China launches a satellite to the far side of the moon

China's satellite mission will receive radio signals from the earliest stages of the universe.
By Lliane Hunter | May 22, 2018
On May 21, Chinain collaboration with the Netherlandslaunched Queqiao, a satellite sent to a vantage point beyond the moon, reports Daniel Clery for Science. The satellite will relay data from Chang'e 4, a lander and rover that will touch down on the lunar far side by the end of the year. The collaboration with the Netherlands involves a Dutch-made radio receiver aboard Queqiao that will listen to the cosmos and send back information from a time a few hundred million years after the big bang.

The Netherlands-China Low-Frequency Explorer (NCLE) project originated from a 2015 Dutch trade mission to China, writes Clery. During the mission, the two countries agreed to partner on space missions, with NCLE being the first. Astronomers searching for signals emitted in the early stages of the universe detect electrons in the primordial neutral hydrogen gas that spontaneously flipped their orientation. Telescopes like the Netherland's Low-Frequency Array (LOFAR) aim to detect these signals and use it to map the distribution of primordial matter.

Heino Falcke of Radboud University in the Netherlands, has long advocated for a LOFAR on the moon. The vantage point of the moon would greatly eliminate interfering radio noise from terrestrial sources and other objects across the universe. As the NCLE project's Principal Investigator, Falcke now has his opportunity as Queqiao orbits a point beyond the moon called L2. Falcke says the team will study solar flares, the aurora of Jupiter, and the galaxy's radio emissions. "There's nothing as good as having real data," he says.The NCLE part of the mission is set to receive signals around March 2019.

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