After spending 16 days suspended from a giant helium balloon floating 115,000 feet (35,000 meters) above Antarctica, a scientific instrument dubbed SPIDER has landed in a remote region of the frozen continent. Conceived of and built by an international team of scientists, the instrument was launched from McMurdo Station on New Year's Day. The California Institute of Technology and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, both in Pasadena, California, designed, fabricated and tested the six refracting telescopes the instrument uses to map the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the thermal afterglow of the Big Bang that created our universe.
SPIDER's goal: to search the CMB for the signal of inflation, an explosive event that blew our observable universe up from a volume smaller than a single atom in the first "fraction of an instant" after its birth.
The instrument appears to have performed well during its flight, said Jamie Bock, head of the SPIDER receiver team at Caltech and JPL. "Of course, we won't know everything until we get the full data back as part of the instrument recovery."
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The SPIDER project originated in the early 2000s with the late Andrew Lange's Observational Cosmology Group at Caltech, and collaborators. The experiment is now led by William Jones of Princeton University, who was a graduate student of Lange's.
SPIDER is funded in part by NASA. The NASA Balloon Program Office at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia has oversight of all NASA balloon flight operations, including SPIDER. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.
News Media ContactWhitney Clavin
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California