From the other side of the moon, a radio receiver will listen to ancient clues about the origin of the universe

    Abdulaziz Sobh

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    Neil Armstrong walked near our moon half a century ago. On Monday, China is expected to take the first step of a mission to explore its farthest side, and even more ambitiously, to seek glimpses of the origin of the universe. China could launch the Queqiao relay communication satellite, or "magpie bridge", from its southwestern Sichuan province as early as May 21, the start of a three-day launch window. Named by birds in a Chinese folktale that helps connect two separate lovers once a year, Queqiao will connect the earth with the lander and rover Chang'e-4 that China plans to launch later this year. It is an essential step for the mission of lunar exploration because direct communication is impossible between the far side of the moon and the earth. If everything goes according to plan, China would become the first nation in the world to land on the other side of the moon before the end of the year. In addition to keeping the future lander in contact with the earth, the Queqiao will also carry a new scientific instrument built by Chinese and Dutch scientists.
    A radio antenna, which will be transported with Queqiao, will be stationed some 60,000 km behind the moon. Scientists hope that the radio antenna will reveal clues about the early universe, the time after the Big Bang when stars began to form from an ocean of hydrogen. The signals have different wavelengths, and those of lower frequencies are harder to catch from a place with a lot of interference like Earth, according to Heino Falcke, a professor of astrophysics at the Radboud University of Netherland, who led the effort to design and build the antenna. known as the low-frequency scanner of the Netherlands-China (NCLE). The antenna is designed to detect old signals with frequencies below 30 megahertz, Falcke told Quartz. The signals that occur at these frequencies can help to study the pristine beginnings of the universe, which scientists often call their dark ages. "Under the strong hum of the Milky Way, there are some emissions from the early phase of the universe and they will repeat at certain frequencies," Falcke said. "If you do not have a lot of background noise, you may be able to see some frequencies and that tells us something about the universe, it requires an extremely quiet environment." The other side of the moon can provide that environment, said Falcke. So far, only one set of terrestrial antennas in Australia has claimed to detect signals from the old dark matter, Falcke said, which could provide a benchmark for what the NCLE captures. The radio receiver will only begin to collect data after Chang'e-4 reaches the moon, Falcke said. Both the Dutch scientists and the Chinese teams will have the same access to the data. China's lunar exploration is a prism for the country's rapid advance in space exploration. In 2013, it became the third country to make a soft landing on the moon, with its robotic landing module Chang'e-3. For Chang'e-4, he will bring plant seeds such as potatoes and silkworm cocoons to the moon, where China hopes to build a scientific position.