NASA-funded science balloons launch in Antarctica

Feb 05, 2014
Launch of a BARREL balloon at Halley Research Station on Jan. 30, 2014. Credit: NASA/BARREL/David Milling

In the bright light of Antarctica's summer sun, a NASA mission launched its first 18 science balloons between Dec. 27, 2013, and Feb. 2, 2014. BARREL, or the Balloon Array for Radiation belt Relativistic Electron Losses, plans to launch 20 balloons in total to help unravel the mysterious radiation belts, two gigantic donuts of particles that surround Earth.

Each day the team must decide whether to launch a balloon based on the current ground conditions, such as how strong the wind is. On days when the wind is too high, Robyn Millan, the BARREL principal investigator at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., says to her team: "Start doing the low wind dance for us!"

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

Once launched, each balloon travels in a wide circle around the South Pole for up to three weeks, so that a handful of balloons can be up at any one time. Circling the pole, the balloons fly through the foot point of where Earth's magnetic fields descend down to the ground. Instruments on the balloons observe electrons traveling down from space along these fields.

Members of the BARREL team in Antarctica jump up and down in what they call the Low Wind Dance as they hope for the low wind conditions needed to launch another balloon. Credit: NASA/BARREL/Brett Anderson

By coordinating with NASA's Van Allen Probes – two spacecraft orbiting high above—the team hopes to determine what occurrence in the belts correlates to occasional bursts of electrons that can precipitate down toward Earth. Such information will ultimately help scientists understand—and predict changes—in the Van Allen radiation belts.

A BARREL balloon is inflated on Jan. 6, 2014 in front of Halley Research Station in Antarctica. The scientific payload is in the foreground and the parachute and balloon can be seen in the back. Credit: NASA/BARREL/Octavian Carp


Explore further: NASA spacecraft almost to Pluto: Smile for the camera!

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

NASA's BARREL mission launches 20 balloons

May 21, 2013

(Phys.org) —In Antarctica in January, 2013 – the summer at the South Pole – scientists released 20 balloons, each eight stories tall, into the air to help answer an enduring space weather question: ...

20 NASA balloons studying the radiation belts

Feb 04, 2013

In the bright, constant sun of the Antarctic summer, a NASA-funded team is launching balloons. There are twenty of these big, white balloons, each of which sets off on a different day for a leisurely float ...

Building 45 payloads for balloon mission

May 30, 2012

Robyn Millan's lab is a little crowded at the moment. It overflows with electronics. And foam. And parachutes and aluminum frames and drills. Based at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH, Millan and her students ...

Launching balloons in Antarctica

Feb 23, 2011

They nicknamed it the "Little Balloon That Could." Launched in December of 2010 from McMurdo Station in Antarctica, the research balloon was a test run and it bobbed lower every day like it had some kind of ...

Recommended for you

NASA spacecraft almost to Pluto: Smile for the camera!

Jan 23, 2015

It's showtime for Pluto. NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has traveled 3 billion miles and is nearing the end of its nine-year journey to Pluto. Sunday, it begins photographing the mysterious, unexplored, icy ...

Gullies on Vesta suggest past water-mobilized flows

Jan 23, 2015

(Phys.org)—Protoplanet Vesta, visited by NASA's Dawn spacecraft from 2011 to 2013, was once thought to be completely dry, incapable of retaining water because of the low temperatures and pressures at its ...

SOHO and Hinode offer new insight into solar eruptions

Jan 23, 2015

The sun is home to the largest explosions in the solar system. For example, it regularly produces huge eruptions known as coronal mass ejections – when billions of tons of solar material erupt off the sun, ...

Getting to know Rosetta's comet

Jan 23, 2015

Rosetta is revealing its host comet as having a remarkable array of surface features and with many processes contributing to its activity, painting a complex picture of its evolution.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.