NASA’s Scientific Balloon Recovered A Year After Flying Over Antarctica

Posted: Feb 25 2017, 12:01pm CST | by , Updated: Feb 25 2017, 12:05pm CST, in News | Latest Science News

 

NASA’s Scientific Balloon Recovered a Year After Flying over Antarctica
Image shows the balloon and the telescope resting on the ice for an entire year. Credit: Hazel Bain, University of California, Berkeley
 

The experimental balloon was carrying a telescope designed to study high-energy particles emitting from the sun's surface

In January 2016, NASA scientists attached a telescope with a balloon and sent it into Queen Maud region of Antarctica. The football field-sized balloon circled around the continent for 12 days, carrying the telescope designed to study and measure high-energy particles released from the solar flares. 

The project was supposedly completed within just two weeks but it took NASA an entire year to retrieve the balloon as well as the telescope attached to it. Because the conditions were too bad throughout the next many months, with extreme cold temperatures, violent storms, continuous darkness and ice-bound seas, researchers could not get back to Queen Maud and had to wait for a long time to travel toward the region.

Finally, in January this year, it was warm and safe enough for researchers to return to the landing site and they managed to successfully recover the balloon and the instrument called GRIPS. 

GRIPS, short for Gamma-Ray Imager/Polarimeter for Solar flares is a balloon-borne telescope that is used often by researchers to understand the affects of solar flares on satellites and life on Earth. The instrument specifically studies highest energy x-rays and gamma rays emitting from the sun’s surface which can reveal much more about the composition and dynamics of solar flares entering the Earth’s atmosphere. 

“Despite sitting on the ice for a year, no snow had made it into the electronics,” said Hazel Bain, a University of California, Berkeley solar physicist on the GRIPS team. “The cryostat instrument, which houses the GRIPS detectors, seemed in great condition, and we’re hoping to use some of the instruments again.” 

NASA team arrived at McMurdo Station in Antarctica in October 2015 and was hoping to spend the first month of next year assembling and testing the instrument carried by the giant hellium balloon, which they failed to so. 

As far as Antarctica is considered, summer is a good time to launch and recover balloon experiments. Since sun does not set for several months of Antarctic summer, the instrument observes the sun continuously without any break and offers valuable scientific data.

Scientific balloons are an easy and cheap way to study Earth’s upper atmosphere up to the edge of the space. Such observations are not possible from Earth. With the successful recovery, researchers are hoping to use this instrument again on the region of Antarctic in the future.

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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