Friday, January 2, 2015

SPIDER launched

After nearly a decade of preparation, SPIDER launched today.  You can see a video of the launch here:

I described what they were up to in this blog-post a few weeks back.  While I don't directly work on this project, I and many others loosely connected to the project really want to see it succeed.  This is the proving grounds for a future satellite mission using the technology that I have worked really hard on for years now.  Regardless of the science that comes out of this mission, if all goes according to plan, they will have demonstrated a huge technological leap forward.

My colleagues down in McMurdo are now frantically communicating with the balloon by radio to try to get all the electronics tuned up.  Many of the detection systems cannot be tuned until they are at high altitude, and while that team has worked very hard at automating this, they still need some human intervention.  But there’s a limited time because once the balloon passes over the horizon (about 48 hours), it must function nearly autonomously.  Once out of sight, their bandwidth for communication isn’t much better than sending a “tweet” every few minutes.  (as of Jan 5, all systems are "go".)

They will be mapping this region of sky, shown at left and outlined in white a figure from a recent paper:

The colors in the background show a model of dust from our galaxy and you can see what we've focused on with the BICEP and Keck telescopes in the grey box in the lower right.  So their map will be much larger, albeit not as deep (i.e. more noise in each part of the map than we have).  But that should let them look at larger modes on the sky, which will be exciting.

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