A light in the dark: NASA sounding rocket probes the dark regions of space

October 28, 2017 by Mara Johnson-Groh, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
The DEUCE grating, sensitive to ultraviolet, is carefully positioned for bonding into its flight mount. Credit: Nicholas Erickson

Though stars and galaxies fill our night sky, most of the matter in the universe resides in the dark voids in between. Spread out over unfathomable distances, this cold, diffuse gas between galaxies—called the intergalactic medium, or IGM for short—hardly emits any light, making it difficult to study.

Scientists plan to launch a sounding rocket for a fifteen-minute flight Oct. 30, 2017, equipped with special ultraviolet optics, which they hope will shed on the nature of the IGM. The Dual-channel Extreme Ultraviolet Continuum Experiment, or DEUCE for short, plans to measure starlight from a pair of nearby hot stars in the constellation Canis Major, aiming to help researchers understand how the IGM got to its current state.

Scientists know that the IGM, which is mostly hydrogen, has been blasted with high-energy radiation, causing the electrons to break apart from their atoms—a process known as ionization. Many think intense ultraviolet starlight from star-forming galaxies is responsible for ionizing the universe, but not all agree this is the sole cause. Since Earth's atmosphere blocks ultraviolet light, it is impossible to study this type of radiation from the ground. Instead, scientists must capture this light from above the atmosphere and sounding rockets—which provide an inexpensive alternative to space telescopes—are a practical option.

"DEUCE is about being able to better understand if and how star-forming galaxies ionized the early universe," said Nicholas Erickson, graduate student at the University of Colorado Boulder, working with the project. "This ionizing light has never been measured accurately in hot stars, and DEUCE will make the first calibrated measurement of it, telling us the contribution B stars could have had to helping ionize the universe."

The DEUCE payload undergoing testing and integration at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Credits: Nicholas Erickson

Over two flights, DEUCE will look at two young, bright stars—first Beta Canis Major and later Epsilon Canis Major—using a telescope sensitive to ultraviolet light. These stars are close enough that their light reaches Earth before being fully absorbed by interstellar gas, allowing the scientists to measure the amount of starlight to see if it's enough to significantly contribute to the amount of ionized gas in the IGM.

"It's a hard measurement to make, because there still is neutral hydrogen between stars that is extremely effective at absorbing the starlight at these wavelengths," said Erickson. "To be seen at Earth, you need a really bright star that's close by, and there are only two that are viable candidates for this measurement." 

DEUCE uses a microchannel plate detector—the largest ever flown in space—to measure the starlight. The mission, in addition to providing scientific data, will test this type of large UV detector for readiness in future large-scale space missions. DEUCE is scheduled to launch again in December 2018, to look at Epsilon Canis Major.

The experiment will launch aboard a Black Brant IX sounding rocket from the White Sands Missile Range Las Cruces, New Mexico. NASA's sounding rocket program, based out of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's Wallops Flight Facility, flies 20 rockets annually, testing new instruments and supporting cutting-edge research in astrophysics and heliophysics.

Explore further: CHESS mission will check out the space between stars

Related Stories

CHESS mission will check out the space between stars

June 23, 2017

Deep in space between distant stars, space is not empty. Instead, there drifts vast clouds of neutral atoms and molecules, as well as charged plasma particles called the interstellar medium—that may, over millions of years, ...

NASA to launch FORTIS to study extra-galactic dust

December 16, 2015

This month, the NASA-funded FORTIS sounding rocket—short for Far-ultraviolet Off Rowland-circle Telescope for Imaging and Spectroscopy—will launch from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico to investigate the properties ...

Image: Hubble's cosmic atlas

July 28, 2017

This beautiful clump of glowing gas, dark dust and glittering stars is the spiral galaxy NGC 4248, located about 24 million light-years away in the constellation of Canes Venatici (The Hunting Dogs).

CHESS rocket to study birthplace of stars

May 28, 2014

Update - May 27, 2014: NASA successfully launched the Colorado High-resolution Echelle Stellar Spectrograph, or CHESS, payload aboard a Black Brant IX suborbital sounding rocket at 3:35 a.m. EDT on May 24, 2014, from the ...

Recommended for you

Semimetals are high conductors

March 18, 2019

Researchers in China and at UC Davis have measured high conductivity in very thin layers of niobium arsenide, a type of material called a Weyl semimetal. The material has about three times the conductivity of copper at room ...

14 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Chris_Reeve
Oct 28, 2017
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Chris_Reeve
Oct 28, 2017
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Chris_Reeve
Oct 28, 2017
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Chris_Reeve
Oct 28, 2017
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Whydening Gyre
4.2 / 5 (10) Oct 28, 2017
Well, Chris.
You certainly could have just stated your view of CIV vs ultraviolet in your your own words in a single comment, referencing your links, rather than you snippet cut and paste.
Benni
1 / 5 (9) Oct 28, 2017
Well, Chris.
You certainly could have just stated your view of CIV vs ultraviolet in your your own words in a single comment, referencing your links, rather than you snippet cut and paste.


He's just following Schneibo's lead. Schneibo is way ahead of everybody, probably about tied with Stumpo.
Chris_Reeve
Oct 29, 2017
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
rrwillsj
4.3 / 5 (11) Oct 29, 2017
C_R, I guess I'm going to have to bring this viewpoint to your attention.

You are plagarizing other peoples work to push an unsupportable agenda against the continuous evolution of empirical evidence.

Self-serving, out-of-context snippets of other peoples speculations and hard work, does not define you as a scientist....

That gibberish defines you as a theologian!
jonesdave
3.5 / 5 (13) Oct 29, 2017
C_R, I guess I'm going to have to bring this viewpoint to your attention.

You are plagarizing other peoples work to push an unsupportable agenda against the continuous evolution of empirical evidence.

Self-serving, out-of-context snippets of other peoples speculations and hard work, does not define you as a scientist....

That gibberish defines you as a theologian!


I had a look at some of the papers Reeve copied. Verschuur's was cited 7 times; 5 by Verschuur, and once each by the electric universe loons Thornhill & Scott. The Konz papers are dated, but get a few cites, along the lines of "others have proposed.......". Doesn't seem to be taken particularly seriously, and possibly, at best, as a very minor player. Nothing to see here.
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (8) Oct 29, 2017
Verschuur's was cited 7 times; 5 by Verschuur, and once each by the electric universe loons Thornhill & Scott.

Maybe that is why CIV is not well understood by the plasma ignoramuses as noted by this thesis;

https://www.duo.u...52/57782
"The CIV mechanism is poorly understood, and several models have been proposed to explain the phenomenon..."
Maybe a few more of the plasma ignoramuses should not only read but incorporate (i.e. cite) the findings of one of the leading experts on the subject such as Vershuur. Then again, ignorance is bliss and the plasma ingoramuses have found a kind of utopian nirvana in the fanciful thought experiments they have created.
jonesdave
2.8 / 5 (9) Oct 29, 2017
Verschuur's was cited 7 times; 5 by Verschuur, and once each by the electric universe loons Thornhill & Scott.

Maybe that is why CIV is not well understood by the plasma ignoramuses as noted by this thesis;

https://www.duo.u...52/57782
"The CIV mechanism is poorly understood, and several models have been proposed to explain the phenomenon..."
Maybe a few more of the plasma ignoramuses should not only read but incorporate (i.e. cite) the findings of one of the leading experts on the subject such as Vershuur. Then again, ignorance is bliss and the plasma ingoramuses have found a kind of utopian nirvana in the fanciful thought experiments they have created.


Whoopsie dear, quoting ancient text again, are we? Lol.
jonesdave
3 / 5 (8) Oct 29, 2017
Sorry, Cantthink; but what is the idiot Thornhill's excuse for being so dim? Does it come naturally to him, or does he have to practice at being that thick? Do please explain. Dear. Not very good at this science lark, are you?
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (2) Oct 30, 2017
Whoopsie dear, quoting ancient text again, are we? Lol.

2017 is "ancient text", I guess.
jonesdave
2 / 5 (4) Oct 31, 2017
but what is the idiot Thornhill's excuse for being so dim?

I have had a couple of conversations with Wal Thornhill, I have had many with you...he makes you look like a vegetable...then again a vegetable makes you look like a vegetable.


This would be the same idiot who claimed that solar wind H+ was going to hurtle into non-existent O- to create OH at comets? And that scientists misinterpret OH for H2O? Sorry, the bloke is scientifically illiterate. Not to mention a fraud.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.