GUANO

Grenfell

Upper

Atmosphere

Near space

Observatory

Grenfell Campus, Memorial University of Newfoundland,
Corner Brook, Newfoundland, Canada

 
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Physics@Grenfell

The GUANO Program

A simple Geiger counter sent into “near-space” will detect individual cosmic rays.  Each click of the Geiger counter is the detection of a single atomic nucleus originating from a star – perhaps the Sun, or more likely, a distant supernova.  The highest energy cosmic rays probably originate in other galaxies!

The GUANO project is designed to fly inexpensive cosmic ray detectors to high altitudes, where the primary particles may be studied.  One example of the kind of phenomenon that will be studied is the variation in the average flux of cosmic rays, which can provide information on solar activity and its effects on Earth’s magnetic field.  By flying GUANO payloads several times per year from minimum through to solar maximum (see diagram below), valuable information will be obtained. 

A typical GUANO payload consists of a small Geiger counter, sensors for measuring air temperature, pressure, and humidity, and a flight computer and radio transmitter that relays data to a radio receiver on the ground.  The payload weight is just under 700 grams, and is lifted by a helium-filled balloon whose maximum height depends on its size – a 350-gram balloon can reach a height of about 26 km before bursting, while a 1200-gram balloon will climb to a peak altitude of about 34 km.  As the balloon rises into regions where the surrounding air pressure is lower, it continually expands and, at some point, it pops.  A 1200-gram balloon leaves the ground with a diameter of about 2 meters, but swells to nearly 8.5 meters across just before bursting!

A GUANO flight typically takes about 3-4 hours to reach its greatest height.  After the balloon bursts, the package falls to Earth beneath a parachute.  There is no provision for recovering the payload after landing, but there is a reward for its safe return, should anyone find it!