Huge NASA balloon goes comet hunting!

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

NASA comet balloon
Some scientists are worried that the Sun’s intense heat will break Comet ISON into pieces. If anything though, it’ll make the sky look even more beautiful as the fragments pass over Earth during November. Hopefully the balloon makes it easy to get some great photos!

In September of last year, amateur Russian astronomy group International Scientific Optical Network (ISON) discovered a large comet racing towards the Sun. The team called it Comet ISON, and apparently, it’s going to pass directly over Earth in 2 months. Of course, NASA doesn’t want to miss out on any of the fun, so they’re going to launch a large balloon into space for a front row seat!

They call the giant contraption the Balloon Rapid Response for ISON (BRRISON). It’s made out of something known as a “polyethylene film,” which is what regular supermarket plastic bags use. However, BRRISON will be much stronger than those old flimsy things. According to NASA, BRRISON will stand around 671 feet tall and be able to carry up to 8,000 pounds of scientific instruments. That’s about as much weight as three cars!

Instead of hauling motor vehicles, though, the balloon will carry high-tech cameras, video recording devices, and telescopes to watch Comet ISON as it flies high over Earth later in November! How high you ask? Oh, you know, just about 122,000 feet up, which is basically… out of this world.

“By ascending above 99.5% of the Earth’s atmosphere, BRRISON will be able to study the materials within the comet,” said Andy Cheng, BRRISON’s principal investigator. “It’s possible that water and organic chemicals on comets may have played an important role in the evolution of life on Earth.” While scientists are excited about the different chemicals, amateur astronomists are giddy with anticipation because if Comet ISON can stand the Sun’s heat, it’ll be as bright as a full moon when it passes over Earth.

So, whether you’re an avid skygazer or not, keep your eyes peeled on those starry November nights. According to experts, it’s going to be the best comet show of the century!

Images and video courtesy of NASA.