NASA Balloon Mission: Detects 50 Million Cosmic Rays over Antarctica

Posted: February 4, 2013 by tallbloke in cosmic rays, data, general circulation, Geomagnetism, Measurement, Natural Variation, ozone, wind

My thanks to contributor ‘Scute’ for this interesting news, just in:

NASA can’t get enough cosmic rays. (Copied RSS feed below). First it was ATTREX kicking off last month. And now the preliminary verdict is in from ballooning across Antarctica where they found “large numbers of cosmic rays”. All very welcome but why play it all down in AR5 chapter 7 while all this was going on behind the scenes?

Stunning big photo, click for full size image. Source: NASA

Stunning big photo, click for full size image. Source: NASA

Feb. 4, 2013

RELEASE: 13-037


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.

For more information about NASA’s Balloon Program, visit:

  1. tchannon says:

    Actually the camera has made a mess, is way off correct.

    Now what is that I spy?

  2. RoswellJohn says:

    That’s a volcano plume from Mt. Erebus near McMurdo Station. Is that what you’re questioning?

    RoswellJohn (OAE) Old Antarctic Explorer. Wintered over at Pole station-1962; Summers at McMurdo-1965 and 1966.

  3. tchannon says:

    So that is Erebus, I was wondering.

    Bet things are a lot easier for people these days. The pole in ’62 was very early stuff, and winter?

    Youngsters probably don’t realise the enormity of isolation under extreme conditions, no communications except for barely working short wave radio, no telephone, no television, no satellites and no aircraft able to help. Perhaps I am mistaken.

    Yet recently I read of some silly folks walking or whatever to the SP and on arriving someone drove over and wound the window down, could they help? (or something like that, amused me)

  4. RoswellJohn says:

    I actually had a great time. We had a good mix of 11 US Navy and 11 civilians/”scientists”. I was doing upper atmospheric science with a C3 ionospheric radar, a VLF experiment for Stanford University and a Riometer to measure solar cosmic rays. Spent an extra 3 months there to help the new guy move the VLF equipment out a 1000 yards to get rid of the 60 Hz hum.

    Beer was 10 cents a can (Coke was 15!). The food was good from our Navy cook of 19 years. Lots of good parties. And lots of sitting around talking. Unfortunately no women back in those days. But there were in New Zealand! Which was also a great place!

    The only time we felt “isolated” was during the Cuban missile crisis when the world came close to the brink. We wondered who would worry about us if the bombs/missiles started dropping. We’d be relatively safe, but started making plans to get to the coast (800 miles) one way or another. Some thought we should just stay put. We had enough food and fuel to last for a couple of years and twice that on short rations.

    In those days the US Navy did the physicals and psychological exams and I found out later that they looked for the same type of people who would do well on submarines.

    I’d love to go back as a tourist, but that’s probably not going to happen.

    Mt. Erebus is one of 5-7-9 (I’ve heard all of these numbers, but I counted 7 myself one day) active volcanoes you can see from McMurdo station.

    That last bit sounds like something that happened right after the first plane had landed after the long winter. A traverse engineer, Jack Long, from University of Wisconsin came walking into the galley; we hadn’t seen him since last summer. The cook looked up and said: “Hi Jack, long time no see. Have a cup of coffee.”

  5. tchannon says:


    Depends on who pissed off the station commander.

    VLF. Radio was and is highly critical to ionosphere studies, today with perhaps critical information in relation to external couplings and earth. This is an area where I have been intending to post, as much to widen knowledge of the field. Still a lot of tubes here, not that I use any of the equipment much. Seems I had the fun of seeing technology change.

    When in your lifetime a natural team falls together not in my experience anything like what many imagine to be a team, wonderful things come to pass.