The result was a 12-inch-wide (30-centimer-wide) bowl-shaped object that could be coated with aluminum and transformed into a mirror.
The mirror could be used to create solar arrays that collect sunlight on the moon or enormous telescopes unlike anything seen on Earth.
"Our method could be scaled up on the moon, using the ubiquitous lunar dust, to create giant telescope mirrors up to 50 meters [164 feet] in diameter," Chen said.
Such an observatory would dwarf the 34-foot (10.4-meter) Gran Telescopio Canarias in the Canary Islands, currently the largest optical telescope in the world.
"The moon is generally considered the best site in space for astronomy because it combines the best quality of space, which is vacuum, and the ground, which is a stable platform," Chen said.
With no atmosphere to absorb or blur sunlight, a colossal lunar telescope could gather light from distant exoplanets or detect traces of life in their atmospheres.
(Related: "New Alien-Life Search Aims to Eavesdrop on ETs" [January 11, 2007].)
Two or more such telescopes working together could directly image Earthlike planets around nearby stars.
"But why stop there?" Chen asked. "If we know how to smooth the dusty surface on the moon and make it shiny, why don't we just go ahead and do a whole crater ? We can actually go and 'mirrorize' a whole crater."
Yu Qiao is a materials scientist at the University of California, San Diego, who has also worked on lunar infrastructure materials but was not involved in Chen's study.
He called the new technique "very promising" but said the material will have to pass long-term durability tests.
"Many epoxies may be fragile after a few years of exposure to radiation, and radiation at the lunar surface is very intense," he said.
Qiao also noted that some materials more lightweight than epoxy might also be suitable for the task.
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