Were you reading my “UFO” post last week with great interest, but wanted to know more about it? Your quest is over. Here is some information, direct from one of the physicists working on the project.
After my original article was posted, I heard from William Grainger, a physicist from Cardiff University in Wales, who worked on the balloon project.
While the scientific balloon I saw in the Arizona sky was the same kind of balloon launched in May that measured gamma rays, this one was looking at something else. The instrument hanging below this balloon, according to Grainger, “was EBEX, a balloon borne instrument that is designed to measure the polarization of the cosmic microwave background (the recently launched Planck satellite is doing the same thing).”
After launch, the balloon reached 110,000 feet and then floated west from Fort Sumner, New Mexico, over Arizona, and was then cut down before reaching the Los Angeles airspace in the late evening. The balloon was filled with helium and its payload was 8000 pounds. The balloon itself was made of a thin Mylar, 80 microns thick, and the total volume was 37 million cubic feet. It was a “zero pressure” balloon. Since there was zero pressure differential between the inside and the outside of the balloon, it was free to “leak” its contents to the atmosphere.
The balloon project was done by the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility (CSBF). This launch was actually a “test” launch, to test the entire system before doing a planned launch from McMurdo Station, Antarctica. The flight originating from there would be two weeks long.
Here is more information on scientific balloons in general, from the CSBF:
- can be launched from locations worldwide to support scientific needs.
- can be readied for flight in as little as six months.
- offer a low-cost method of conducting science investigations.
- provide a stable platform for longer flight durations.