Scientists have for a long time now, used balloons to transport certain types of telescopes far beyond the visible sky, into the stratosphere, to gain a clearer view of the object that they are trying to look at. If there is less atmosphere between the telescope and the planet, the clearer the image quality is and the more accurate the scientific measurements are going to be for evaluation by scientists. This is the main reason why many observatories are positioned at higher altitudes.
Some scientific observation work that involves telescopes, have previously used balloons to transport the hardware up into the stratosphere for a some time now, but planetary scientists have not yet been able to move their telescopes into the night sky using the balloon method.
The problem for those who work in planetary science is that particular field of work requires an extremely stable system to accurately aim the telescopes that then will be able track the planets as they move. This has been an issue, until now.
NASA has announced a new system called WASP (Wallops Arc Second Pointer), that will allow planetary scientists to make use of balloons to carry their telescopes into the stratosphere to carry out their research. WASP is capable of being able to point the balloon telescope systems at targets with sub arc-seconds accuracy. This means that the balloon platform is able to aim and follow the planet being observed as it moves in its orbit. Scientists compare arc-second pointing to the ability to find a dime from two miles away as it is so precise. WASP has had two test flights so far, with the last one involving the accurate aiming of the HyperSpectral Imager for Climate Science carried to an altitude of nearly 122,000 feet. The system will be used with the Observatory for Planetary Investigations from the Stratosphere or OPIS flight this September.
[Image via sciencedaily]