Atmospheric Stratification of Terrestrial Gamma-ray Flashes (TGFs) and Capture of Electromagnetic Phenomena in the Southern Appalachian Region.

Michele Kay Coker


Verso l’alto is a multi-disciplinary undergraduate research and development project whose goal is to gain insight into the upper atmospheric electromagnetic environment above the Southern Appalachian Mountains.  Using high altitude weather balloons, Verso l’altos’ payload carries scientific and amateur radio equipment in order to record cosmic radiation fluctuations and locate gamma rays that produce terrestrial gamma-ray flashes (TGFs).  TGF’s commonly form in high electrical fields within and above thunderstorms and snowstorms in the troposphere and tropopause; where they produce a shot of intense gamma radiation that is hurled into space.  A high-speed camera is also included within the payload to capture images of the region and of the lightning in the upper atmosphere. Live tracking and telemetry of the flight is performed by amateur radio, and coordinates are uploaded to for real-time access online.  The chase team consists of three licensed mobile amateur radio vehicles and licensed undergraduate amateur radio operators who track and retrieve the payload.   This project encourages cooperation between local communities, scientific organizations and academic institutions, in order to better understand the impact of cosmic radiation fluctuations from the ground into the mid-stratosphere, where direct observation is extremely limited.  A launch of Verso l’alto was conducted in October 2012 and a second launch is scheduled for December 2012.  In the October flight, radio and tracking equipment indicated the balloon rose to an altitude over 76,271 feet, covering 43.25 direct miles in a southeasterly flight path.  Throughout the journey, a radiation dosimeter recorded cosmic radiation, which generally increased with altitude.  The onboard camera captured 476 pictures during the 117 minutes of the operation.  In December 2012, it is anticipated that a new digital radiation monitor will more precisely record the variations in radiation counts in each atmospheric layer during the flight. This project brings together interdisciplinary scientists, engineers, and students, which further enhances multiple STEM fields.


Atmospheric radiation, thunderstorms, cosmic rays

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