NASA to use high altitude balloons to unravel secrets about radiation belts surrounding Earth

December 6th, 2007 - 1:04 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, Dec 6 (ANI): A new NASA project is going to use more than 40 high altitude balloons in order to gather more information about particular radiation belts surrounding our planet.
Known as the Van Allen Belts, they are a ring of energetic charged particles that encircle Earth and are constrained by Earth’s magnetic field. The type of radiation in these belts can be hazardous to astronauts, orbiting satellites and aircraft flying in high altitude polar routes.
Called as the Balloon Array for Radiation-belt Relativistic Electron Losses (BARREL), the mission’s principal investigator is Robyn Millan of Dartmouth, whose team will provide answers to how and where the Van Allen Belts, discovered in 1958, periodically drain into Earth’s upper atmosphere.
The balloons will be launched from Antarctica. They will expand to roughly the size of a large blimp when they reach the near-space research altitude. A single balloon of this type will hover at an altitude of approximately 21 miles for as long as two weeks. By carefully timing the launch of a series of balloons, about one per day, Millan and her group of scientists can form a ring of balloons encircling the South Pole to study the total influx of radiation from the belts into Earth’s atmosphere.
“This experiment will be the first of its kind in establishing a web of balloon-borne sensors working hand-in-hand with a satellite mission,” said Dick Fisher, director of NASA’s Heliophysics Division, Washington. “In addition to the groundbreaking science that BARREL will provide, this kind of use of NASA’s suborbital program is vital for training the next generation of scientists in a wide range of areas,” he added.
The study of near-Earth radiation is very important,” said John Mather, Nobel Prize recipient and chief scientist of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “This research will provide information to mitigate problems here on our planet as well as permit better design and operations of new technology in space and safer passage for space explorers,” he added.
BARREL will fly in conjunction with NASA’s Radiation Belt Storm Probes satellites, due to launch in 2011. (ANI)

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