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NASA's CHESS Mission To Probe Interstellar Cloud Scheduled Today

First Posted: Jun 27, 2017 04:37 AM EDT
Black Brant IX
The Black Brant IX sends NASA's CHESS mission to space. (Image for representation only.)
(Photo : Lee Brandon-Cremer/YouTube screenshot)

In deep space, limitless clouds of neutral atoms and molecules drift between distant stars. These include charged plasma particles, also known as the interstellar medium. For over millions of years, these even evolve into new planets or new stars. These drifting interstellar reservoirs are NASA's Colorado High-resolution Echelle Stellar Spectrograph (CHESS) sounding rocket mission's focus.

According to NDTV, NASA revealed that the American space agency-funded CHESS will fly on a Black Brant IX suborbital sounding rocket. This is the third flight for the sounding rocket in the past three years. The CHESS mission will probe how the interstellar cloud shapes up.

The sounding rocket is scheduled to fly today. It will observe the earliest states of star formation deep in space. It will measure light filtering through the interstellar medium to observe atoms and molecules within. The study will provide essential information for human's understanding on the stars' life cycle.

NASA scientists will use the CHESS data to assess how the interstellar medium is structured. By this, it can aid them to precisely identify where the interstellar clouds stand in the star formation process.

"The interstellar medium pervades the galaxy," the CHESS principle investigator at the University of Colorado, Boulder, Kevin France said. "When massive stars explode as supernovae, they expel this raw material. It's the insides of dead stars, turning into the next generation of stars and planets."

Since CHESS is a spectrograph, it can provide information on how much of any given wavelength of light is available. It will focus its eye at Beta Scorpii, which is a bright and hot shining star in the Scorpius constellation. Here, the sounding rocket is well-positioned to probe the material between the solar system and the star. Molecules and atoms such as hydrogen, oxygen and carbon block the light from Beta Scorpii that streams toward the planet Earth to different degrees along the way.

NASA scientists therefore would want to know which wavelengths are blocked by what. Thus, by looking at how much light can reach the space around the planet Earth, they can study all kinds of details about the space it traveled to get there. CHESS data will furnish observations like which molecules and atoms are available in space, how fast they are moving, as well as their temperatures.

NASA's CHESS mission's flight is a short one, which is 16 minutes in total. It will parachute back to the ground, will be retrieved and will be used for future flights.

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