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U. of C. Prof Leads Stadium-Sized 'Super' Balloon Project

By Peter Jones | April 26, 2017 3:25pm
 University of Chicago professor Angela Olinto.
University of Chicago professor Angela Olinto.
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NASA/University of Chicago

HYDE PARK — A University of Chicago professor is one of the leaders of a NASA project that launched a "Super Pressure" balloon this week oin search of what she says is "the most energetic cosmic particles that we’ve ever observed.”

The balloon, reportedly "stadium-sized" when fully inflated, features a telescope that will take 400,000 images a second using an ultraviolet camera that scientists at the U of C and around the world will use to study the cosmic rays.

The launch this week from Wanaka Airport in New Zealand was the eighth attempt after seven previous efforts were blocked by weather.

Researchers from 16 countries helped design and build the 18.8-million-cubic-foot balloon, made of polyethylene film.

It is expected to circle the Southern Hemisphere for 100 days, at about 21 miles above the earth, breaking the previous flight record of 46 days, set in 2016.

Follow the balloon's route here

The project, known as the Extreme Universe Space Observatory on a Super Pressure Balloon (EUSO-SPB), is funded by NASA with the U.S. team led by the University of Chicago. Scientists will use the information to study cosmic rays penetrating the atmosphere.

“The origin of these particles is a great mystery that we’d like to solve," U of C professor Angela Olinto, principal investigator of EUSO-SPB, said in a statement. "Do they come from massive black holes at the center of galaxies? Tiny, fast-spinning stars? Or somewhere else?”

Two U of C undergraduate students, Leo Allen and Mikhail Rezazadeh, have contributed to EUSO-SPB by building an infrared camera to observe cloud coverage at night.

A professor in the department of astronomy and astrophysics, Olinto holds a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.