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NASA: Scientific Balloon Soars To Study The Sun

First Posted: Jan 20, 2016 01:24 PM EST

A NASA-funded balloon was launched on Jan. 18 towards the stratosphere above Antarctica, where it would study the sun. The GRIPS balloon team sent the instrument, which was held under a helium-filled scientific balloon, which is the size of football-field. The Gamma-Ray Imager/Polarimeter for Solar flares (GRIPS) will study and gather data on extremely high-energy radiation that is released by solar flares.

"GRIPS sees this emission three times more sharply than any previous instrument," Albert Shih, a project scientist on the GRIPS team, said in a news release. "We'll be able to pinpoint more precisely the times and locations that produce gamma rays."

Solar flares are produced from the explosive realignment of magnetic fields, which are known as magnetic reconnection. When magnetic fields change suddenly strong electric fields are generated that produce a large force on charged particles. In the sun's ionized gas atmosphere, this process moves ions and electronic at the speed of light, which causes them to release high-energy gamma rays.

The Antarctic summer is the ideal time and location for scientific balloon launches due to its calm skies and weeks of 24/7 sunlight. This enables solar-focused instruments like GRIPS to gather data without interruptions. The GRIPS researchers predict that their balloon will fly for 14 to 55 days. 

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