At the end of their lives, when massive stars explode as supernovae, they create a wide variety of elements. Some of these elements are unstable, and on well-known timescales they decay, emitting light–gamma-rays–of specific energies. By mapping the distribution of this light in our galaxy, we can learn more about the life cycles of stars and the origin of the elements. Our telescope, NCT, is a new Compton telescope designed to make those maps.

To see the gamma-rays, though, we have to get above the absorption of the Earth’s atmosphere. That requires either a satellite–very expensive!–or a stratospheric balloon, which can carry our payload as high as 40 km for days or weeks. By launching from Alice Springs, we obtain one of the best views in the world of the center of our Milky Way galaxy.

This blog chronicles NCT’s balloon campaigns in Ft. Sumner, New Mexico (Spring 2009) and Alice Springs, Australia (Spring 2010).  NCT is a gamma-ray telescope that observes astrophysical sources like pulsarssupernova remnants, and Galactic antimatter in addition to the diffuse nuclear line emission.  (This post provides more detail about our science goals.)  We are a small collaboration from the University of California, Berkeley, and several Taiwanese universities.

Eric, your author, is a Berkeley graduate student on the NCT project.  This is his second balloon campaign.