WELLINGTON (Reuters) - A stadium-sized pressure balloon launched by NASA in New Zealand began collecting data in near space on Wednesday, beginning a 100-day planned journey after several launch attempts were thwarted by storms and cyclones.

The balloon, designed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to detect ultra-high energy cosmic particles from beyond the galaxy as they penetrate the earth's atmosphere, is expected to circle the planet two or three times.

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"The origin of these particles is a great mystery that we'd like to solve. Do they come from massive black holes at the centre of galaxies? Tiny, fast-spinning stars? Or somewhere else?" Angela Olinto, a University of Chicago professor and lead investigator on the project, said in a statement.

The balloon's monitoring was only the start of a long quest which would next involve a space mission currently being designed by NASA, she added.

The balloon, launched on Tuesday in Wanaka, a scenic spot on New Zealand's South Island, will collect data from 34 km (21.1 miles) above the earth.

NASA's Super Pressure Balloon stands fully inflated and ready for lift-off from Wanaka Airport, New Zealand before it took flight at 10:50 a.m. local time April 25, 2017 (1850 EDT April 24, 2017.) Bill Rodman/Courtesy NASA/Handout via
Reuters

New Zealand was also the base for NASA's scientific balloon program in 2015 and 2016.

(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Michael Perry)