I am a Research Scholar and Lecturer in Physics at Princeton University, working on the balloon-borne telescopes. These include SPIDER, SuperBIT, and Taurus (Tau’r’us). As a graduate student at the University of Toronto, I also worked on BLASTpol. This is a place for photographs that I, and others, take along the way.

Most of these photos, and many others, are available on my Flickr account

List of adventures:

About the Experiments

SuperBIT (Super-pressure Balloon-borne Imaging Telescope) is a visible light telescope, kind of like the Hubble Space Telescope on a balloon. It flies above most of the atmosphere to eliminate the “seeing” that causes stars to twinkle and look distorted at high resolution. SuperBIT’s goal is to make wide-field images of clusters of galaxies and infer the quantitiy and distribution of dark matter using gravitational lensing. It is also to show that this kind of observation is possible from a balloon, and blaze the trail for more ambitious instruments.

Spider (Suborbital Polarimeter for Inflation, Dust, and the Epoch of Reionization—my first scientific acronym creation, now deprecated) is a large scale polarimeter of the cosmic microwave background (CMB). The CMB is radiant heat leftover from the big bang and provides a snapshot of the universe at about 300,000 years old—over 13 billion years ago! Spider’s primary goal is to detect the imprint of gravity waves produced just after the big bang, when the universe underwent a phase of rapidly accelerating expansion.

BLASTpol (Balloon-borne Large Aperture Submillimeter Telescope for polarization) is the resurrection of BLAST, which was mostly destroyed at the end of its last flight. BLAST looks at thermal emission from cold interstellar dust, and its rebuilding adds the capability to measure polarization. This can be used to study magnetic fields in regions of star formation in our galaxy.

About the site

The name “Dropping BallAst” does not refer to any intention of quitting balloon astrophysics (even if sometimes I wish I had). Rather, “dropping” is meant in the sense of “dropping an album”. Also, it’s a pun: you see, the balloons drop ballast to control altitude. I like puns.

Some measure of inspiration for this site is taken from these campaign journals, which document the previous exploits of BLAST.

The logo image for the site is BLAST at float, caught through a telescope by Joe Martz.

Warning: due to hard drive failures (and inadequate backups) some older posts are scrambled.