Ice and Medicine at the end of the earth

BLAST Off

Happy Holidays!  We had a great holiday weekend here in McMurdo!

Sorry for the lack of posts over the past week. It was a busy week in clinic coordinating field camp medical kits.  But I still had time to watch a large NASA balloon float over town and listen to some science lectures. 

I went to a lecture on a NASA balloon project called BLAST (Balloon-borne Large Aperture Submillimeter Telescope).  I am fascinated by the ability of NASA to see “starburst” galaxies 7-10 billion light years away with a balloon carrying a very heavy “payload.”  BLAST is comprised of two mirrors and heat sensitive detectors suspended from a high altitude balloon above 97% of the earth’s atmosphere.  This allows the scientists to measure the temperature of each galaxy and interpret the rate of star formation.  According to their website, BLAST identified 10 times the total number of submillimeter Starburst Galaxies in one 11 day flight than decades of ground research.  I then watched a documentary film on the 2006 launch of the initial BLAST balloon.  I highly recommend the movie.  Information on the movie and the project can be found at http://blastexperiment.info/index.php

The following photos of the balloon and BLAST are taken from the above website:

Needless to say, after watching the science lecture and BLAST movie, I had to see the launch of BLAST-Pol (the newest addition).  Unfortunately the launches of the large balloons are not advertised around base because they are deemed unsafe for spectators.  I thought I had my sources and even spent one morning walking up toward Scott base with Adam in anticipation of a launch.   I had multiple phone calls on December 20 telling me that the balloon had launched.  I excitedly thought it was BLAST.  I have since found out that BLAST launched yesterday.  Now, all of my excitement over the BLAST launch should go toward the correct NASA balloon, CREAM.

The Cosmic Ray Energetics And Mass (CREAM) Experiment was constructed to measure cosmic rays during ultra long duration balloon flights.  They have had five successful flights, and launched their sixth, CREAM-VI on December 20th.  The balloon floats at an altitude of 38-40 Km investigating high-energy cosmic-ray particles that originated from distant supernovae explosions in the Milky Way.  You can find more about the science of CREAM at http://cosmicray.umd.edu/cream/

Antarctica is a great place to launch Long Duration Balloons because of it 24 hours of sunlight and predictable wind patterns.  “A nearly circular pattern of gentle east-to-west winds that lasts for a few weeks allows the recovery of a balloon from roughly the same geographic location from which it was launched and permits a flight path that is almost entirely above land.”

So, on December 20, we watched the light weight polyethylene film balloon that gets as big as a football field, carries up to 6,000 pounds, and can reach an elevation 25 miles float peacefully over McMurdo.   Kressley (Dentist), Adam (Flight Surgeon) and I watched and photographed the balloon from the deck of the clinic with our telephoto lens cameras. 

You can follow the flight path and data on the CREAM website.  Unfortunately, it appears that the balloon has stopped on the opposite side of the continent.  It is currently sitting at approximately 7000 feet.  I have been unable to find out if this is the planned resting point, if there was equipment malfunction or if the rotating winds did not cooperate.  The map of the flight path is below:

I will update you on CREAM and BLAST as I know more.  In other exciting news — T.J. should arrive at McMurdo on Thursday December 30th (US Wednesday)!!  I am excited to see him and spend New Years together.

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One response

  1. Kelly

    yeah TJ!!!!!!!!!!

    December 29, 2010 at 2:23 AM

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