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After more than 55 days flying over Antarctica, NASA's huge Super-TIGER scientific balloon has broken the record for the longest flight of its kind, bringing back a wealth of data, the US space agency said Monday.
The Super-TIGER balloon spent 55 days, one hour and 34 minutes aloft at an altitude of 127,000 feet (38,710 meters), beating the old record set in 2009 by just over a day.
It was gathering data on the high energy cosmic rays that hit the Earth from elsewhere in the galaxy. That process included the use of a new tool to measure rare elements heavier than iron among the influx of rays.
Scientists are looking to better understand where these high energy atoms come from and how they get so super-charged.
"This has been a very successful flight because of the long duration, which allowed us to detect large numbers of cosmic rays," said principal investigator Bob Binns.
NASA said the data will take up to two years to fully analyze.
The balloon's long flight was aided by the South Pole's wind patterns, which circulate counter-clockwise, from east to west, in the stratosphere thousands of feet above the Earth's surface.
That -- plus the sparse population in the southernmost, frigid continent -- make these long-duration, high-altitude flights possible, NASA said.
"Scientific balloons give scientists the ability to gather critical science data for a long duration at a very low relative cost," said Vernon Jones, NASA's Balloon Program Scientist.