NASA's SuperTIGER Balloon to study Heavy Cosmic Particles
The most common cosmic ray particles are protons or hydrogen nuclei, making up roughly 90 per cent of the particles, followed by helium nuclei (8 per cent) and electrons (1 per cent). The remainder cosmic ray particles contain the nuclei of other elements.
NASA scientists in Antarctica are set to launch SuperTIGER Balloon, a balloon-borne instrument, to study heavy cosmic particles, collect information on cosmic rays that enter Earth’s atmosphere every day. The announcement was made by NASA on 6 December 2017.
The launch is expected by 10 December 2017, if weather permits.
The previous flight of SuperTIGER lasted 55 days, setting a record for the longest flight of any heavy-lift scientific balloon.
About SuperTIGER Balloon
• The balloon is technically called the Super Trans-Iron Galactic Element Recorder (SuperTIGER).
• SuperTIGER Balloon is designed to study rare heavy nuclei, which hold clues about where and how cosmic rays attain speeds up to nearly the speed of light.
• With the help of SuperTIGER, researchers look forward for the rarest of the rare ultra-heavy cosmic ray nuclei beyond iron, from cobalt to barium.
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Cosmic Ray Particles
• The most common cosmic ray particles are protons or hydrogen nuclei, making up roughly 90 per cent of the particles, followed by helium nuclei (8 per cent) and electrons (1 per cent).
• The remainder cosmic ray particles contain the nuclei of other elements.
• When a cosmic ray strikes the nucleus of a molecule of atmospheric gas, both explode triggering a cascade of particle collisions.
• Some of these secondary particles reach detectors on the ground, providing information that can be used by scientists to infer the properties of the original cosmic ray.
• They also produce an interfering background which get reduced by flying instruments on scientific balloons that reach altitudes of nearly 130000 feet and float above 99.5 per cent of atmosphere.
• The most massive stars create elements up to iron in their cores and then explode as supernovas, dispersing the material into space.
• The explosions also create conditions that result in intense flood of subatomic particles called neutrons. Many of these neutrons can stick to iron nuclei and some decay into protons.
• Supernova blast waves provide the boost that turns these particles into high-energy cosmic rays.
• Only 20 per cent of cosmic rays were thought to arise from massive stars and supernova debris, while 80 per cent came from interstellar dust and gas.
• In last few years, it has become evident that some neutron-rich elements heavier than iron may be produced by neutron star mergers instead of supernovas.
• Neutron stars are the densest objects scientists can study directly. Neutron stars orbiting each other in binary systems emit gravitational waves, which are ripples in space-time predicted by Einstein's general theory of relativity.