This Sunday night, a probe-equipped rocket is scheduled for a quick jaunt into space, its sights set on collecting a treasure trove of data about a 20,000-year-old stellar explosion aftermath in the Cygnus constellation. This celestial object—also called the Cygnus Loop or Veil Nebula—is a massive sprawl of dust and gas, birthed from a cataclysmic event that spelled the end for a star two decades of millennia ago. And guess what? This cosmic aftermath is still getting bigger.
The mission’s lift-off is slated for 11:35 PM ET on Sunday, October 29, courtesy of New Mexico’s White Sands Missile Range. The equipment aboard, dubbed the Integral Field Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Experiment (or INFUSE if you’re not into the whole brevity thing), will fixate on the Cygnus Loop for a handful of minutes. The goal? To capture far-ultraviolet light that will shed light—pun totally intended—on gases that are hot. How hot, you ask? We’re talking between 90,000 and 540,000 degrees Fahrenheit hot. After its brief foray into space, the rocket is expected to ascend to an altitude of roughly 150 miles before making its parachute-assisted return to Terra Firma.
Located a not-so-next-door 2,600 light-years away, the Cygnus Loop is the byproduct of a stellar meltdown involving a star believed to have been about 20 times the size of our own sun. The ongoing cosmic drama—the cloud of debris is currently expanding at a breakneck speed of 930,000 miles per hour—makes it an excellent subject for understanding how supernovae contribute to the birth of new star systems. “These kinds of supernovae, like the one responsible for the Cygnus Loop, are major players in the galaxy formation game,” noted Brian Fleming, who leads the INFUSE mission.
Fleming elaborated, “Our INFUSE mission aims to observe how the supernova’s energy disperses into the Milky Way by capturing light emitted as the explosion’s shock wave collides with floating reservoirs of cold galactic gas.” After INFUSE is safely back on home soil and the gathered data has been scrutinized, the team has plans to refurbish the equipment for another skyward expedition in the future.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Cygnus Loop Supernova Study
What is the main objective of the rocket launch this Sunday?
The primary goal is to study the Cygnus Loop, a 20,000-year-old supernova remnant located in the Cygnus constellation. The mission aims to collect data on this celestial object to understand its properties and how such events contribute to galaxy formation.
What equipment will the rocket carry for this mission?
The rocket will carry an instrument called the Integral Field Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Experiment (INFUSE). This equipment is designed to observe the Cygnus Loop in far-ultraviolet wavelengths and capture data on gases with temperatures ranging from 90,000 to 540,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
When and where is the rocket being launched?
The mission is set to lift off at 11:35 PM ET on Sunday, October 29. The launch site is the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
How far away is the Cygnus Loop?
The Cygnus Loop is located about 2,600 light-years away from Earth.
How long will the mission last?
The INFUSE instrument will observe the Cygnus Loop for just a few minutes. The rocket will ascend to an altitude of about 150 miles before parachuting back to Earth.
What do we know about the Cygnus Loop’s formation?
The Cygnus Loop was formed by the explosion of a star estimated to be 20 times the size of our sun around 20,000 years ago. The remnant is still expanding, currently at a rate of 930,000 miles per hour.
Who is leading this mission?
Brian Fleming is the principal investigator for the INFUSE mission. He emphasizes the importance of studying supernovae like the Cygnus Loop to understand their impact on galaxy formation.
What will happen to the equipment after the mission?
Once INFUSE is back on Earth and the data has been analyzed, the team plans to refurbish the equipment for future missions.