LSU Students Research, Design First Moon-Based Telescope – The Observer

BATON ROUGE — LSU astronomers are leading a collaborative science observation program that will provide new images and information of the far side of the moon. Assistant Professors Tabetha Boyajian and Matthew Penny of LSU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy have recruited a team of students who are working on the design of the first moon-based camera, or L-CAM1, which aims to launch in 2024.

“Giving early-career students the opportunity to design a cutting-edge space science program to be operated on the lunar surface is a wonderful and unique opportunity to support the progression of tomorrow’s leading astronomers and astrophysicists,” Boyajian said.

L-CAM1 is a collaboration between AstronetX PBC, a public benefit corporation dedicated to exploratory research from space, and faculty and students from LSU, Mississippi State University, and the SETI Institute. The AstronetX L-CAM1 instrument is designed to acquire cosmic images for research spanning astrophysics, planetary science and planetary defense.

“Working on L-CAM has been a dream come true for me. I’ve been an astronomer since I was 13, and now I’m developing the science program for a lunar surface telescope. This is a cutting-edge science project, which starts with talking with the engineers and discussing how the different camera designs being considered will influence the data we are going to capture,” said team member Farzaneh Zohrabi. L-CAM1 graduate student scientist studying at LSU. “One unique thing we plan to do with L-CAM is to make very precise measurements of nearby bright stars and their exoplanets. This is something that cannot easily be done using ground-based telescopes on Earth due to the atmosphere and saturation limits.

“AstronetX is pleased to have helped students gain hands-on, early-career experience in planning a space mission to perform frontier science observations from the lunar surface,” said Robert Lasky, chief operating officer of AstronetX. ‘AstronetX.

Science program planning was funded by a grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to AstronetX, with additional support for student participation provided by the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates program at LSU .

“Our team of students gained first-hand experience of mission evolution and had the opportunity to plan a science program from scratch. It started by leveraging their diverse backgrounds to review potential science cases from “a lunar surface-based observatory. The team also had to deal with and respond to the kinds of real-time, real-world challenges that occur during the design phase of the mission. This forced them to learn to think from flexibly and react dynamically to changes. This experience will serve them well throughout their careers,” Boyajian said.

Starting with developing an understanding of the advantages and limitations of a lunar observatory, two main scientific cases were selected for the observing program:

  • Improve the characterization of previously known exoplanets

Observations from space allow high-precision measurements of changes in the parent star’s brightness as an orbiting exoplanet passes briefly in front of the star. Brightness changes can be from a few percent for large exoplanets, to less than 100 parts per million for rocky exoplanets similar in size to Earth. Working continuously for one lunar day, or approximately 14 Earth days, L-CAM1 data will have long, uninterrupted observation sequences of exoplanet transit events, allowing scientists to target specific systems and capture new data. which can be used to determine the properties of the two exoplanets and their host stars.

  • Observation and characterization of asteroids

About 200 asteroids will be observable by L-CAM1 during a multi-day lunar mission, including about 1 near-Earth asteroid per month. The combination of the length of the lunar day and the stable platform provided by the lunar surface will allow precise observations of position, or astrometric, and luminosity, or photometric, to determine the physical properties and orbits of these small bodies of the solar system.

“Our team of students first needed to create simulations of the portion of lunar sky that L-CAM1 will see during the multiple lunar days of the mission in order to determine visible astrophysical and astronomical targets. One of the unique advantages that L-CAM1 will provide is the uninterrupted duration that individual subjects can be observed,” said Franck Marchis, senior planetary astronomer at the Carl Sagan Center of SETI.

The precise and long-lasting light curves of stars and asteroids can allow the detection of exomoons orbiting exoplanets or moons orbiting their host asteroids. Lightcurves of transiting exoplanets captured by L-CAM can also detect a phenomenon called transit time variations, which occur due to the gravitational tug of additional objects orbiting the observed host star. Scientists using L-CAM1 will also be able to study the light curves of near-Earth asteroids over longer durations to better characterize orbital parameters and rotational spin, contribute to advanced 3D modeling, and identify asteroid moons in transit.

“Due to my background in data science, the initial challenge presented to me was to think about how we can map all known exoplanets and their hosts to identify the observable landing site of L- CAM1,” said Carol Miu, L-CAM1. member of the Collin College undergraduate science team, who conducted this research over the summer at LSU. “I wrote a script that uses the Stellarium planetarium to determine which known stars and exoplanets will be in our predicted field of view at specific times and compared the results with archival NASA exoplanet data to determine the orbital periods and our list of candidate targets.”

Once the initial science targets were selected, an alternate mission schedule and landing locations for L-CAM1 were considered, requiring additional analysis to alter the target list. The team was able to step back and consider ways to effectively design programmatic changes or a multi-mission program while minimizing rework. The student team also had to devise a data acquisition strategy constrained by the Moon-to-Earth transmission limitations for the analysis.

“My goal started with determining where we should be looking using the Stellarium planetarium and other software to model the night sky. This allowed us to come up with a list of host stars and candidate exoplanets for observation. said Connor Langevin, a member of the L-CAM1 undergraduate science team studying at LSU. “More recently, I have begun to identify the observability of near-Earth asteroids. This involves determining the field of view of L- CAM at specific times and match it with specific asteroids that will be visible.

This hands-on learning process will serve these astronomy students well throughout their careers, Boyajian said.

“L-CAM has several advantages. The lack of atmosphere on the lunar surface, compared to ground-based telescopes for deep space science, will provide a higher level of precision, there will be longer windows of continuous observation due to the lunar day of two weeks, and we will be able to observe areas closer to the sun than we can from Earth,” said LSU L-CAM1 postdoctoral science team member Jonas Kluter.

About AstronetX

AstronetX is a Delaware public benefit corporation, headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts, established to enable research in earth and space sciences for the benefit of mankind by making available to customers the space science community of versatile space observation and database services. , government agencies, the private sector and citizen scientists. For more information, visit or email

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