I just love these balloon missions.
The Balloon Observation Platform for Planetary Science (BOPPS) is a high-altitude, stratospheric balloon mission that is planned for launch today to study a number of objects in our solar system, including an Oort cloud comet.
The balloon payload, a gondola measuring 6.7 meters tall (22 feet) tall and 2.4 meters wide (8 feet) wide and weighs in at 5,200 pounds. If all goes as planned the balloon will hoist the gondola to an altitude of about 36.6 to 39.36 km (120,000 to 130,000 feet) and keep it there for 24 hours!
The balloon itself is another flight of the BRORISON mission, recall this was a mission to observe Comet ISON within a year of its discovery. Let me tell you that is FAST. The logistics of a observing balloon mission are tremendous. Unfortunately there was a flight anomaly and the observations were not able to be made.
A couple of the observing objectives include Comet C/2013 Siding Spring discovered on 3 January 2013. This comet is the one that will make a close approach to Mars on 19 October 2014. The comet is coming into the inner solar system from the Oort Cloud, very possibly for the first time. Do you know what that means? This comet has been around since the formation of the solar system until something perturbed into this epic journey.
The second is another comet. Comet C/2012 K1 PanSTARRS was discovered on 17 May 2012 and like Siding Spring it too is making what it thought to be its first journey into the inner solar system from the Oort Cloud.
The launch will be about a week before the Comet Siding Spring Mars visit. Observations will be made in the near-infrared and near-ultraviolet along with light in the visible spectrum though a 0.8 m (2.6 feet) telescope.
If things go really well there could also be observations of Uranus, Neptune, Vesta and Ceres.
GO BOPPS GO!
The BOPPS website
More about the image: you can also make such an image. You just need a stable camera set up and a shutter you can keep open either for multiple long exposures like this one or open most of the night during darkness of course..