By Khezyll Galvan

"The dark ages represent our origins — when the very first stars formed and created the heavy elements we are made of today," said Abraham Loeb, a theoretical astrophysicist and Harvard University’s astronomy department chairman.

Photo Courtesy of The Japan News/Asia News Network

A team led by JAXA, the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ), and Kanagawa University plan to land an observatory on the lunar surface, allowing for the world’s first observation of the Dark Ages.

One approach for astronomers to study the universe is to search for the earliest stars and galaxies, as their light traveling from afar must have come from ages ago. Similarly, having an observatory on the moon allows a radio telescope installed to capture radio waves emitted by hydrogen gas. Such gas is sourced from the split neutral hydrogen fog that engulfed the universe 13.8 billion years ago.

The conceptual rod-shaped antenna model of the observatory captures these radio waves and transmits information about what the universe was like in the early days to Earth. 

The team envisions mounting the first radio telescope with a 5-meter-long antenna on the lunar lander; it will be upgraded and expanded over the next few decades to improve information accuracy.

Japan has made efforts in spacecraft development and moon landing execution in order to learn more about "our rocky neighbor." However, the moon landing journey of one of the launched spacecraft, named Omotenashi, was halted on November 22 by project officials due to communication issues. 

Nonetheless, Japan, aiming to continuously further lunar exploration and become the fourth country to land a spacecraft on the moon, has been studying the installation of moon radio telescopes since the end of last year.

The project lead and radio astronomy professor Satoru Iguchi of NAOJ said that they are determined to make this a reality, launching the newly planned first radio telescope on the JAXA-developed H3 rocket as early as fiscal 2028.