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Balloon-borne Large-Aperture Sub-millimeter Telescope (BLAST)

Staff: Enzo Pascale, Peter A. Ade, Simon Doyle, Matt Griffin, Peter Hargrave, Carole Tucker.

Blast on its launching pad.

Photo by M. Halpern

BLAST is a balloon-borne experiment designed to study the processes of star formation in our Galaxy, and in galaxies at cosmological distances. BLAST is configured as a multiband photometer to observe the sky with sub-arcminute angular resolution in three wave bands centred at 250, 350, and 500&nicro;m, and was originally conceived as a path-finder for the SPIRE instrument on the Herschel Space Observatory.

Graph showing star formation history

The star formation history of the universe as measured by BLAST from Pascale et al. 2009 ApJ 707 1740 (click to enlarge)

BLAST addressed its primary scientific goals in two long-duration balloon flights from Kiruna, Sweden, in 2005 and from McMurdo, Antarctica, in 2006: measure photometric redshifts, rest-frame FIR luminosities and star formation rates of high-redshift starburst galaxies, thereby constraining the evolutionary history of those galaxies that produce the FIR/submillimeter background; measure cold pre-stellar sources associated with the earliest stages of star and planet formation; make high-resolution maps of diffuse galactic emission over a wide range of galactic latitudes. A summary of BLAST results and publications can be found on the official web page.

One currently open question in our understanding of how stars form is whether turbulence or magnetic fields are the dominant processes regulating star formation and shaping the ubiquitous filamentary structure of molecular clouds. Using submillimetre polarimetry, we can study the magnetic field.

BLASTPol feed horn array

The Photolithographed polarization grid for the BLASTPol 500µm feed horn array (Pascale et al. 2012). The pattern is alternated such that adjacent detectors measure orthogonal polarization.

BLASTPol was successfully flown from Antarctica in 2010 and 2012 and we are now building an enhanced polarimeter which will utilize a new 2.5 meter mirror and a new cryogenic receiver with 2000 kinetic inductance detectors (KIDs) with the goal of studying the role of magnetic fields in star formation over larger regions of the sky. The next long duration balloon flight from Antarctica is planned for December 2016.

Our participation in BLASTPol is supported by the Leverhulme Trust through the Research Project Grant F/00 407/BN.

For more details on the BLAST and BLASTPol projects, visit the official BLAST web page.

Visit the School's PhD programme page if you are interested in joining the team.


The 2012 BLASTPol Crew in McMurdo (Antarctica)
BLAST flight path: Kiruna 2005BLAST flight path: McMurdo 2006BLASTPol flight path: McMurdo 2010BLASTPol flight path: McMurdo 2012

Top: The 2012 BLASTPol Crew in McMurdo (Antarctica). Bottom (from left to right) flight paths: BLAST 2005 (Kiruna), BLAST 2006 (McMurdo), and BLASTPol 2010 and 2012 (McMurdo). Click individual images to enlarge.