NASA’s super balloon lifts off to collect near space data

Designed to detect ultra-high energy cosmic particles from beyond the galaxy as they penetrate the earth’s atmosphere, the balloon is expected to circle the planet two or three times.

A stadium-sized pressure balloon launched by NASA in New Zealand began collecting data in near space on Wednesday, beginning a 100-day planned journey after several launch attempts were thwarted by storms and cyclones.

The balloon, designed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to detect ultra-high energy cosmic particles from beyond the galaxy as they penetrate the earth’s atmosphere, is expected to circle the planet two or three times.

“The origin of these particles is a great mystery that we’d like to solve. Do they come from massive black holes at the centre of galaxies? Tiny, fast-spinning stars? Or somewhere else?” Angela Olinto, a University of Chicago professor and lead investigator on the project, said in a statement.

The balloon’s monitoring was only the start of a long quest which would next involve a space mission currently being designed by NASA, she added.

The balloon, launched on Tuesday in Wanaka, a scenic spot on New Zealand’s South Island, will collect data from 34 km above the earth.

New Zealand was also the base for NASA’s scientific balloon programme in 2015 and 2016.

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