A Low-Cost Telescope To Rival Hubble – Carried by a Balloon the Size of a Football Stadium

SuperBIT Pillars of Creation

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A SuperBIT optical and ultraviolet composite picture of the ‘Pillars of Creation’, trunks of gas and dust in the Eagle Nebula, 7,000 light years away in the instructions of the constellation of Serpens. Credit: SuperBIT group, from Romualdez et al. (2018) SPIE 10702

Durham, Toronto and Princeton Universities have actually coordinated with NASA and the Canadian Space Agency to construct a brand-new type of huge telescope. SuperBIT flies above 99.5% of the Earth’s environment, brought by a helium balloon the size of a football arena. The telescope will make its functional launching next April and when released must acquire high-resolution images equaling those of the Hubble Space Telescope. Mohamed Shaaban, a PhD trainee at the University of Toronto, will explain SuperBIT in his talk tomorrow (Wednesday, July 21, 2021) at the online RAS National Astronomy Meeting (NAM 2021).

Light from a far-off galaxy can take a trip for billions of years to reach our telescopes. In the last split second, the light needs to go through the Earth’s swirling, unstable environment. Our view of deep space ends up being blurred. Observatories on the ground are constructed at high elevation websites to conquer a few of this, however previously just positioning a telescope in area leaves the result of the environment.

The Superpressure Balloon-borne Imaging Telescope (or SuperBIT) has a 0.5 meter size mirror and is reached 40km elevation by a helium balloon with a volume of 532,000 cubic meters, about the size of a football arena.

SuperBIT’s Final Preparations for Launch

SuperBIT’s last preparations for launch from Timmins Stratospheric Balloon Base Canada, in September 2019. Credit: Steven Benton, Princeton University

Its last test flight in 2019 showed amazing pointing stability, with variation of less than one thirty-six thousandth of a degree for more than an hour. This ought to allow a telescope to acquire images as sharp as those from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Nobody has actually done this in the past, not just since it is extremely hard, however likewise since balloons might remain up for just a couple of nights: too brief for an enthusiastic experiment. However, NASA just recently established ‘superpressure’ balloons able to include helium for months. SuperBIT is set up to introduce on the next long period of time balloon, from Wanaka, New Zealand, in April. Carried by seasonally steady winds, it will circumnavigate the Earth a number of times – imaging the sky all night, then utilizing photovoltaic panels to charge its batteries throughout the day.

With a spending plan for building and construction and operation for the very first telescope of US$5 million (£3.62 million), SuperBIT expense practically 1000 times less than a comparable satellite. Not just are balloons more affordable than rocket fuel, however the capability to return the payload to Earth and relaunch it implies that its style has actually been fine-tuned and enhanced over a number of test flights. Satellites needs to work very first time, so generally have (extremely pricey) redundancy, and decade-old innovation that needed to be space-qualified by the previous objective. Modern digital video cameras enhance every year – so the advancement group purchased the advanced video camera for SuperBIT’s most current test flight a couple of weeks prior to launch. This area telescope will continue to be upgradable, or have brand-new instruments on every future flight.

SuperBIT Balloon

The SuperBIT balloon in flight, above NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility, Texas, in June 2016. Credit: Richard Massey / Durham University

In the longer term, the Hubble Space Telescope will not be fixed once again when it undoubtedly stops working. For 20 years after that, ESA/NASA objectives will allow imaging just at infrared wavelengths (like the James Webb Space Telescope due to introduce this fall), or a single optical band (like the Euclid observatory due to introduce next year).

By then SuperBIT will be the only center on the planet efficient in high-resolution multicolor optical and ultraviolet observations. The group currently has financing to develop an upgrade from SuperBIT’s 0.5 meter aperture telescope to 1.5 meters (the optimum bring capability of the balloon is a telescope with a mirror about 2 meters throughout). Boosting light collecting power significantly, integrated with its broader angle lens and more megapixels, will make this bigger instrument even much better than Hubble. The inexpensive expense even makes it possible to have a fleet of area telescopes using time to astronomers worldwide.

“New balloon technology makes visiting space cheap, easy, and environmentally friendly,” stated Shaaban. “SuperBIT can be continually reconfigured and upgraded, but its first mission will watch the largest particle accelerators in the Universe: collisions between clusters of galaxies.”

The science objective for the 2022 flight is to determine the residential or commercial properties of dark matter particles. Although dark matter is unnoticeable, astronomers map the method it flexes rays of light, a strategy referred to as gravitational lensing. SuperBIT will evaluate whether dark matter decreases throughout accidents. No particle colliders on Earth can speed up dark matter, however this is a crucial signature anticipated by theories that may describe current observations of strangely acting muons.

“Cavemen could smash rocks together, to see what they’re made of,” included Prof. Richard Massey of Durham University. “SuperBIT is looking for the crunch of dark matter. It’s the same experiment, you just need a space telescope to see it.”

Meeting: Royal Astronomical Society National Astronomy Meeting

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