The unique SuperBIT balloon-borne telescope has begun transmitting its first images of space

Astronomers have successfully launched the Ultra High Pressure Telescope (SuperBIT) on a giant helium-filled balloon. During the first flight above the Earth’s atmosphere, the balloon-telescope already took its debut pictures. This was reported by University of Toronto.

The image shows the Tarantula Nebula – a bright cluster of gas and dust in the region of the galaxy near the Milky Way – and the collision between the galaxies NGC 4038 and NGC 4039, known as the Antennae.

“A dedicated team of students developing one of the world’s great telescopes – it’s inspiring,” says Barth Netterfield, a professor in University of Toronto’s David A. Dunlap department of astronomy and astrophysics and the department of physics in the Faculty of Arts & Science, and an associate at the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics. “After a decade of tremendous effort, we are getting these perfect images with a wide range of scientific purposes that will help us better understand the universe.”

SuperBIT is the first balloon telescope capable of taking wide-angle images. The sharpness of its images is not affected by the atmosphere, but only by the laws of optics. During a test flight in 2019, it demonstrated exceptional guidance stability.

“Imagine you’re trying to thread a needle that’s 2.5 kilometres away – so roughly 30 city blocks,” explains Emaad Paracha, a PhD candidate in the department of physics. “SuperBIT has the ability to point to the exact spot you’d need that needle to be thread, while keeping that thread from touching the sides of the needle for up to 60 minutes.”

Ajay Gill, a graduate student in the a PhD candidate at the David A. Dunlap department of astronomy and astrophysics and the Dunlap Institute, is convinced that the successful launch of this telescope paves the way for the future.

“…in which individual academic institutions are able to design, develop and operate world-class space instruments at a low cost, while also providing the training opportunity for instrument development and data analysis for the students,” he added.

As you know, SuperBIT was the result of a collaboration between the University of Toronto, Princeton University, Durham University and NASA. A hot air balloon carrying a telescope took off from New Zealand this week after a two-year delay due to the Covid-19 pandemic. SuperBIT flies at an altitude of 33.5 kilometers. The scientific goal of the first flight is to measure the properties of dark matter.

We also remind that recently scientists have discovered six galaxies in the early universe that are so unfathomably massive that they challenge our basic understanding of the space.