Get ready for close-up surface images of distant planets in our Solar System.
Scientists can now get an unprecedented look at the surface of near-Earth celestial objects thanks to a new upgrade to the Green Bank Telescope (GBT) in West Virginia, the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope.
In a proof-of-concept test, scientists were able to use the telescope to capture images of the Apollo 15 moon landing site, revealing objects as small as five meters across.
The GBT was able to send out radio signals thanks to a new radio transmitter developed by military contractor Raytheon, which were then received by the continent-wide Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA), a 27-antenna system in Hawaii.
Scientists used this data to create high-resolution radar imagery, the culmination of two years of research. Prior to the upgrade, the GBT was only a radio signal receiver.
“When the reflected signal comes back, you can use it to create an image of the object the signal was bounced from,” Dave Finley, spokesman for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, told the Albuquerque Journal.
Using the data gathered during the test, scientists hope to build a 500-kilowatt radar system, complete with a beefier transmitter, capable of observing other more distant objects as far away as Uranus and Neptune with unprecedented detail and sensitivity.
“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,” Karen O’Neil, the Green Bank Observatory site director, said in a statement.
“And by using multiple, widely separated antennas of the VLBA to receive the reflected signals, we’ll likely be able to make 3-D images,” Finley told the Albuquerque Journal.