Spider: A balloon-borne experiment finally took off from Antarctica

The instrument is all set to unravel secrets from our early universe!
Kavita Verma


On December 21st, renowned physician Johanna Nagy with her team of scientists, launched a remarkable balloon-borne experiment – SPIDER from its launch pad in Antarctica. The instrument is all set to unravel secrets from our early universe!

A mission to know more about the universe

The telescopes, which go by the name Suborbital Polarimeter for Inflation, Dust, and the Epoch of Reionization – SPIDER, are intended to provide answers to some of the most perplexing queries regarding the rate at which the cosmos grew into existence. 

Researchers may also be able to understand better the universe's unusual flatness and remarkably constant temperature using data from SPIDER.

Nagy, an assistant professor of Physics in Art & Science at Washington University, will use this instrument to look for polarization and patterns in the earliest light we can measure. 

The purpose of Nagy's experimental cosmology research is to advance our knowledge of the structure and development of the universe. Beyond the SPIDER project, Nagy also plays a key part in the NASA-funded Taurus next-generation balloon expedition, which aims to map the microwave sky's polarization.

Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are pioneering the ambitious SPIDER project, aiming to trace back gravitational waves to the Big Bang and create a one-of-a-kind fingerprint. This remarkable research could uncover secrets that have been held by time itself since the very beginning of our universe!

Nagy also added that SPIDER would help us explore the inner workings of a universe that's younger than one second: by searching for an intricate polarization pattern in the cosmic microwave background, we can gain insight into this primordial period.

SPIDER: a three-week flight

In a St. Louis lab, Washington University faculty fellow Nagy and her graduate student Jared May made gorgeous contributions to SPIDER – from the complex components of robotic exploration devices to intricate scientific instrumentation pieces. This allowed Jared And Nagy to show NASA that the instrument was prepared for deployment in the Antarctic.

Nagy also said they are thrilled to have this launch opportunity as this is the first season the Antarctic balloon facility has been permitted to run since 2020. The SPIDER group at Washington University has been incredibly fortunate to receive overwhelming support from the Physics Department and MCSS.

After intense preparation, the SPIDER is ready to take a three-week flight over Antarctica – soaring above 99.5% of Earth's atmosphere at a breathtaking height of 110,000 feet! SPIDER will be collecting incredible measurements as they set off on this pioneering mission into the stratosphere.

NASA has already been a part of many discoveries, and now it has also funded the SPIDER mission through a grant offered by the Science Mission Directorate. Furthermore, this mission is supported in Antarctica by the U.S. Antarctic Program – a part of the National Science Foundation's Office of Polar Programs. One can follow the Twitter page for the latest SPIDER updates. 

This mission marks a huge stride forwards for space exploration and discovery, and we're excited to see what they uncover!

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