An artist’s impression of the Astrophysics Stratospheric Telescope for High Spectral Resolution Observations at Submillimetre-wavelengths – ASTHROS – soaring above Antarctica carrying a gondola with a large, lightweight infrared telescope. Image: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab/Michael Lentz
Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are designing an infrared-sensitive telescope that will fly 40 kilometres (130,000 feet) above Antarctica suspended below a 150-metre-wide (400-foot-wide) balloon for up to four weeks at a time.
Equipped with a 2.5-metre (8.4-foot) dish antenna and detectors maintained at a temperature near absolute zero, the ASTHROS observatory will measure the motion and velocity of gas around infant stars and map the presence of specific types of nitrogen ions to shed light on feedback mechanisms that can accelerate star formation.
Its first mission in late 2023 also will study the galaxy Messier 83 to learn more about the effects of stellar feedback on galactic evolution and carry out observations of TW Hydrae, a young star that features a broad disc of gas and dust where planets may be forming.
At the end of the mission, the solar-powered observatory will be released from the balloon for a parachute descent to Earth where engineers will be waiting ...