LASP Associate Director Tom Woods knows about space gunk.
As the principal investigator for the Extreme Ultraviolet Variability Experiment (EVE) aboard NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, he’s all too familiar with the ways that exposure to the harsh space environment can lead to a spacecraft instrument’s degradation.
NASA will launch a LASP-built astronomy experiment to study the chemistry involved in the formation of stars and planets in the Milky Way galaxy. The Colorado High-resolution Echelle Stellar Spectrograph, or CHESS 4, is scheduled for launch on April 13 from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands on a NASA Black Brant IX sounding rocket.
The CHESS-4 mission will study the interstellar medium, the matter between stars. The mission focuses on translucent clouds of gas that provide the fundamental building blocks for stars and planets. These clouds have very low densities and the only way to study them is to measure how a cloud is affected by a star—and its associated outpouring of stellar material, the stellar wind—moving through it. CHESS will point at the star Gamma Ara, in the constellation Ara.
Deep in space between distant stars, space is not empty. Instead, there drifts vast clouds of neutral atoms and molecules, as well as charged plasma particles called the interstellar medium—that may, over millions of years, evolve into new stars and even planets. These floating interstellar reservoirs are the focus of the NASA-funded CHESS sounding rocket mission, which will check out the earliest stages of star formation.
CHESS—short for the Colorado High-resolution Echelle Stellar Spectrograph—is a sounding rocket payload that will fly on a Black Brant IX suborbital sounding rocket late in the night on June 26, 2017. CHESS measures light filtering through the interstellar medium to study the atoms and molecules within, which provides crucial information for understanding the lifecycle of stars.
At any given moment, our sun emits a range of light waves far more expansive than what our eyes alone can see: from visible light to extreme ultraviolet to soft and hard X-rays. Different wavelengths can have different effects at Earth and, what’s more, when observed and analyzed correctly, those wavelengths can provide scientists with information about events on the sun. In 2012 and 2013, a detector was launched on a sounding rocket for a 15 minute trip to look at a range of sunlight previously not well-observed: soft X-rays.