The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is launching a project with John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory that will use a massive balloon to get a glimpse of a comet above the skies of New Mexico, the Baltimore Sun reported Sept. 27.
Scott Dance writes that the balloon will be equipped with a telescope that will observe the Comet ISON, set to loop past the earth and sun in the coming months.
The Balloon Rapid Response for ISON, or BRRISON project, took seven months to plan and construct and will use infrared light to see water and carbon dioxide emanating from the comet.
“It’s a great opportunity to study some of the volatile constituents that have been preserved in the deep freeze since the beginning of the solar system,” said Andy Cheng, principal investigator for the BRRISON project.
Cheng added that the balloon will hover for six to eight hours to observe the ISON and another comet called Encke.
The balloon will rise about 25 miles above the Earth’s surface and inflate as wide as a football field and as tall as the Washington Monument.
NASA says ISON could be the “comet of the century” because its passage by the sun could make it visible to the naked eye this winter.