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More BARREL Balloons Take to the Skies

Posted on January 3, 2014

The second year of an unprecedented balloon campaign in Antarctica has just begun. The NASA-funded mission – called the Balloon Array for Radiation belt Relativistic Electron Losses, or BARREL – is led by Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. The mission is unique, as it relies not on one gigantic balloon, but on many smaller ones, 20 in total.

The 2013-2014 BARREL balloon campaign is underway -- this balloon was launched on Dec. 31, 2013. BARREL's job is to help unravel the mysterious radiation belts, two gigantic donuts of particles that surround Earth. Image Credit: BARREL/M. Krzysztofowicz

The 2013-2014 BARREL balloon campaign is underway — this balloon was launched on Dec. 31, 2013. BARREL’s job is to help unravel the mysterious radiation belts, two gigantic donuts of particles that surround Earth. Image Credit: BARREL/M. Krzysztofowicz

BARREL’s job is to help unravel the mysterious radiation belts, two gigantic donuts of particles that surround Earth. The mission works in conjunction with NASA’s Van Allen Probes, two spacecraft currently orbiting around Earth to study the belts.

“This year the Van Allen Probes and the BARREL balloons will be exploring what happens at dusk,” said Robyn Millan, principal investigator for BARREL at Dartmouth. “Balloon campaigns in the Antarctic region have long seen these bursts of particles precipitating down toward Earth at dusk. This year, the spacecraft and the balloons will have coordinated measurements to determine what’s happening up in the belts during these events.”

Two giant donuts of radiation, called the Van Allen Belts, surround Earth. A NASA-funded balloon campaign in Antarctica launched in December 2012 and December 2013 is studying what causes bursts of particles to precipitate out of the belts down to Earth. Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Scientific Visualization Studio

Two giant donuts of radiation, called the Van Allen Belts, surround Earth. A NASA-funded balloon campaign in Antarctica launched in December 2012 and December 2013 is studying what causes bursts of particles to precipitate out of the belts down to Earth. Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Scientific Visualization Studio

Millan and her team traveled to Antarctica in mid-December 2013, and they launched their first balloon on Dec. 27, 2013. They will launch a single balloon on any given day, which will float leisurely around the South Pole for up to a week or two afterwards. Instruments aboard the balloon will send back data on the magnetic systems it floats through, as well as the kinds of particles it observes. By coordinating with the Van Allen Probes data, orbiting high above, the team hopes to determine what’s happening in the belts that correlates with the precipitation bursts near Earth. Such information will ultimately help scientists understand how particles get ejected from the belts.

Source: NASA

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