The Lunar Surface Electromagnetics Explorer “LuSEE Night” is a low frequency radio astronomy experiment to be emplaced on the farside of the Moon by the NASA Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program in late 2025 or early 2026.
LuSEE-Night is a radio telescope developed in collaboration between NASA and the Department of Energy (DOE), with Brookhaven Lab leading DOE’s role in the project. DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Lab is providing key technical support.
Signals into spectra
“LuSEE-Night is not a standard radio telescope,” says Anže Slosar, a Brookhaven physicist.
“It’s more of a radio receiver. It will work like an FM radio, picking up radio signals in a similar frequency band. The spectrometer is at the heart of it. Like a radio tuner, it can separate out radiofrequencies, and it turns signals into spectra,” Slosar states in a Brookhaven Lab statement.
The Dark Ages are an early era of cosmological history starting about 380,000 years after the Big Bang. Though radio waves from the Dark Ages still linger in space, the abundance of radio interference on Earth has masked these signals from scientists seeking to study them.
If cosmologists could detect radio waves from the Dark Ages they could help uncover answers to several significant questions, such as the nature of dark energy or the formation of the universe itself.
Shielded from the buzz and static of Earth broadcasting, the Moon’s farside is a place where there’s enough radio silence for the Dark Ages signal to be detected.
“By physically being on the lunar surface and taking measurements at the right time, several external sources of radio interference will be removed, including radio noise from the Sun, Earth, Jupiter, and Saturn,” according to a NASA website statement on the project.
A communications relay satellite will launch with LuSEE.
Suited for spaceflight
Brookhaven is leading the DOE effort to construct the whole telescope.
“We will build out LuSEE-Night’s electronics, procure the batteries, solar panels, and communications equipment, and ensure all components of the instrument are cohesive and suited for spaceflight,” explains Brookhaven scientist Sven Herrmann, the LuSEE-Night Construction Project Manager for DOE’s part of the mission and a researcher at the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology.
“We will handle the inner equipment assembly, [and] then ship the pieces to UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory for end integration,” Herrmann adds. “NASA will coordinate the launch through its Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, which leverages private companies to provide the transport to the Moon.”
While LuSEE-Night is primarily considered a pathfinder, it is designed to collect data for two years. LuSEE-Night could exceed its main goal and detect the Dark Ages signal on its own, or even uncover new and unexpected mysteries hidden deep in the cosmos along the way, according to the Brookhaven statement.
Jack Burns is a LuSEE-Night co-investigator and institutional principal investigator at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The work there is mainly focused on development of a software pipeline for modeling the instrument, its environs, and data analysis.
“LuSEE-night is very much a multi-institutional, multi-agency collaboration,” Burns told Inside Outer Space. “DOE’s participation and funding is important to allow us to observe during the night on the far side of the Moon for the first time by carrying about 88 pounds (40 kilograms) of batteries. This is a game-changer permitting us to observe during the quietest time on the Moon (no Sun and no Earth radio frequency interference (RFI) and to potentially investigate the unexplored Dark Ages and Cosmic Dawn of the early Universe.”
Burns also noted his work on the Radio wave Observations at the Lunar Surface of the Electron Sheath (ROLSES) science instrument. ROLSES is now scheduled to land on the Moon in late June on a CLPS Intuitive Machines IM-1 lander, hurled to its lunar destination via a SpaceX Falcon booster.
This mission will likely be the first to land at the South Pole of the Moon, Burns adds, on the CLPS lander. The ROLSES IM-1 mission data gathering does not depend on a relay spacecraft. The IM-1 landing locale is within view of Earth.