NASA never fails to amaze with its amazing projects. Currently, NASA scientists and engineers are preparing for an extraordinary NASA experiment called GUSTO (Galactic/Extragalactic ULDB Spectroscopic Terahertz Observatory) in Antarctica. This innovative project is set to launch the balloon-borne telescope „as early as December 21,” according to NASA. Yes, you read that right, it’s a balloon-borne telescope. The James Webb Space Telescope will be one more cog in the colossal NASA machine of ground, air and space telescopes. It will launch from the Ross Ice Shelf near the US National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station research base.
Mapping the Milky Way with GUSTO
as explained Through NASA, GUSTO’s primary mission is to create a 3D map of the interstellar space, and a significant portion of the Milky Way. Focusing on a 100-square-degree area, the telescope will use very high-frequency radio waves to probe different phases of the interstellar medium and analyze the abundance of important chemical elements such as carbon, oxygen and nitrogen.
By scanning these elements essential for life on Earth, GUSTO aims to unravel the complex processes that shape the interstellar medium. At this point, diffuse cold gas and dust accumulate in molecular clouds, playing a key role in the birth of stars and planets. By providing insights into how these clouds form, GUSTO is uniquely positioned to study the early stages of this process.
GUSTO acts as a cosmic radio, tuned to high-frequency signals emitted by atoms and molecules. With the ability to detect a thousand times more signals than cellphones, GUSTO acts as a cosmic listener, capturing valuable data about the interstellar medium. As the telescope moves across the sky, scientists map the signals’ intensities and velocities, creating images similar to photographs of cosmic emissions.
GUSTO principal investigator Chris Walker of the University of Arizona said, “Basically we’ve built this radio system that can be knobbed and tuned to the frequency of those lines. If we hear something, we know it’s them. We know that it is those atoms and molecules.
Antarctica: The ideal launch pad
Antarctica is an ideal location for GUSTO because of the constant sunlight during the Southern Hemisphere summer, which provides stability for the science balloons. Additionally, the atmospheric conditions around the South Pole create a phenomenon known as an anticyclone, helping the balloons to fly in circles undisturbed. This allows for longer observation periods, increasing scientific output.
GUSTO’s mission extends beyond our own galaxy, as it aims to reveal the 3D structure of the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a dwarf galaxy near the Milky Way. By studying the LMC and comparing it to our own galaxy, scientists hope to gain insights into the evolution of galaxies from the early universe to the present day.
The Gusto mission is a joint effort between NASA, the University of Arizona, the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, the Netherlands Space Agency, MIT, JBL, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, and others.
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