NASA has announced plans to launch a balloon-borne observatory to study the emissions from the cosmic material found between stars, known as the interstellar medium.
This data will help scientists determine the life cycle of interstellar gas in the Milky Way galaxy, witness the formation and destruction of star-forming clouds, and understand the dynamics and gas flow in the vicinity of the centre of our galaxy, the US space agency said in a statement on Saturday.
The Galactic/Extragalactic ULDB Spectroscopic Terahertz Observatory (GUSTO) mission will fly an Ultralong-Duration Balloon (ULDB) carrying a telescope with carbon, oxygen and nitrogen emission line detectors.
"GUSTO will provide the first complete study of all phases of the stellar life cycle, from the formation of molecular clouds, through star birth and evolution, to the formation of gas clouds and the re-initiation of the cycle," said Paul Hertz of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
The mission, led by Christopher Walker of the University of Arizona, is targeted for launch in 2021 from McMurdo, Antarctica, and is expected to stay in the air between 100 to 170 days, depending on weather conditions, NASA said.
This unique combination of data will provide the spectral and spatial resolution information needed for the researchers to untangle the complexities of the interstellar medium.
The observatory will help researchers map out parts of the Milky Way galaxy and a nearby galaxy known as the Large Magellanic Cloud.
"NASA has a great history of launching observatories in the Astrophysics Explorers Program with new and unique observational capabilities. GUSTO continues that tradition," Hertz added.