Haste to Send Humans Back to the Moon Might Jeopardize Astronomy Prospects

The increasing number of lunar landing attempts in the 2020s has brought about a renewed interest in the Moon, both from commercial and scientific perspectives. The Moon offers a unique location for researchers to build telescopes due to its lack of satellite interference and magnetic field blocking radio waves. However, the potential for conflict between the pursuit of scientific knowledge and commercial and geopolitical interests has become a concern.

By 2035, human lunar bases could be established by American and Chinese rockets. These bases are likely to be located near the Moon’s south pole, which offers near-constant solar power and a possible source of water in the form of ice in the Moon’s darkest regions. The constant sunlight and proximity to potential water sources make these regions attractive for long-term human bases.

The prospect of human bases on the Moon has also opened up new opportunities for astronomical research. The far side of the Moon, which is sheltered from radio interference, could allow for the recording of very low-frequency radio waves, potentially revealing information about the universe’s “Dark Ages” before the formation of stars or galaxies. The Moon’s poles could also host gravitational wave detectors, which could provide data on pairs of black holes before they merge. In addition, the cold temperatures at the lunar poles could enhance the sensitivity of infrared telescopes, aiding in the search for life on Earth-like exoplanets.

However, the rush to establish bases and exploit the Moon’s resources could interfere with these research opportunities. Activities such as water mining could generate vibrations that could disrupt a gravitational wave telescope. The extraction of valuable elements found on the Moon, such as helium-3, could also impact potential locations for radio telescopes. Furthermore, planned satellite constellations could unintentionally emit radio signals that could render a Dark Ages telescope useless.

In response to these concerns, the International Astronomical Union established the working group Astronomy from the Moon in 2024. The group is tasked with identifying and prioritizing sites for astronomical research and facilitating discussions with key international bodies. This could help enable a balance between scientific research, international cooperation, and commercial interests on the Moon. This marks a significant step towards ensuring that the exploration and utilization of the Moon benefits all stakeholders involved and that the opportunities it presents for scientific discovery are not compromised.

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