NASA is going to use a super-pressure balloon to launch into near space a pioneering telescope designed to detect ultra-high-energy cosmic rays as they interact with the Earth’s atmosphere. The project is named the Extreme Universe Space Observatory- Super Pressure Balloon, or the EUSO-SPB.
According to the article from the University of Chicago NASA to launch telescope on super-pressure balloon in search for cosmic rays by author Greg Borzo, “When an ultra-high-energy cosmic ray reaches the Earth’s atmosphere, it induces a series of interactions that stimulates a large cosmic ray shower. The new telescope, which detects at night, will capture the ultra-violet fluorescence produced by the interaction of these particle showers with the nitrogen molecules in the air.” These UV particles do not penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere well, as the picture below from a class lecture-tutorial shows. This is why the telescope will be observing the UV light from near-space.
Telescopes collect light and focus that light into an image. The EUSO-SPB has a refractor telescope with 2 Frensel lenses (a type of compact lens). As we learned in class, a refractor telescope uses a lens to gather and focus the light, as opposed to a reflector telescope, which uses a mirror or mirrors to gather and focus light.
A reflector telescope is suitable for this pressure balloon for several reasons. Most obvious is that refractor telescopes are much more rugged and durable than reflector telescopes. As the telescope will be flying around the atmosphere attached to a balloon, this durability is necessary to survive the conditions it will face. The balloon will reach up to 110,000 feet in the air as it travels for up to 100 days.
Article link, from the University of Chicago.
Looking back at the fond memories I have of this objective, I would say I quite enjoyed learning about various types of telescopes and their functions. I never knew or realized, for instance, that different wavelengths of light penetrate the atmosphere differently, which allows me to know why some telescopes would be in space and some are not. Also, this was one of the easier conceptual objectives to understand, and I appreciate that as well.