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NASA will send a balloon the size of a football field to study the stars



The ASTHROS space agency mission will fly out of Antarctica in December 2023 and spend three weeks in the stratosphere, the part of the atmosphere where the ozone layer is located. Its components include a balloon the size of a football field and a specialized telescope with far-reaching infrared radiation designed to capture light that the human eye cannot detect.

Engineers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory will begin testing next month. While you wait for it to launch, you need to know about NASA’s ascending observatory.

NASA bets on a balloon that, when inflated, will be 400 feet wide. The gondola hanging below it will hold instruments such as special binoculars and infrared binoculars and a cooling system that keep the far infrared instruments at “absolute zero”

; or can reach the coldest temperature.

This telescope is called ASTHROS, short for astrophysical stratospheric telescope for high-spectral resolution observations at submillimeter wavelengths. Long-distance infrared wavelengths cannot be seen by the human eye, but can illuminate the density and velocity of gas in the parts of space where stars form.

The balloon will hover “deep below the boundary of space” at an altitude of about 130,000 feet – still, nearly 25 miles high. The team can control the telescope from the ground and download its data for immediate analysis.

“We will bring ASTHROS to the edge of space from the farthest and toughest parts of our planet,” said Jose Siles, Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer and ASTHROS project manager. “If you stop thinking about it, it’s really challenging, which makes it exciting at the same time.”

His mission

Instruments hanging under the balloon will study star formation and a process called “stellar feedback.”

When supernovae explode, they blow material back into space. These “violent explosions” can either send flying materials and stop star formation, or cause material to accumulate and speed up the star-forming process. Without stellar feedback, according to the Jet Propulsion Label laboratory, all the interstellar dust and gas in the Milky Way Galaxy would accumulate into stars.

Investigating the disappearance of a huge star in a distant galaxy

“I think it’s clear that stellar feedback is a major regulator of star formation throughout the history of the universe,” said Jorge Pineda, ASTHROS’s chief investigator. “Computer simulations of galaxy evolution cannot completely replicate the reality we see in the universe. The nitrogen mapping we do with ASTHROS has never been done before and it will be interesting to see how this information will help these models be more accurate. ‘ “

To learn more about this process, ASTHROS will hit two targets in the Milky Way galaxy, both “star-forming regions” where the instrument creates what the lab says is the first 3D printed gas map in these regions. These maps inform computer simulations of the evolution of the galaxy.

The other two targets are Messier 83, a galaxy about 15 million light-years from Earth and one of the brightest galaxies, and TW Hydrae, a star with a protoplanetary disk or a disk of dust and gas where planets can form.

When ASTHROS completes two to three loops around the South Pole in three to four weeks, its operators on the ground separate the gondola from the balloon. The gondola and tools fall back to Earth, where they can be reused for future missions.

Testing of ASTHROS cooling systems begins in August, following the launch of NASA’s latest Mars Perser spacecraft.

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