We had the opportunity to visit the NASA Long Duration Balloon facility this week. There are two of these tall buildings that house the payloads for the balloons. The payloads that we saw were both telescopes that are being used to look back in time to understand how the universe evolved from the big bang to its present state. When the scientist that was giving the tour explained that I had to correct her. She kept calling it a telescope but I had to tell her that it was actually a time machine.
It took me a second to process that. How is it possible to look into the past without a Deloreon and a flux capacitor? All you need is a telescope. It all starts with the speed of light, 186,000 MILES per Second. Fast. Fast enough to travel to the sun (93,000,000 miles) in 500 seconds. One hundred eighty six thousand miles per second. The moon is 239,000 miles away and it takes light just 1.3 seconds to get to the moon. So everytime you look at the moon you are seeing it as it was 1.3 seconds ago. Extrapolate that out to the nearest star in our galaxy which is 4 light years away. 4 years of travelling at 186000 miles per second to get to our closest star neighbor. When light from that star is collected by a telescope it is a snapshot of that star as it was 4 years ago.
Distance and time are analogous in space. Time and money are analogous on Earth. So they say.
One of my favorite facts: The milky way galaxy is 100,000 light years across and 1000 light years in thickness. There are between 100-200 billion other galaxies other than the milky way. That makes my head explode to think about.
Payload 1. This is what is suspended from the balloon. Its a telescope/time machine.
Payload 2. Another telescope. Everything on these payloads is sacrificial. Sometimes they are recovered without damage but rarely.
The balloon on these when at altitude (120,000 feet) is as large as the interior of a football stadium.