Super-TIGER lying low for the Southern Hemisphere winter

Feb 08, 2013 by Diana Lutz
Super-TIGER lying low for the Southern Hemisphere winter
The triangle marks the spot. A satellite image taken before Super-TIGER landed shows it came down in a relatively flat area covered by gently rolling sastrugi (snow drifts). The Super-TIGER collaboration plans to recover the detector next year, refurbish it, and fly it a second time, probably in December 2015

(Phys.org)—Late Friday, Feb. 2, an overcast day in St. Louis, the twitter feed for the Super-TIGER cosmic ray experiment burst into life, as the Super-TIGER team received word that NASA's Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility, which provides operations support for scientific ballooning in Antarctica, had decided to terminate the flight of the balloon carrying their detector aloft in the polar vortex.

You can read a "storified" version of the dramatic stream of during the descent here.

"The was terminated because we were nearing the end of the polar summer and the balloon was flying toward the mountains," said W. Robert Binns, PhD, principal investigator of the Super-TIGER experiment and research professor of physics at Washington University in St. Louis. "The fear was that it would get hung up in a region where airplanes could not land and so would be unrecoverable. So the decision was to bring it down in what appeared to be a relatively flat region, even though it was far away from McMurdo Station."

"We have the coordinates," said Martin Israel, PhD, co-investigator of Super-TIGER and professor of physics. "It came down at 82.25 degrees south latitude, 81.9 degrees west longitude, 3494 feet altitude. As far as we can tell it is not a mountainous location, but we do not have any specific knowledge of the immediate area. It is about 1000 nautical miles from McMurdo and a few hundred miles from any significant field location. We'll have to wait until next November or December to see if it was damaged and to recover it."

The flight was a spectacular one that broke previous records for heavy-lift scientific balloons. Carried by an enormous balloon, the two-ton Super-TIGER stayed aloft for 55 days, 1 hour, and 34 minutes (counting from the moment of launch to the moment of impact at the end of the flight). The previous record for heavy-lift scientific balloon flights had been set in 2009 by a of NASA's Super Pressure Balloon, which was aloft for 54 days, 1 hour, and 29 minutes.

Because the Super-TIGER detector was aloft so long, it recorded more than 50 million hits by cosmic rays, atomic nuclei whose electrons have been stripped away by their high-speed passage through the galaxy. "However, the objective of the experiment is to measure the nuclei of elements heavier than zinc, and we don't know yet how many of those we detected," said Binns.

The scientists already have some of the data on the heavier element hits, which was siphoned off, telemetered to a communications satellite, which beamed it to the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility (CSBR) in Palestine, Tex. The CSBR sent it via the internet to Washington University, which passed it along to the California Institute of Technology and Goddard Space Flight Center.

The scientists hope the heavy nuclei data will allow them to confirm that cosmic rays are created in loosely organized groups of hot, massive stars called OB associations and to better understand the method by which they are accelerated.

The Super-TIGER experiment is a collaboration of Washington University in St. Louis, the California Institute of Technology and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. The team also includes people from the University of Minnesota and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Explore further: Bright points in Sun's atmosphere mark patterns deep in its interior

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New Balloon Successfully Flight-Tested Over Antarctica

Jan 09, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA and the National Science Foundation have successfully launched and demonstrated a newly designed super pressure balloon prototype that may enable a new era of high-altitude scientific ...

Recommended for you

Astronauts to reveal sobering data on asteroid impacts

16 hours ago

This Earth Day, Tuesday, April 22, three former NASA astronauts will present new evidence that our planet has experienced many more large-scale asteroid impacts over the past decade than previously thought… ...

Rosetta instrument commissioning continues

17 hours ago

We're now in week four of six dedicated to commissioning Rosetta's science instruments after the long hibernation period, with the majority now having completed at least a first initial switch on.

Astronaut salary

17 hours ago

Talk about a high-flying career! Being a government astronaut means you have the chance to go into space and take part in some neat projects—such as going on spacewalks, moving robotic arms and doing science ...

Red moon at night; stargazer's delight

Apr 16, 2014

Monday night's lunar eclipse proved just as delightful as expected to those able to view it. On the East Coast, cloudy skies may have gotten in the way, but at the National Science Foundation's National Optical ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Cosmologists weigh cosmic filaments and voids

(Phys.org) —Cosmologists have established that much of the stuff of the universe is made of dark matter, a mysterious, invisible substance that can't be directly detected but which exerts a gravitational ...

Hubble image: A cross-section of the universe

An image of a galaxy cluster taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope gives a remarkable cross-section of the Universe, showing objects at different distances and stages in cosmic history. They range ...

Scientists tether lionfish to Cayman reefs

Research done by U.S. scientists in the Cayman Islands suggests that native predators can be trained to gobble up invasive lionfish that colonize regional reefs and voraciously prey on juvenile marine creatures.

Leeches help save woman's ear after pit bull mauling

(HealthDay)—A pit bull attack in July 2013 left a 19-year-old woman with her left ear ripped from her head, leaving an open wound. After preserving the ear, the surgical team started with a reconnection ...