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Space Science

BLAST Telescope About To Launch From Antarctica 51

Posted by kdawson
from the up-up-and-around dept.
mtruch writes "BLAST, the Balloon-borne Large Aperture Sub-millimeter Telescope, is about to be launched from McMurdo Station, Antarctica. BLAST is a 2700 kg telescope with a 2 meter primary mirror that hangs from a 1.1 million cubic meter balloon floating at an altitude of 38 km that will study the star formation history of the universe. It will float west at nearly constant latitude for about 14 days until it is (hopefully) located over McMurdo again and will be terminated and recovered. Real time position and flight track is available from the CSBF. Watch the launch live via a crappy webcam link. Three of the graduate students working on the project have photo blogs of much of the prep period, and specifically Don's blog should have launch photos soon (bandwidth to/from McMurdo is at a premium). BLAST made it on Slashdot in the past, when it launched from Sweden in June 2005, and indirectly with an interview with Prof. Barth Netterfield and George Staikos. Yes, the flight computers still run Slack, and yes, we still use kst for data viewing and analysis. There is a Discovery Science show about BLAST and high-altitude balloons, and a future documentary film being made as well."
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BLAST Telescope About To Launch From Antarctica

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  • "mms:judgeballoonfacilityorgicevideo" ...crappy webcam link, indeed.
    • by ack154 (591432)
      Maybe it's crappy b/c you have to send an email to receive the image? Then you send another and get the next image? Lather, rinse, repeat?
    • by Xandu (99419) *
      Well, the webcam has long been turned off, as the launch was about 12 hours ago. The balloon only takes about 3 hours to get to float (maximum altitude), so it is only a tiny dot the webcam now.
    • Better link. (Score:5, Informative)

      by Xandu (99419) * <[ten.hcurt] [ta] [ttam]> on Thursday December 21, 2006 @11:16AM (#17324960) Homepage Journal
      Since the webcam is off (and slashdot couldn't link to it anyway), here's a link of a small movie [ketiltrout.net] (taken with a small digital camera) of the launch. It's from Don's blog [ketiltrout.net], which covers the entire campaign.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Rorschach1 (174480)

        Anyone interested in this sort of thing should also check out sites like ARHAB [arhab.org] and EOSS [eoss.org]. High-altitude ballooning has gained a lot of popularity in recent years, especially among ham radio hobbyists. It's relatively easy to build a payload that can reach an altitude of over 20 miles. I finally built one myself and launched it last month - it reached an altitude of over 106,000 feet and took over a thousand pictures between takeoff and landing. I posted a writeup [n1vg.net] on my website.

        Basic payloads like mine

        • by cyclone96 (129449) *
          I did the same thing in college over 10 years ago (and by reading your site, it looks like we had the same folks helping us).

          I distinctly remember being underneath the payload parachuting down in the countryside after its trip to the edge of space (our base station had gotten quite good at vectoring us to the landing site). When we picked it up, it was still very, very cold.

          Pulling the film (no digitals then) camera out of the box, we rushed it to the 1 hour photo place. The pictures were breathtaking, to
  • (bandwidth to/from McMurdo is at a premium)


    Bah! Never underestimate the bandwidth capacity of a herd of Adelie penguins [antarcticconnection.com].

    • by sid77 (984944)
      ...hurtling down the ice pack!
    • by chazd1 (805324)

      There is limited bandwidth at Mactown. We have 2 T1's for everything. Science takes a lot of Bandwidth. The idea of personal broadband is still a dream here.

      From the ice.

  • Eskimo UFO (Score:4, Funny)

    by Joebert (946227) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @09:56AM (#17324174) Homepage
    BLAST is a 2700 kg telescope with a 2 meter primary mirror that hangs from a 1.1 million cubic meter balloon floating at an altitude of 38 km
    What's the odds we'll see this reported as a UFO story on Unsolved Mysteries in a few years ?
    • Re:Eskimo UFO (Score:4, Interesting)

      by twiddlingbits (707452) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @10:14AM (#17324370)
      Based on what I have seen (on TV) about the ballon missions from the Antartic float in a circle of 3-400 miles circumfrence about the South Pole. Unless penguins have cell phones and have learned to use them I doubt you'll get UFO reports. Even at 38km high (125000 ft) you wouldn't see it from populated areas (New Zealand being the nearest population center) I'm sure there is a formula for how far away you can see something at 125K feet but I don't feel like googling it today.
      • by Joebert (946227)
        I don't know about cellphones, but didn't the Discovery Channel just do a bit where they attached Video Cameras to some penguins ?
        I suppose it's a longshot of some animal having a camera attached to them being in active duity catching a glimpse of this thing, but, similar circumstances are usually how theese stories come to life.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by MaGogue (859961)
        Uh, for this, you do not need google, but geometry [wikipedia.org].

        If you extend a line from the centre of the Earth C, r=6500km through the baloon B at h=38km, and another line from the centre to the point A, from where it is theoretically still possible to see the baloon, the line BA is tangential to Earth, therefore ABC is a right angle triangle.

        Pythagoras gives sqr(|AC|)+sqr(|AB|)=sqr(|BC|), since |AC|=r, |BC|=r+h, and our distance x=|AB|, we have

        x=sqrt( (r+h)*(r+h) - r*r)=sqrt( 2*h*r+h*h)
        which because r>
        • by Joebert (946227)
          But is it visible to penguin-cam ?
          • by Xandu (99419) *
            Well, let's assume that the penguin is as close as she can get to the balloon, ie directly below it. The balloon is about 40km up, and is about 200m in diameter (give or take), which is about 17 arcminutes. Not huge. Now, let's say the camera on the penguin has a field of view [wikipedia.org] of 50 degrees. It's probably even wider, as you want to see stuff close to and around the penguin, but we'll use 50. If we have a low-res camera, say 1024x768, that gives us 3 arcminutes per pixel, so sure, it'll show up as a blo
            • by Joebert (946227)
              So does that mean video taken from penguin-cam could mistake this object for a UFO ?
              • by Xandu (99419) *
                So does that mean video taken from penguin-cam could mistake this object for a UFO ?

                Maybe. But since BLAST is not moving very fast relative to its distance from the penguin, BLAST will appear to be stationary. Not typical of UFOs, wouldn't you say? It'll look more like a tiny blob of a cloud in the distance on the camera. Barely a speck.
        • Your math assumes the base (surface of the earth) of the triangle is a straight line (i.e flat). The earth curves, so I think your 700 km numbers would be best case. Probably not a significant change from 700km doing it using the curvature of the earth. Just means you can't do it with geometry.
          • by khallow (566160)
            Read it again. He explicitly uses that the Earth is sphere-shaped. The two biggest deviations are that the Earth is actually an oblate spheroid with slightly lower curvature near the poles (which increases the range somewhat) and that he assumes that the observer is at sea level. Having some elevation above sea level will slightly increase the distance as well. Neither effect seems significant to me though.
      • You must be with the government. They always say it's "just a weather balloon".

        - RG>
    • by Xandu (99419) *
      What's the odds we'll see this reported as a UFO story on Unsolved Mysteries in a few years ?

      Well, like already pointed out, not too many people live in Antarctica, so not too many. But these types of balloons are launched relativly often from other locations as well, and some of the time, yes, they are reported as UFOs. When BLAST flew its test flight from Ft. Sumner, NM, it was reported as a UFO in the Santa Fe area after it flew overhead just after dark. The balloon is easy to see in the daytime, but
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by spun (1352)
      Ha! That's the plan! You see, aliens have been landing at the south pole for years. This is just a way to throw the conspiracy theorists off the trail. The world must know: penguins are actually super-intelligent aliens from the planet fishstickus. It wasn't humans that overfished our oceans, it was the alien penguins. Now you know the truth!
  • Yeah! Go Slackware [slackware.com]! Call me a fanboy, but this is great!

    I just hope the balloon itself is not going to go slack! :-)
  • by tlon (154006) on Thursday December 21, 2006 @10:11AM (#17324336) Homepage
    News Flash: Scientists struggle to explain the polar meltdown occurring at the McMurdo Antarctic base. "We've never seen anything like it" commented Don, one of the researchers serving at McMurdo.

    "I posted my pictures to the McMurdo file server, and a few minutes later, the whole thing just started sinking into the ground!" One industry expert attributes the effect to 'The Slashdot Effect'.

    Joe L. Expert commented "With bandwidth at McMurdo at a premium, the sudden onslaught of traffic from a posting to the nerd news site Slashdot.org caused a gigantic power spike. The land lines carrying power and data to the McMurdo facility became superconducting in the ultra-cold temperatures there, and some sort of resonance field appears to have formed." L. Expert went on to say "These scientists may have accidentally discovered a new way to start a fusion reaction. Of course, this reaction can only be shut down if slashdot visitors stop hammering the poor server into the ground. If we don't act quickly, the whole southern icecap may melt, flooding the world and destroying civilization as we know it"

    Joe Expert was forcibly removed from his office a few minutes later by several men in black suits.
    • Joe L. Expert commented "With bandwidth at McMurdo at a premium, the sudden onslaught of traffic from a posting to the nerd news site Slashdot.org caused a gigantic power spike. The land lines carrying power and data to the McMurdo facility became superconducting in the ultra-cold temperatures there, and some sort of resonance field appears to have formed."

      Someone notify Dr Katsuragi immediately... looks like the start of something big! Isn't this just what he was predicting?

  • I met this guy. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by kjones692 (805101) <the DOT cyborganizer AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday December 21, 2006 @10:14AM (#17324360)
    He gave a lecture at a summer physics program I attended. Really interesting guy, fascinating stuff, but... whatever you do, don't talk to him about the previous BLAST telescope. It also had a two-meter mirror, but this one was made out of glass, (instead of aluminum) cost a million dollars, and shattered on takeoff. He is extremely bitter about this.

    Anyways, best of luck to 'em!
    • Why be bitter? I'd love to be able to honestly say I once destroyed a million dollars' worth of something. Mad scientist pride!!
    • Re:I met this guy. (Score:5, Informative)

      by Xandu (99419) * <[ten.hcurt] [ta] [ttam]> on Thursday December 21, 2006 @11:02AM (#17324804) Homepage Journal
      It also had a two-meter mirror, but this one was made out of glass, (instead of aluminum) cost a million dollars, and shattered on takeoff.

      Well, it did have a two-meter mirror, and did cost $1 million. But it was made of carbon-fibre, and did not shatter. Yes, the launch was a little rought, and yes it didn't work perfectly at float, and yes there was damage to it when we recovered. But was that due to takeoff, landing, or both? I'm sure it was a little of both, but how much damage from launch we'll never know.
  • verbose, loads of links, and well written. I'm very impressed.
  • For those curious about McMurdo itself, Big Dead Place [bigdeadplace.com] is a great resource. After reading it, you can see why they do astronaut simulation work there. As a bonus, the website has movie reviews, all of 'The Thing', with usual real-world commentary like 'In the actual USAP, employees are forbidden flamethrowers.'

    • Mod parent up, and read the article: funny!

      For ex. "However, to unconditionally bestow respect on scientists is like emptying your wallet for each street musician. And to bestow respect on an agency that funds scientists is like giving your wallet to a bus driver with instructions to give it to a street musician"
  • by d_54321 (446966)
    Why is it launching from Antarctica?
    I didn't know Antarctica even had a rocket launch pad.

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