BLAST, a balloon-borne telescope, flies over Antarctica
A fascinating experiment is being conducted this week over Antarctica by Canada and its partners, the U.S., the U.K. and Mexico.
September 19, 2007 By Carey Fredericks
A fascinating experiment is being conducted this week over Antarctica by Canada and its partners, the U.S., the U.K. and Mexico. Attached to a huge helium balloon, 2,000-kilogram BLAST (balloon-borne large aperture sub-millimetre telescope) is peering deep into space to study distant stars and galaxies. Launched from the McMurdo Research Station in Antarctica on December 21, BLAST is expected to fly for up to 10 days, circling 38,000 metres above the frozen continent in the stratosphere.
At such an altitude, the two-metre telescope offers levels of sensitivity and resolution unmatched by any observation facility on Earth. The mission will shed light on fundamental questions about the formation and evolution of stars and galaxies. BLAST will identify large numbers of distant star-forming galaxies, study the earliest stages of star and planet formation, and make high-resolution maps of diffuse galactic emissions.
Canada is providing the gondola, the pointing control system, the data acquisition system, the flight and ground station software, the power system, and overall system integration. Canadian partners in this project include the University of Toronto, the University of British Columbia, and AMEC Dynamic Structures Ltd. of Port Coquitlam, B.C. Canadian funding was provided by the Canadian Space Agency, who contributed $2 million for equipment and mission operations, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Ontario Innovation Trust, and the University of Toronto. International partners include the University of Pennsylvania, Brown University, the University of Miami, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Cardiff University, and the Instituto Nacional de Astrofisica of Mexico, with funding from NASA and the U.K.'s Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC).