Berryville EAST, GT students plan to record data from solar eclipse with help from weather balloon

Tuesday, August 15, 2017
From left to right, EAST facilitator Andrew Killingsworth and gifted and talented students Emma Hall, Lily Geren and Jack Dignan work on assembling a weather balloon, which will be launched into the atmosphere on Monday, Aug. 21, in Marshall, Mo., to record data during the total solar eclipse.
Photo by Tavi Ellis/Carroll County News

Berryville students are breaking out the balloons for the solar eclipse, but it’s not just to celebrate.

Andrew Killingsworth, the facilitator of Berryville’s Environmental and Spatial Technology (EAST) program, said the EAST students and the gifted and talented (GT) students are partnering to launch a weather balloon into the atmosphere on Monday, Aug. 21, in Marshall, Mo., to collect data during the solar eclipse.

Students from both programs met at the EAST lab on Tuesday, Aug. 8, to work on assembling the weather balloon. GT student Emma Hall said the balloon is equipped with weather data collection technology, five GoPro cameras and a 360-degree camera to capture images of the eclipse and GPS in order to locate the balloon once it returns to the ground.

Killingsworth said the 360-degree camera will allow the students to record video of the solar eclipse so that people can experience it later using the EAST lab’s virtual reality (VR) equipment.

“They will be able to put it on and experience the eclipse like they’re floating through space,” he said.

GT student Jack Dignan said they are building the weather balloon by taking a plastic foam cooler and having a cutout that holds all of the devices. The 1,200-gram weather balloon will be attached to the top, he said. Hall said the balloon will be filled with helium, making it expand eight feet wide.

Dignan said they will also put HotHands heat packs in the cooler to keep the equipment warm because the temperature will be about minus-60 degrees Fahrenheit at the balloon’s peak altitude.

“We hope the HotHands will keep the equipment from freezing,” Killingsworth said. “The Styrofoam helps insulate it a bit, and it helps it float, too. This is our sixth balloon launch. We’ve had one land right on the edge of a lake. We had to get out the kayaks to go get it.”

He said they would be bringing the kayaks to Marshall just in case the balloon lands in water.

Hall said the students hope to collect data on how the solar eclipse will affect the ozone layer.

“We think it will make the ozone layer colder since the sun normally warms it with heat rays,” she said.

Killingsworth said they are also hoping to capture a phenomenon known as shadow bands, where thin wavy lines of shadow can be seen moving parallel on plain-colored surfaces immediately before and after a total solar eclipse.

“None of us have ever seen them. From what we’re told, it’s shadows which look like a bunch of snakes drawn in parallel,” he said. “It’s some sort of optical interference, and scientists aren’t exactly sure what causes it.”

Dignan said Aug. 21 will mark the first total solar eclipse since 1918, which was 99 years ago. Since this will be the first eclipse since the invention of modern 4K cameras, Killingsworth said, the students hope to capture some great images of the shadow bands with the weather balloon.

“We’re going to get a ton of data, and we hope to capture that phenomenon on the ground from a camera pointed down,” he said. “It’s a quick phenomenon that lasts only like 20 to 30 seconds. We’re going to submit whatever we record to other groups to help scientists figure out what is going on to make these strange shadows.”

Killingsworth said the EAST and GT students won’t be the only ones in Marshall for the eclipse. About 50,000 people are expected to be in town that day, he said, including representatives from NASA, the National Solar Observatory (NSO), PBS and CBS.

“Marshall told us we’re going to be right here in this field, and NASA is going to be set up next to us,” he said. “I guess we picked a good spot. We did have to call NASA and make sure our project wouldn’t interfere with theirs. It’s not every day you have to make a call to NASA.”

Killingsworth continued, “They’re excited for what we’re doing, and they’ve been sharing information on our project with other people. There will be a PBS station that wants to come talk to these students, and CBS possibly will as well.”

The students said it will be cool to interact with representatives from NASA and the other organizations.

“There’s a lot of stuff to be excited for,” Dignam said. “I think launching the balloon will be the coolest part.”

Killingsworth said the students will also have a drone in the air during the solar eclipse, getting images of the event. The EAST program will be live-streaming the event at Marshall on YouTube on Monday, Aug. 21, he said. To watch, check out the “BV EAST” channel on YouTube.

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