Observing the Sun from a giant balloon



A solar telescope, borne by a balloon larger than a Boeing 747, was successfully launched to an altitude of 120,000 feet, the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) announced on 23 October. NCAR, working with a team of research partners, indicated that the test clears the way for long-duration polar balloon flights beginning in 2009 to capture unprecedented details of the Sun's surface. “We hope to unlock important mysteries about the Sun's magnetic field structures, which at times can cause electromagnetic storms in our upper atmosphere and may have an impact on Earth's climate,” said Michael Knolker, director of NCAR's High Altitude Observatory and a principal investigator on the project known as Sunrise. “This is a very economical way of rising above the atmosphere and capturing images that cannot be captured from Earth.”