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Moon gazing

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Science  19 Jul 2019:
Vol. 365, Issue 6450, pp. 234-237
DOI: 10.1126/science.365.6450.234

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Summary

In the undulating, dust-covered Descartes Highlands, 380 kilometers southwest of Tranquility Base, where Apollo 11 landed half a century ago, a lonely gold-plated telescope has sat inert since 24 April 1972, when Apollo 16 astronauts John Young and Charles Duke blasted off the surface and left it behind. It was a small part of their 3-day mission, but a milestone for astronomers: the first observatory on another world. The pioneering lunar observatory will not be the last. The Moon beckons astronomers because it is dry, airless, and seismically quiet. It has room for sprawling arrays of multiple instruments, and it turns slowly, allowing long exposures. For radio astronomers, its far side is a piece of heaven, entirely shielded from interference from terrestrial transmitters. For many years, however, a lunar observatory has been a dream deferred. Just months after George Carruthers's telescope was installed, Apollo 17's Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt left the Moon in a cloud of dust, and the age of lunar exploration suddenly came to an end. But the Moon is becoming a hot target again, and this time the players include not just NASA, but also other space agencies and commercial space companies. Astronomers are once again along for the ride.

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