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McGill Expert: Stratospheric balloon telescope launched to unravel secrets of Big Bang

Published: 12 Jun 2009

On June 11, the EBEX stratospheric balloon telescope was launched from Ft. Sumner, New Mexico by NASA's Columbia Balloon facility.

Story: On June 11,  the EBEX stratospheric balloon telescope was launched from Ft. Sumner, New Mexico by NASA's Columbia Balloon facility. The NASA stratospheric balloon will carry the EBEX payload to an altitude of about 120,000 ft floating at the top of the atmosphere, just shy of being in true orbit. The launch marks the beginning of a 1 day test flight for the instrument. Next year, the instrument is scheduled to launch from Antarctica for a 3 week science flight that will provide the data EBEX cosmologists will use to interpret what took place in the universe a fraction of a second after the Big Bang.

More: The E and B Experiment (EBEX) is designed to detect millimeter-wavelength light, called the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation, that is left over from the Big Bang. EBEX is sensitive to the polarization of this light, where cosmologists believe the signature from gravitation waves emitted a tiny fraction of a second after the Big Bang may be revealed. Observation of this gravity wave signature would provide ground-breaking evidence allowing us to better understand the physics that drove the Big Bang.

EBEX was built by a collaboration of 13 universities and laboratories around the world including McGill. EBEX provides a technological milestone, being the first time a mm-wavelength camera and readout system of this sort has been flown to a space environment.

Expert: McGill Professor Matt Dobbs, Dept. of Physics.

The McGill Cosmology Instrumentation Laboratory (http://mcgillcosmology.ca), constructed in 2006 is led by Prof. Dobbs, who is playing a critical role in this mission, having designed and built the novel cryogenic readout system that records the signals from superconducting bolometric sensors that image the sky. McGill PhD student Francois Aubin has primary responsibilities for ground station support of the McGill system and has been manning the controls during the launch and flight. The launch of EBEX marks the first major instrument contribution of the McGill team to a space-based astrophysics project.

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