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The PILOT Experiment: All Eyes on Interstellar Clouds

The PILOT experiment to observe interstellar matter and stars in formation was launched in Australia on April 17, 2017, under a stratospheric balloon. PILOT will observe the polarization of infrared light emitted by dust particles using its detectors and reading electronics provided by IRFU.

Published on 23 May 2017

The interstellar medium of the Milky Way and nearby galaxies contains elongated dust grains that are aligned with the ambient magnetic field. Consequently, the grains emit slightly polarized radiation in the far infrared. PILOT (Polarized Instrument for Long-wavelength Observations of the Tenuous interstellar matter) makes it possible to measure this polarization and, therefore, to map the magnetic field. The objective of the experiment is to study the role of this field in the process of star formation. After a flight departing from Canada in 2015, PILOT will observe the Magellanic clouds and areas in the central Milky Way that are inaccessible from the northern hemisphere.

IRFU has provided PILOT with 2,048 bolometric detectors cooled to 300 mK (developed in partnership with CEA-LETI), as well as the associated electronics.

A balloon filled with 800,000 m3 of helium and nearly 100 m in diameter carried PILOT to 40 km in altitude. It is the largest balloon ever launched by CNES.

The PILOT experiment is led by the Institute of Astrophysics and Planetology (CNRS/CNES/ Paul Sabatier University) and the IAS Institute for Space Astrophysics (CNRS/Paris-Sud University), in collaboration with IRFU, CNES, ESA, La Sapienza University in Rome, Italy, and Cardiff University in the UK.

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