Will Nokia and NASA's 4G lunar network ruin radio astronomy?

28. 10. 2020 Wednesday / By: Robert Denes / Generic / Exact time: BST / Print this page

Personally, I have a hard time imagining that NASA and Nokia would not have assessed, examined the potential disadvantages and adverse effects of a 4G network to be deployed on the moon before the construction processes began. Read on for the full article on radio telescopes and snowflake-worthy yet harmful phone signals.

As he makes his way to the Jodrell Bank Observatory, a sign asks visitors to turn off their cell phones and states that the Lovell telescope is so powerful that it can detect a phone signal on Mars.

Radio telescopes are designed to be incredibly sensitive. Citing legendary astronomer Carl Sagan, "The total amount of energy coming from outside the Solar System that all radio telescopes on planet Earth have ever received is less than the energy of a single snowflake hitting Earth."

The total energy is now probably worth a few snowflakes, but it is still true that astronomical radio signals are typically smaller than artificial ones. If Jodrell Bank were able to pick up the interference from the phone signal on Mars, how would it go with Moon’s entire 4G network?

This question worries astronomers like me, now that Nokia in the US has received $ 14.1 million (£ 10.8 million) on the moon to develop its first mobile network. The LTE / 4G network is designed to facilitate the long-term habitable of the moon by providing communication to key aspects such as lunar orbits and navigation.

Radio frequency interference (RFI) is a long-term felt of radio astronomers. Jodrell Bank - the world’s earliest radio astronomy observatory - still exists - it was created because of RFI. Sir Bernard Lovell, one of the pioneers of radio astronomy, prevented his work in Manchester from being taken by tram in the city and persuaded the university’s botany department to pass it to their fields in Cheshire for two weeks (he never left).

Since then, radio telescopes have been built farther and farther away to avoid RFI, with the upcoming Square Kilometer Array (SKA) telescope being built in remote areas of South Africa and Australia. This helps trigger many common sources of RFI, including cell phones and microwaves. However, terrestrial radio telescopes cannot completely avoid RFI sources from space, such as satellites - or the future lunar telecommunications network.

RFI can be reduced in signal output with adequate shielding and accuracy in radiation. Astronomers are constantly developing strategies to extract RFI from their data. But it is increasingly relying on the goodwill of private companies to ensure that at least some radio frequencies are protected for astronomy.

The long-term dream of many radio astronomers would be to have a radio telescope on the other side of the moon. In addition to being protected from terrestrial signals, it would also be able to observe the lowest radio frequencies on Earth, which are particularly affected by the so-called part of the atmosphere called the ionosphere. Low-frequency radio observation can help answer fundamental questions about the universe, such as what it was like in the first moments after...read more


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