Measuring ionizing radiation in the atmosphere with a new balloon-borne detector

K. L. Aplin*, A. A. Briggs, R. G. Harrison, G. J. Marlton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Increasing interest in energetic particle effects on weather and climate has motivated development of a miniature scintillator-based detector intended for deployment on meteorological radiosondes or unmanned airborne vehicles. The detector was calibrated with laboratory gamma sources up to 1.3 MeV and known gamma peaks from natural radioactivity of up to 2.6 MeV. The specifications of our device in combination with the performance of similar devices suggest that it will respond to up to 17 MeV gamma rays. Laboratory tests show that the detector can measure muons at the surface, and it is also expected to respond to other ionizing radiation including, for example, protons, electrons (>100 keV), and energetic helium nuclei from cosmic rays or during space weather events. Its estimated counting error is ±10%. Recent tests, when the detector was integrated with a meteorological radiosonde system and carried on a balloon to ~25 km altitude, identified the transition region between energetic particles near the surface, which are dominated by terrestrial gamma emissions, to higher-energy particles in the free troposphere.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)663-672
Number of pages10
JournalSpace Weather
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2017


  • atmospheric electricity
  • cosmic rays
  • lightning triggering


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