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The Olimpo Weather Balloon Telescope


Olimpo, is a weather balloon telescope that allows unprecedentedly accurate observations of the cosmos. It was launched into space on July 14 at 09:07 CET from the Longyearbyen Airport in the Arctic.

The telescope was developed by a research team at the Sapienza Department of Physics, coordinated by Silvia Masi, in collaboration with the Rome CNR Institute for Photonics and Nanotechnology, the Florence CNR “Nello Carrara” Institute for Applied Physics, the Rome Institute for Geology and Volcanology and the Universities of Milano Bicocca, Cardiff, Arizona and Nižnij Novgorod in Russia.

Olimpo is a programme developed by the Italian Space Agency, which has been working on this experiment for many years. The Swedish Space Corporation is responsible for the launch of the probe.

To fully exploit the potential of this tool, observations have to be made at an altitude of ca. 40 kilometres. This meant the team had to develop an 830,000 cubic-metre helium balloon that would allow the probe to “float” in the atmosphere. From space, Olimpo will be able to observe higher frequency (up to 500 GHz) galaxy clusters than those that can be scrutinized from Earth with the telescopes located in the Antarctic and the Atacama Desert (up to 150 GHz). Moreover, thanks to a differential spectrometer, Olimpo will be able to make very accurate measurements and distinguish between local emissions and those from galaxy clusters.

“Our universe,” explains Silvia Masi, “is furrowed by enormous filament-shaped structures of dark matter on which galaxies gather. Galaxy clusters form at the intersections of these filaments and contain stars that are organised into galaxies, but also intergalactic gasses and dark matter. Olimpo will allow us to study these distant clusters, which cannot be observed in any other way, including their structures and most distant areas.” 

“The telescope,” adds Sapienza Professor Paolo de Bernardis, “is equipped with very sensitive radio wave sensors that can measure extremely weak signals with great detail and develop precise maps of the distribution of intergalactic gas. After this test in the stratosphere, the same sensors may be used in new space missions to study the cosmic microwave background, as well as other applications ranging from medicine to telecommunications and environmental monitoring.”

Thus, Olimpo is not only an extraordinary device to study the cosmos, but also a test of advanced multi-application technologies.

For further information:

Silvia Masi
Department of Physics, Sapienza University