and the results are incredible. On a large-scale image of the Moon, the instrument was sensitive enough that you can zoom in on specific features on the surface, down to objects as small as 5 m (16.4 ft) wide. Near the landing site of the Apollo 15 mission, for example, an ancient lava tube named Hadley Rille can be clearly seen snaking its way across the landscape, flanked by mountains and passing a crater called Hadley C.

Building on this test, the team now plans to develop a 500-kW radar system that will be able to image objects further out in the solar system. Ultimately, the researchers say, this next-gen radar telescope could be used to capture high resolution images of objects as far away as Uranus and Neptune.

“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,” says Karen O’Neil, site director of the Green Bank Observatory.

Source: NRAO

4 comments
4 comments
buzzclick
So this radar telescope system can see through any atmospheric obstacle that comes around?
TechGazer
It is impressive, but I wonder how it compares to a constellation of small satellites orbiting the target planet. The costs of launching such satellites seems to be dropping rapidly. Quantum communication links between satellites might improve radar resolution too.
Captain Obvious
buzzclick, I'd expect this radar uses a long integration time and near-in obstacles pass through the beam quickly. The receive array is very large.
wolf0579
Awesome!

Yay, Science! You Rock!