A balloon campaign in the Indian Ocean - 4/24/2009
Mahe, Seychelles.- This week was started at the Airport of Mahe, in Seychelles Islands a technological campaign which will be carried out by the balloon division of the French space agency (CNES) and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). The campaign called "pre-CONCORDIASI" will include only three lunches but will be a important one: according to the balloon performances a "Go/No Go" decision will be taken to start next September the CONCORDIASI campaign to be carried out in Antarctica as part of the International Polar Year activities.
The Seychelles campaign is meant to test in deep the two basic flight configuration to be used: "Meteorology and Stratospheric Dynamics" flights (MSD) and "Physics-stratospheric Dynamics and Chemistry" flights (PSC). The first kind of flight will include as payload a thermodynamic sensor, in some cases a GPS radio occultation sensor for limb scan and a dirftsonde gondola with up to 50 dropsondes each which can be droped on demand by a telecommand signal sent from the control center. During their descent, the dropsondes will continuously measure temperature, humidity and wind to obtain a series of very precise vertical profiles over regions never studied before. At right can be seen one of these dropsondes (click to enlarge). The objectives of the technical campaign range from the validation of driftsonde gondola to the management of scientific instruments onboard the payload module, and behaviour of the different sytems. The launch schedule include a first flight of a MSD mission, followed during the same week by a flight of a PSC gondola, and eventually another MSD launch to close the effort. According to the project team, there is a clearance to overflight countries between 20º S and 10º N from Equator, so is expected a mean flight duration from 2 weeks to 2 months.
If all went well with the current campign, the CONCORDIASI effort will start in next September with the launch of up to 18 stratospheric balloons, from the McMurdo base which will drift over the Antarctic at an altitude of 20 km for several months. Some dropsonde releases will be timed to coincide with passes of the European MetOp-A satellite, which is carrying CNES's IASI infrared spectrometer with the aim of vertically compare measurements from dropsondes, IASI and profiles generated by the weather prediction model. The project will comprise additional in-situ measurements by radiosondes at the Concordia station at Dome C and at Dumont d'Urville.
We will keep you informed as the campaign developes.
:: http://www.cnrm.meteo.fr/concordiasi/ Main web site of the project
A BLAST from the past of the Universe - 4/16/2009
Pennsylvania, USA.- More than two years after being
destroyed at landing at the end of a succesfull 11 days round the pole
Antarctic trip, the data obtained by the BLAST (Balloon-borne
Large-Aperture Sub-millimeter Telescope) project lead to a series of
groundbreaking discoveries about the first stages of growth of the Universe
just after the Big Bang.
The data was published in April's edition of Nature magazine, and combines the BLAST survey measurements at wavelengths below 1 millimeter with data at much shorter infrared wavelengths from the Spitzer Space Telescope. The results confirm that all the Far Infrared Background comes from individual distant galaxies, essentially solving a decade-old question of the radiation's origin. At right can be seen a detailed map of the VELA region on which are seen the submilimiter emissions from thousands of stellar nurseries (click to enlarge).
The BLAST project was a balloon-borne project conceived to address some of the most important cosmological and Galactic questions regarding the formation and evolution of stars, galaxies and clusters. It was composed by a 2-meter primary mirror with large-format bolometer arrays operating at 250, 350, and 500 micrometers thus allowing to obtain the first sensitive large-area submillimeter surveys at these wavelengths. At left can be seen the telescope while being prepared to flight during the 2006 Antarctic campaign (click to enlarge). The project was possible thanks to the collaboration of Universities of Pennsylvania, Brown, Miami, and Puerto Rico, and NASA's JPL from the United States, British Columbia and Toronto Universities from Canada, Inaoe from Mexico and Cardiff University from England.
The mission from which the data published was obtained was the third flight of the instrument after a first engineering trip from Fort Sumner in 2003, and a partially succesful long duration transatlantic flight from Sweden to Canada in 2005. During the Antarctic flight in 2006 BLAST suffered the worst accident possible (aside a free-fall or a water landing) in such an isolated and windy terrain: the descent parachute failed to detach from the gondola once it was on the ground. Thus, the orange/white canvas which allowed a safe return to earth turned in a huge sail, which fueled by the endless polar wind, dragged the craft over the ice making a furrow on the ground near 120 miles long. Along the path of the runnaway gondola BLAST was scattered to useless pieces in less than 24 hours before the gondola come to rest in an ice crevasse. However, after making a somewhat hopeless and extensive search over the entire ground track, a plane from the National Science Foundation which was sent from McMurdo base managed to find almost intact the most important part of the project: the pressure vessel containing the hard disk which stored the data from the observations done. After the recovery, the disks were sent to a specialized firm which restored the data to let the scientist to analyze it. Two years after, the publication of the first conclusions promise to mske history in astrophysics.
The submilimiter camera of BLAST is similar to the one to be launched this year onboard the Herschel Spce Observatory, which will help to validate and confirm the data obtained by the balloon-borne telescope. According to the length press release issued by the BLAST team, the exploitation of the rich data coming from the observations made during the 2006 flight will produce in the near future other papers on topics like dust-enshrouded galaxies, their evolutionary history, any relationship with other galaxies, and associations with larger-scale structures in the Universe.
BLAST has also a unique approach in regard their relationship with the electronic media. Besides the detailed weblogs of the project's members during the three balloon campaigns performed in the past BLAST has two very special appearances in the media. First the Filmmaker Paul Devlin (brother of Mark Devlin, a member of the BLAST team) filmed "BLAST The Movie" a documentary film following the day-to-day adventure behind the two balloon trips of the Telescope, which was aired in Public TV in several countries, Film Festivals and private and public screenings. Second one was a special presentation of the project (including a virtual balloon flight) in the Second Life virtual community. Pictures from that virtual guest appearance can be seen in Hillary Manson's album at Flickr.
Currently the team is working in a new and improved version of the BLAST telescope, which hopefully could fly in 2009.
:: http://www.blastexperiment.info Main web site of the project
:: http://blastthemovie.com/ BLAST! the movie