Experts take snaps after launching telescope on stadium-sized balloon

Move over Webb and Hubble! British scientists help capture jaw-dropping space images after launching innovative new telescope on a BALLOON the size of a football stadium

  • Superpressure Balloon-borne Imaging Telescope was launched from Wānaka Airport, New Zealand on Sunday
  • The new £4.1million observatory is now on 100-day mission to investigate the mystery of dark matter in space
  • The telescope has already taken mesmerising pictures of the Antennae Galaxies and the Tarantula Nebula

British scientists have helped capture mesmerising photographs of galaxies using a balloon the size of a football stadium. 

A £4.1million balloon-borne telescope was successfully launched from Wānaka Airport, New Zealand on Sunday, thanks to Durham University and an international team of astronomers. 

The Superpressure Balloon-borne Imaging Telescope – known as SuperBIT – was sent out on a 100-day mission to investigate the mystery of dark matter.

Floating 108,000ft above Earth, it has already taken some jaw-dropping images of the Antennae Galaxies colliding 60 million light-years away. 

These spiral galaxies began crashing into each other a few hundred million years ago, making them some of the youngest colliding galaxies to be witnessed by astronomers.

Mesmerising: British scientists have helped capture amazing photos of galaxies using a balloon the size of a football stadium. Pictured: The vibrant pink Tarantula Nebula – the large star-forming region that lies 161,000 light-years from Earth

Pictured: The Antennae Galaxies – one of the nearest and youngest examples of interacting galaxies we know of – despite this kicking off a few hundred million years ago

The balloon is now on a 100-day mission to investigate the mystery of dark matter in space

The vibrant pink Tarantula Nebula, which is a large star-forming region that lies 161,000 light-years from Earth, was also photographed. 


Cost: £4.1million ($5million) – 1,000 times cheaper than satellite equivalents

Purpose: Investigating dark matter and taking high-quality photographs as part of data collection

Height: 108,000ft above Earth

Fuel: Helium – a much cheaper alternative to rocket fuel

Durham University said: ‘Our astronomers are part of an international team behind the successful first research flight of an innovative balloon-borne telescope that will investigate the mystery of dark matter.

‘SuperBIT has already taken its first images on this flight, showing the “Tarantula Nebula” – a neighbourhood of the Large Magellanic Cloud where new stars are being born, and the collision between the “Antennae galaxies” NGC 4038 and NGC 4039.’

The primary goal of SuperBIT is to measure the properties of dark matter which consists of particles that do not absorb, reflect or emit light.

Despite being completely invisible to the human-eye, dark matter is all around us and poorly understood.

SuperBIT seeks to explore numerous theories about the matter, including whether it can be slowed down, spread out or even chipped.

It will also look to map out the matter around galaxy clusters by measuring the way it warps the space around them, also called ‘weak gravitational lensing’.

To do this, the telescope sits at an altitude above most of the Earth’s atmosphere – a suitable height for many astronomical observations. 

Images likened to those taken by the Hubble Space Telescope will also be collected by the balloon-borne telescope.

The SuperBIT  telescope was launched from Wānaka Airport, New Zealand on Sunday

The balloon-based telescope was praised for being far cheaper than rocket-based telescopes

While the Tarantula Nebula has previously been captured by both Hubble and NASA’s new $10 billion (£7.4 billion) James Webb Space Telescope, the SuperBIT has its own advantages.

Durham University astronomers claim the telescope has a wider filed of view than Hubble and costs 1,000 times less than an equivalent satellite.

Its use of helium is far cheaper than rocket fuel, too, with NASA also agreeing that balloon-based telescopes are a lot less costly. 

The SuperBIT team is a collaboration among NASA, Durham University, the University of Toronto in Canada and Princeton University in New Jersey. 

Designs came together in July two years ago, at a time when huge scientific projects were kickstarting in an attempt to map out the dark matter across the universe.

The James Webb Telescope: NASA’s $10 billion telescope is designed to detect light from the earliest stars and galaxies

The James Webb telescope has been described as a ‘time machine’ that could help unravel the secrets of our universe.

The telescope will be used to look back to the first galaxies born in the early universe more than 13.5 billion years ago, and observe the sources of stars, exoplanets, and even the moons and planets of our solar system.

The vast telescope, which has already cost more than $7 billion (£5 billion), is considered a successor to the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope

The James Webb Telescope and most of its instruments have an operating temperature of roughly 40 Kelvin – about minus 387 Fahrenheit (minus 233 Celsius).

It is the world’s biggest and most powerful orbital space telescope, capable of peering back 100-200 million years after the Big Bang.

The orbiting infrared observatory is designed to be about 100 times more powerful than its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope.

NASA likes to think of James Webb as a successor to Hubble rather than a replacement, as the two will work in tandem for a while. 

The Hubble telescope was launched on April 24, 1990, via the space shuttle Discovery from Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

It circles the Earth at a speed of about 17,000mph (27,300kph) in low Earth orbit at about 340 miles in altitude. 

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