This infographic shows many factoids about the PIPER (Primordial Inflation Polarization Explorer) balloon mission. At the top, there is part of an image of the cosmic microwave background with the text, “The cosmic microwave background (CMB) is heat left over from the big bang and is the oldest light we can see in the universe.” Just below that, near a circular, bright “explosion” is the text, “Scientists are studying the CMB for proof that the universe expanded rapidly immediately after the big bang.” Next is an image of two circles of yellow lines that look like 8-pointed pinwheels that would swirls in opposite directions with text, “This process, called inflation, should have created gravitational waves. If so, light from the CMB should contain a distinct twisting polarization pattern called B-mode.” There is a cut-out line drawing of the PIPER payload with the silhouette of a person standing next to it, showing that it is about two persons’ high. The text says, “PIPER is a microwave telescope flown on a high-altitude balloon. The instrument has twin telescopes in a hot-tub-sized container of liquid helium.” Next there is text with icicles below it that reads, “Liquid helium keeps the instrument at -452 degrees Fahrenheit (-269 Celsius).” Near a map of the United States with a telescope by Maryland and a lightbulb near California is the text, “The detectors on PIPER could spot a 60-watt incandescent light bulb in California from PIPER's base of operations at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.” A silhouette of a hippopotamus accompanies the text, “PIPER's total weight, including instrument, balloon and ballast, is about 8,000 pounds (3,600 kilograms), as much as a full-grown male hippopotamus.” An illustration of the fully inflated balloon appears with the text, “Width of fully inflated balloon: 430 feet (130 meters).” Underneath the balloon are three houses. The text nearby explains, “The balloon expands to approximately 40 million cubic feet (1.1 million cubic meters) when it reaches maximum altitude. It's made from polyethylene film comparable in thickness to ordinary plastic sandwich wrap.” A drawing of Australia, Texas and New Mexico is accompanied by the text, “Flights are planned from Ft. Sumner, New Mexico, Palestine, Texas and Alice Springs, Australia. Overnight flights from these three locations will allow PIPER to cover 85 percent of the sky.” And finally, a commercial airplane near the bottom has text, “PIPER's maximum altitude is about 120,000 feet (36,000 meters). That's more than three times the cruising altitude of a commercial airplane.”
Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Published: September 11, 2018

The Primordial Inflation Polarization Explorer (PIPER) is a NASA scientific balloon mission that has flown at the edge of Earth’s atmosphere to study twisty patterns of light in the universe’s “baby picture.” This infographic highlights some facts about PIPER’s instruments, capabilities, and goals.

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