- Associated Press - Saturday, January 21, 2017

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (AP) - The University of Alabama in Huntsville is aiming for the moon with a $237 million proposal to NASA.

The university hopes to lead a satellite mission to the moon to study supernovae, Al.com reported (https://bit.ly/2k5Dx34 ).

Astrophysicist Richard Miller is the lead author of the proposal that involves UAH and nine other institutions including Johns Hopkins University.

If the mission is funded, the science operations center would be at UAH for the mission’s three-year life, Al.com reported.

The mission is called the Lunar Occultation Explorer astrophysics mission. It would put a satellite with gamma-ray sensors in orbit around the moon to study supernovae.

Scientific probes to the moon typically study the moon. This would be a new initiative using the moon’s lack of atmosphere, lack of magnetic field and actual physical presence to study the cosmos, Al.com reported.

“As the telescope, which doesn’t look like a typical telescope, orbits the moon, the moon acts like a big rock, and that rock is blocking parts of the sky at different times,” Miller said. “If you have a bright cosmic source that’s just glowing, it will be intermittently blocked and in view. It turns out the timing information - when those eclipses happen- is unique to every point in the sky. We cannot only detect that radiation, we can tell where it’s coming from.”

The type of radiation the mission seeks to study comes from binary star systems where one star is “like the dead embers of the leftovers of a star,” Miller said. These are called white dwarf stars.

The project is also designed to study what makes these binary stars explode, Al.com reported.

“That actually is unknown and it can only be known by studying this radiation,” Miller said. “If we have a better understanding of what these objects are, how they explode, are they all the same beast or is there a diversity of objects … we have more insights into how the universe is changing and how it’s evolving.”

The 10-university team includes astrophysicists, supernovae experts, simulation and modeling experts, planetary scientists and mission operations experts.

UAH’s primary partner is Johns Hopkins University. Also involved are the University of Arizona, Clemson University, Florida State University and Los Alamos National Laboratory.

A decision on funding could come in the next six months.

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