Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Solar Telescope Soars Into Sky On Jumbo-jet-sized Balloon

Date:
October 24, 2007
Source:
National Center for Atmospheric Research
Summary:
Scientists have launched a solar telescope to an altitude of 120,000 feet, borne by a balloon larger than a Boeing 747 jumbo jet. The test clears the way for long-duration polar balloon flights beginning in 2009 that will capture unprecedented details of the Sun's surface.

Slender hoses, blown into arcs by the wind, partially fill the balloon with helium before launch. A large portion of the balloon is left unfilled so it can expand as it ascends into the stratosphere, where air pressure is considerably lower.
Credit: Photo by Carlye Calvin, Copyright UCAR

In a landmark test flight, the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and a team of research partners this month successfully launched a solar telescope to an altitude of 120,000 feet, borne by a balloon larger than a Boeing 747 jumbo jet. The test clears the way for long-duration polar balloon flights beginning in 2009 that will capture unprecedented details of the Sun's surface.

"This unique research project will enable us to view features of the Sun that we've never seen before," says Michael Knφlker, director of NCAR's High Altitude Observatory and a principal investigator on the project. "We hope to unlock important mysteries about the Sun's magnetic field structures, which at times can cause electromagnetic storms in our upper atmosphere and may have an impact on Earth's climate."

The project, known as Sunrise, is an international collaboration involving NCAR, NASA, Germany's Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research and Kiepenheuer Institute for Solar Physics, Spain's Astrophysics Institute of the Canary Islands, and the Swedish Space Corporation. Additional U.S. partners include the Lockheed Martin Corporation and the University of Chicago. Funding for NCAR's work on the project comes from NASA and from the National Science Foundation, which is NCAR's primary sponsor.

The project may usher in a new generation of balloon-borne scientific missions that cost less than sending instruments into space. Scientists also can test an instrument on a balloon before making a commitment to launch it on a rocket.

The balloon, with its gondola of scientific instruments, was launched successfully on the morning of October 3 from the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. It flew for about 10 hours, capturing stable images of the solar surface and additional data from the various instruments of the sophisticated payload. The gondola then separated from the balloon and descended with a parachute, landing safely in a field outside Dalhart, Texas.

"We were able to verify the workings of the entire system end to end," says David Elmore, an NCAR engineer who oversaw the test flight. "We can now move on to planning the first full-scale mission with confidence."

Observing the midnight Sun

The ultimate goal of the Sunrise project is to investigate the structure and dynamics of the Sun's magnetic fields. The fields fuel solar activity, including plasma storms that buffet Earth's outer atmosphere and affect sensitive telecommunications and power systems. The fields also cause variations in solar radiation, which may be significant factors in long-term changes in Earth's climate.

The Sunrise project is scheduled next for a multiday flight over the Arctic in the summer of 2009, launching from Kiruna, Sweden. By taking advantage of the midnight Sun, the telescope will be able to capture continuous images for a period of several days to as long as two weeks, possibly orbiting the Arctic. It may be launched later on another long-distance flight over the Arctic or the Antarctic.

At an altitude of 120,000 feet, the telescope will rise above most of the turbulence of the atmosphere and ultraviolet-absorbing water vapor and ozone. It will be able to view stable images in the ultraviolet range, which allow for higher resolution than can be obtained from Earth's surface.

The telescope will capture features on the solar surface as small as 30 kilometers across (about 19 miles), more than double the resolution achieved by any other instrument to date. This will enable scientists to examine structures on the Sun that are believed to be key to understanding the mechanisms driving solar activity. In addition, by observing the same area during an entire flight over high latitudes in summer, the telescope will enable scientists to continually witness changes in the magnetic fields without the interruption of night.

The Sunrise project has presented engineers with a number of extraordinary challenges. The balloon is designed to carry 6,000 pounds of equipment, including a 1-meter (39-inch) solar telescope, additional observing instruments, communications equipment, computers and disk drives, solar panels, and roll cages and crush pads to protect the payload on landing. The equipment must be able to withstand dramatic changes in temperature, and the steel and aluminum gondola cannot vibrate in ways that could interfere with the operation of the telescope.

One of the most difficult aspects of the engineering work was to design the gondola in such a way that the telescope in flight would remain focused on a specific and relatively tiny area of the Sun, even while twisting on a soaring balloon for a week or longer during the full-scale research missions. To accomplish this, the gondola includes both a torque motor drive to keep the gondola and telescope in the correct orientation and a precision guiding and compensation system to constantly correct the telescope's aim.

In addition to the telescope, the gondola on its full-scale research missions will carry a polarimetric spectrograph that will measure wavelengths in the Sun's electromagnetic spectrum and enable scientists to make inferences about its magnetic fields. Another instrument, known as an imaging magnetograph, will provide two-dimensional magnetic field maps.

Because the gondola is designed to withstand considerable force when it lands, the instruments can be launched on repeated missions.

"This is a very economical way of rising above the atmosphere and capturing images that cannot be captured from Earth," Knφlker says. "What we are doing is laying the groundwork for the next generation of space flights."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by National Center for Atmospheric Research. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

National Center for Atmospheric Research. "Solar Telescope Soars Into Sky On Jumbo-jet-sized Balloon." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 October 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071023163914.htm>.
National Center for Atmospheric Research. (2007, October 24). Solar Telescope Soars Into Sky On Jumbo-jet-sized Balloon. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071023163914.htm
National Center for Atmospheric Research. "Solar Telescope Soars Into Sky On Jumbo-jet-sized Balloon." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071023163914.htm (accessed April 18, 2014).

Share This



More Space & Time News

Friday, April 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Earth's Near-Twin Found Orbiting Red Dwarf

Earth's Near-Twin Found Orbiting Red Dwarf

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2014) — The newly-discovered planet is roughly the size of Earth and could have liquid water on its surface. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
New Baby Moon 'Peggy' Spotted In Saturn's Rings

New Baby Moon 'Peggy' Spotted In Saturn's Rings

Newsy (Apr. 15, 2014) — A bump in the rings could be a half-mile-wide miniature moon. It was found by accident in Cassini probe images. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Americas Glimpse Total Lunar Eclipse

Americas Glimpse Total Lunar Eclipse

AFP (Apr. 15, 2014) — A total lunar eclipse, the first since December 2011, took place early Tuesday morning with the Americas getting the best glimpse. Duration: 1:19 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
NASA Showcases Lunar Eclipse

NASA Showcases Lunar Eclipse

AP (Apr. 15, 2014) — Star gazers in parts of North and South America got a rare treat early Tuesday morning - a total eclipse of the moon. (April 15) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins