A NASA balloon has broken the record for longest flight. The balloon, which carries the Super Trans-Iron Galactic Element Recorder (Super-TIGER), spent 55 days, 1 hour, and 34 minutes circling the South Pole at 127,000 feet - over four times the altitude of commercial airplanes. The previous record for a balloon of that size was 46 days.
The record-breaking balloon also broke the record for longest flight of a heavy-lift scientific balloon, beating the previous record (set by NASA's Super Pressure Balloon in 2009) by five minutes.
"This is an outstanding achievement for NASA's Astrophysics balloon team," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. "Keeping these huge balloons aloft for such long periods lets us do forefront science that would be difficult to do otherwise."
The balloon was held aloft by wind patterns at the South pole. Anticyclonic winds that circulate from east to west in the stratosphere there enable long-duration balloon flights.
The Super-TIGER instrument aboard the balloon measured rare elements heavier than iron in the cosmic rays that constantly strike the Earth's atmosphere. The data will be used to research the origins of the particles and how they reach their high energy states. Researchers estimate the device detected 50 million cosmic rays, and that the data will take around two years to fully analyze.
"This has been a very successful flight because of the long duration, which allowed us to detect large numbers of cosmic rays," said Bob Binns, principal investigator of the Super-TIGER mission. "The instrument functioned very well."