Tuesday, February 5, 2013

50 million cosmic rays over the frozen icy continent of Antarctica

2013 February 5


WASHINGTON -- A large NASA science balloon has broken two flight
duration records while flying over Antarctica carrying an instrument
that detected 50 million cosmic rays.

The Super Trans-Iron Galactic Element Recorder (Super-TIGER) balloon
launched at 3:45 p.m. EST, Dec. 8 from the Long Duration Balloon site
near McMurdo Station. It spent 55 days, 1 hour, and 34 minutes aloft
at 127,000 feet, more than four times the altitude of most commercial
airliners, and was brought down to end the mission on Friday.
Washington University of St. Louis managed the mission.

On Jan. 24, the Super-TIGER team broke the record for longest flight
by a balloon of its size, flying for 46 days. The team broke another
record Friday after landing by becoming the longest flight of any
heavy-lift scientific balloon, including NASA's Long Duration
Balloons. The previous record was set in 2009 by NASA's Super
Pressure Balloon test flight at 54 days, 1 hour, and 29 minutes.

"Scientific balloons give scientists the ability to gather critical
science data for a long duration at a very low relative cost," said
Vernon Jones, NASA's Balloon Program Scientist.

Super-TIGER flew a new instrument for measuring rare elements heavier
than iron among the flux of high-energy cosmic rays bombarding Earth
from elsewhere in our Milky Way galaxy. The information retrieved
from this mission will be used to understand where these energetic
atomic nuclei are produced and how they achieve their very high

The balloon gathered so much data it will take scientists about two
years to analyze it fully.

"This has been a very successful flight because of the long duration,
which allowed us to detect large numbers of cosmic rays," said Dr.
Bob Binns, principal investigator of the Super-TIGER mission. "The
instrument functioned very well."

The balloon was able to stay aloft as long as it did because of
prevailing wind patterns at the South Pole. The launch site takes
advantage of anticyclonic, or counter-clockwise, winds circulating
from east to west in the stratosphere there. This circulation and the
sparse population work together to enable long-duration balloon
flights at altitudes above 100,000 feet.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) Office of Polar Programs manages
the U.S. Antarctic Program and provides logistic support for all U.S.
scientific operations in Antarctica. NSF's Antarctic support
contractor supports the launch and recovery operations for NASA's
Balloon Program in Antarctica. Mission data were downloaded using
NASA's Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System.

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