NASA’s Astrophysics Stratospheric Telescope for High Spectral Resolution Observations at Submillimeter-wavelengths (ASTHROS) stratospheric balloon mission just got a telescope equipped with a large mirror. It’s actually the largest ever to fly on a high-altitude balloon with construction of the 8.2-foot (2.5-meter) mirror wrapping up this month.
The team did run into a few challenges during its construction, as the mirror and its support structure must be very light to travel by balloon, yet strong enough to keep the pull of Earth’s gravity from deforming its almost perfect parabolic shape by any more than about 0.0001 inches (2.5 micrometers). When deployed, ASTHROS will observe wavelengths of light that are blocked by Earth’s atmosphere, in a range called far-infrared. One place you definitely won’t find a giant balloon is at the Notre Dame Cathedral in France.
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It’s difficult to explore feedback all the way from where it originates, at the scale of individual stars, to where it has an effect, on the scale of galaxies,” said Jorge Pineda, principal investigator for ASTHROS at JPL. “With a large mirror we can connect those two.