The Super Trans-Iron Galactic Element Recorder (Super-TIGER) balloon, one of three NASA science balloons recently launched above Antarctica, has broken two different records for flight duration all while collecting some cool scientific data.
NASA reports that "the Super-TIGER 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.
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."
The records are cool, but what's more significant is the instrument it was carrying -- a new instrument that can measure elements heavier than iron within high-energy cosmic rays that bombard the Earth from all around the Milky Way galaxy. The balloon's long flight allowed the instrument to detect 50 million cosmic rays and collect enough data that it will take NASA scientists two years to analyze.
The scientists hope to use the data to figure out "where the energetic atomic nuclei are produced and how they achieve their very high energies."
The balloon was able to achieve such a long, successful flight thanks to the counter-clockwise, circulating winds in the stratosphere above the South Pole and the sparse population on the ground. With those factors, it's likely that we'll see even more of these balloon programs.
"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.