A revolutionary telescope on the moon could see all the way into the past — 13 billion years ago.
The Ultimately Large Telescope was dreamed up by NASA as an enormous device to be built on the moon, allowing astronomers to see deep into the universe in a way no other technology is capable of.
It would even allow scientists to look back in time and study the very first stars ever formed long before the creation of galaxies.
Our current equipment does not have the ability to see things that early on in "cosmic time".
NASA abandoned its plans for the Ultimately Large Telescope more than a decade ago, but the idea has been reignited by a new study that will be published in The Astrophysical Journal.
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"Throughout the history of astronomy, telescopes have become more powerful, allowing us to probe sources from successively earlier cosmic times – ever closer to the Big Bang," professor and team member Volker Bromm said in a statement.
"The upcoming James Webb Space Telescope [JWST] will reach the time when galaxies first formed. But theory predicts that there was an even earlier time when galaxies did not yet exist, but where individual stars first formed — the elusive Population III stars.
"This moment of 'very first light' is beyond the capabilities even of the powerful JWST, and instead needs an 'ultimate' telescope."
This proposed telescope would be constructed on Earth before being flown to the moon. There it would sit inside a crater, spinning around and seeing deep into the early universe.
Its mirror would be a rotating disc 328 feet wide and covered in reflective liquid mercury rather than standard coated glass, which would hopefully detect the light from that time billions of light-years away.
The huge mirror would spin at an angle on a vertical axis, giving it a parabolic surface with very precise focus.
No Population III stars have ever been seen before, but they are highly sought-after by astronomers.
They're mostly made of hydrogen and helium directly from the Big Bang itself, and observing them would allow scientists to understand the moment in which all known life began.
Some experts believe Population III stars burned out long ago and are long-dead, but a telescope capable of seeing them wouldn't be viewing them as they are now, but how they were 13 billion light-years ago.
"Even with [the James Webb Telescope], the first stars will remain out of reach, as they are born in small minihalos with luminosities too faint to be detected even by the longest exposure times," Prof Bromm said.
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