August 28, 2019
Russia's Soyuz MS14, an unmanned spacecraft, launched last week and docked at the International Space Station late Tuesday, August 26. Hitching a ride was Mini-EUSO, a revolutionary telescope, which will measure the Ultraviolet (UV) background, observe the bio-luminescence of plankton in the ocean, detect and study meteors, and more.
Mini-EUSO is a prototype for two University of Chicago-led experiments, EUSO-SPB2 and POEMMA, which aim to discover the origin of the highest-energy particles and to study their sources and interactions. The EUSO-SPB2 is the second generation of a super-pressure balloon carrying the Extreme Universe Space Observatory (EUSO), which will serve as a scientific and technical pathway for the future POEMMA mission. The NASA-funded Probe of Extreme Multi Messenger Astronomy (POEMAA), which is currently in the conceptual design phase, will investigate two cosmic messengers, neutrinos and ultra-high energy cosmic rays (UHECRs).
"There are two complementary questions that we'd like to answer," Angela V. Olinto, Dean of the Physical Sciences Division and principal investigator of EUSO-SPB2 and POEMMA, said in an interview with the UChicago magazine last year. "One is in astrophysics: What are the scientific underpinnings of the highest-energy events in the observable universe? The second is in fundamental physics: How do particles with energies 10 million times larger than those we can create in the laboratory behave? For example, itʼs possible that by studying the behavior of such high-energy neutrinos, we may find that there are extra dimensions of space."
According to Olinto, the mini-EUSO camera is 1/60th of the POEMMA design—not large enough for significant UHECR observations—but it will help researchers understand the energy threshold and provide integral information about unknown backgrounds in the microsecond UV window.