Assistant Professor of Physics Jonathan Pober was recently awarded NASA Nancy Grace Roman Technology Fellowship in Astrophysics to advance her work on a groundbreaking lunar telescope.
Pober is one of six early career researchers across the United States to receive the award, according to a NASA Press release. Meenakshi Narain, chair of physics, wrote in an email to the Herald that the department is proud of Pober’s achievements and believes “this prestigious new award will enable Professor Pober to develop a long-term vision for the field of physics. astrophysics and to settle”. as (a) future head of major innovative projects at NASA.
Pober’s work on the NASA-funded radio telescope will offer new ways to answer questions related to the cosmological dark age, or the period between the Big Bang and the first star formation, Pober said. This period – during which there was no light in the universe, only hydrogen and a little helium – has not been studied because scientists do not yet have a telescope to see it, he added.
Because the early universe contained hydrogen almost exclusively, scientists need a way to observe the non-visible light — or long radio waves — emitted by hydrogen to study this time period. Researchers are designing a special type of space telescope called a radio telescope to capture these waves, which can help fill big gaps in researchers’ knowledge of the history of the universe, Pober said.
Pober has experience using radio telescopes on Earth, but the planet’s atmosphere limits his ability and that of other researchers to visualize these long radio waves. For this reason, Pober and his team are designing a radio telescope that can be assembled and deployed autonomously to the far side of the moon.
The challenge for this project is “to balance the need for something that we can actually build with something that can actually do science,” he said. “Having an antenna that a rover can build on its own is very different from an antenna that you would build here on earth, where you can actually have a team of people put it together.”
With funding from NASA, researchers are testing various telescope designs that will allow them to build the telescope in space.
With NASA funding, Pober and his team will be able to simulate data for multiple telescope designs and then determine which design is optimal for their work. Willow Smith GS, a PhD student on Pober’s team, debugs the simulation code to make sure it works. Once complete, “we will begin producing actual simulated data,” Smith said.
Narain said she is grateful for the opportunities this funding will open up for undergraduates, graduate students, and postdocs in the study of physics and new technologies.
During this decade, the team will focus on building smaller telescopes on the far side of the moon that will search for extrasolar planets around other stars and analyze their radio signals.
“With these experiments, scientists will be able to understand the interaction between stars and planets and their magnetic fields, and how this could lead to a hospitable or inhospitable environment for life,” Pober said.
Pober thinks that in 10 years, scientists will have a few hundred antennas on the far side of the moon, and perhaps by the 2030s or 2040s, a wide array of thousands. “If (a network of telescopes) is built in the next three decades, I would call it an achievement,” he said.
Once the telescopes are built, scientists will be able to see the long radio waves they seek, which will help answer long-standing questions including the origins of the universe and the nature of dark matter, Pober said. .
According to Pober, this is a very “large-scale and ambitious” project.
But until then, “we need to show that we can harness smaller-scale experiments and get good science out of them before we can build a really big thing that can do cosmology and answer the big questions,” he said. he declares.
For Pober, receiving this award is not only exciting, but also reassuring. This means that “NASA takes this project seriously” and that the science its team is working on is exciting enough that it is “worth further investigation and consideration of how to turn the telescope array into a reality.” “, did he declare.
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