A giant liquid mirror on the moon now seems like a commonplace idea. We have become used to the recent increase in traffic in inner space and we know that every significant country on Earth has plans to go to the moon for one reason or another.
The giant liquid mirror, dubbed, in a slightly Douglas Adams way, the Ultimately Large Telescope (100 metres across) was originally proposed in 2007. Back then the concept was too expensive and beyond anything reasonable and so it was abandoned.
Now, it is back on the agenda and it brings up two immediate questions.
First, what will it see?
Second, who owns the moon anyway?
The answer to the first varies. One immediate answer must be “a lot more than the Hubble or even the James Webb telescopes”. And the images we now expect regularly are extraordinary.
The other slightly mind-bending answer is ‘further back in time than anything that has gone before’. The Hubble Telescope gave us some insights into our immediate past. The James Webb Space Telescope will, according to one Volker Bromm, from the University of Texas, “reach the time when galaxies first formed.”
The Ultimately Large Telescope will be able, theoretically, to see back to ‘the very first light’ (and presumably answer the ultimate question of Life, the Universe and Everything).
This is mind-boggling enough but who, exactly, is allowed to do what on the moon – if anything.
Every significant power on Earth either has or has plans to send probes and spacecraft and people to the moon to experiment with various things, plant various things and build various other things.
It is naïve to believe that things will remain co-operative and nice. There are, after all, still places on Earth that are under dispute or potential dispute. The seabed, for example, whether in ‘international’ waters or under disappearing ice sheets we thought of as ‘land’.
The moon, potentially, is going to involve a dispute between (at least) the US and its allies, Russia and its, China and its and India and its.
We know, without a shadow of a doubt, that a doctor from Hampshire, England owns Mars but with the moon, things are likely to be more complicated.
While the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 says that ‘all mankind’ owns the moon, you have to think that now we have reached the point where it is reasonably accessible, mankind will revert to the ‘I got here first, I’ll fight you for it’ kind of mentality. America planted the first flag, after all, and it was not an ‘all mankind’ flag (see below).
The only real way for it, and any other planets we colonise, to belong to ‘all mankind’ is for all mankind to be a real ‘thing’ and not a bunch of very different people fighting about minerals and oil and such.
However ownership of the moon plays out, let us hope that the Ultimately Large Telescope does not end up taking us to the Restaurant at the end of the Universe.