Friday’s Food for Thought: Mapping Space Matter

NASA to conduct first study of interstellar medium


NASA has selected a first-of-its-kind mission to conduct a complete study of the dust and gaseous material floating in the cosmos among the stars—known as interstellar medium.

The Galactic/Extragalactic ULDB Spectroscopic Tetrahertz Observatory (GUSTO) mission will fly an ultralong-duration balloon over Antarctica for 170 days. The balloon will carry a telescope equipped with emission line detectors to locate carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen emissions as they leak into the atmosphere from space, allowing the research team to map parts of the Milky Way and the nearby “Large Magellanic Cloud” galaxy.

According to a NASA press release, “this data will help scientists determine the life cycle of interstellar gas in our Milky Way galaxy, witness the formation and destruction of star-forming clouds, and understand the dynamics and gas flow in the vicinity of the center of our galaxy.”

The mission will be the first to study all phases of the astral life cycle—from molecular cloud creation to the birth, evolution, and collapse of stars into gaseous supernovas. An improved understanding of this cycle will help scientists learn more about Earth’s genesis and the conditions that lead to star formation.

The $40 million GUSTO mission is led by University of Arizona professor of astronomy Christopher Walker, and is set for launch in December 2021.

In December 2016, NASA launched STO-2, an observatory scouting mission to precede GUSTO. The STO-2 balloon flew for three weeks over Antarctica to observe levels of atomic oxygen and to test a new 4.7 tetrahertz measuring capability that will be used on the GUSTO mission.

In addition to its interstellar medium campaign, NASA recently announced the release of its new space image database. The searchable library contains more than 140,000 of the most visually stunning photo and video files NASA has to offer—space never looked so good.

Photo Credit: NASA

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