In DepthAstronomy

Cheap balloon-borne telescopes aim to rival space observatories

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Science  28 Feb 2020:
Vol. 367, Issue 6481, pp. 967
DOI: 10.1126/science.367.6481.967

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No instrument has revealed more about the heavens than NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, which cost nearly $5 billion to build and launch. Yet a team of researchers thinks it can match some of Hubble's capabilities with a telescope costing millions of dollars, hoisted to the edge of space on a balloon. During an 18-hour flight over Canada in September 2019, the $2 million Superpressure Balloon-borne Imaging Telescope (SuperBIT) held steady enough to image distant the stars with a resolution of 260 milliarcseconds, only a factor of five less sharp than Hubble and at the theoretical limit for its 0.5-meter mirror. To compete with space telescopes, however, a balloon-borne telescope must also stay aloft for many nights. To achieve that, the team hopes to fly SuperBIT on one of NASA's new superpressure balloons, which can stay aloft for many weeks. SuperBIT researchers hope to do an observing run in 2021 and are working on a larger, 1.5-meter telescope that they hope will reproduce some of Hubble's capabilities for a fraction of the cost.

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