November 30, 2015


FIREBall (Faint Intergalactic Redshifted Emission Balloon) is a French-U.S. stratospheric-balloon-borne experiment conceived to detect the faint and diffuse emission of the intergalactic medium. The heat is on!

FIREBall doesn’t acquire its measurements from space, but rather from the gondola of a stratospheric balloon flying at an altitude of 40 km. Comprising a 1-metre telescope and an ultraviolet absorption spectrograph, FIREBall is designed to map the faint and diffuse emission of the warm-hot intergalactic medium. A first flight took place in 2007 from Palestine, Texas, and a second in 2009 from Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Following these flights, significant changes were made to the instrument and gondola to increase the system’s sensitivity.

The intergalactic medium is the matter permeating the space between galaxies and the source of the gas that fuels the birth and growth of galaxies. The energy released by this hot gas, which is believed to account for as much as 50% of the ordinary matter in the Universe, is extremely faint and can therefore only be measured by highly innovative instruments like that on FIREBall.

The FIREBall project is led by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), the academic home of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). NASA is in charge of the flights. Caltech’s French partners on the mission are the LAM (Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille) and CNES, which are contributing their extensive expertise in balloon-borne UV astronomy and pointed gondolas. The CNES team is responsible for supplying the pointed gondola and LAM the complete spectrograph.