The NASA-funded Balloon Array for Radiation belt Relativistic Electron Losses (BARREL) is unique, as it relies not on one gigantic balloon, but on many smaller ones—20 in total.
Led by Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., BARREL's job is to help unravel the mysterious radiation belts, two gigantic donuts of particles that surround Earth. The mission works in conjunction with NASA's Van Allen Probes, two spacecraft currently orbiting around Earth to study the belts.
"This year the Van Allen Probes and the BARREL balloons will be exploring what happens at dusk," said Robyn Millan, principal investigator for BARREL at Dartmouth.
"Balloon campaigns in the Antarctic region have long seen these bursts of particles precipitating down toward Earth at dusk. This year, the spacecraft and the balloons will have coordinated measurements to determine what's happening up in the belts during these events."
Millan and her team traveled to Antarctica in mid-December 2013, and they launched their first balloon on Dec. 27, 2013.
Image courtesy of NASA.