In June 2005, a team of researchers from Canada, the USA, the UK and Mexico has launched BLAST, a balloon-borne telescope. During the flight that lasted 5 days, the balloon covered the distance between Kiruna, Sweden, and Inuvik, in the Canadian North.
During its flight, the BLAST telescope (for Balloon-borne Large Aperture Sub-millimetre Telescope) probed the heavens to identify starburst galaxies—a special kind of galaxy—enabling researchers to study the formation and evolution of stars, galaxies and star clusters to find answers to cosmological questions.
Cosmology is the science that studies the physical laws of the universe. Cosmologists try to answer many questions on the formation of the universe, the causes of space phenomena or, again, the source of such energies as the dark matter. What particles made it possible for all structures to form? When did the first matter appear, putting an end to the Dark Age of the cosmos?
A second research flight is planned for 2007. In addition to its scientific mission, BLAST is to serve as a testbed for the technology developed for Herschel, a space telescope that is set to launch in 2007 with two Canadian instruments on board.
The BLAST telescope mirror is two metres in diameter. No ground-based telescope has the sensitivity or resolution of this telescope. Its precision, and the fact that it is suspended from a balloon floating on the densest layer of the atmosphere, gives it a clear view of the cosmos, free of the distorting effects of atmospheric gases.
Canada designed and built the gondola, the pointing control system, and special-order electronic equipment. The equipment was tested for the first time in September 2003 during a flight of some 30 hours.
All of these tasks are being performed under the supervision of principal investigator Barth Netterfield on behalf of the University of Toronto, where Dr. Bart Netterfield teaches physics and astronomy and participates in a number of other space-related projects.
His fellow researcher Mark Halpern is an assistant professor in the University of British Columbia Department of Physics. Dr. Halpern has participated in a number of different experiments carried out aboard a sounding rocket.
Dr. Netterfield's team is made up of a number of high-powered research scientists including Douglas Scott of the University of British Columbia and Peter Martin of the University of Toronto.
Nor do contributions to BLAST come only from the academic world. Among the partners in this project, which is partially financed by the Canadian Space Agency, are the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, AMEC Dynamic Structures Ltd., and NASA.