Earlier this year, a scientific instrument dubbed SPIDER landed in a remote region of Antarctica. Conceived of and built by an international team of scientists, the instrument was launched on a balloon from McMurdo Station on New Year’s Day. Caltech and JPL designed, fabricated, and tested the six refracting telescopes the instrument used to map the thermal afterglow of the Big Bang, also known as the cosmic microwave background (CMB). SPIDER’s goal: to search the CMB for the signal of inflation, an explosive event that, in the first fraction of an instant after the birth of our universe, blew the observable cosmos up from a volume smaller than a single atom. The instrument appears to have performed well during its flight, says Jamie Bock, head of the SPIDER receiver team at Caltech and JPL. “Of course, we won’t know everything until we get the full data back as part of the instrument recovery.”

Photo of SPIDER afloat over Antarctica courtesy of SPIDER team