Project Stratoclipse: Collaboration gives full picture of solar eclipse

Tuesday, August 29, 2017
This photo was taken during the solar eclipse on Monday, Aug. 21, by one of Berryville’s partners, Jake Vaught and Beau Hartweg, in Project Stratoclipse. It shows the curvature of the Earth, the blue atmosphere and the shadow of the moon, known as the umbra.
Submitted photo

Even though there were only a few minutes of total darkness in Missouri last Monday, Berryville students obtained a full picture of the solar eclipse thanks to collaboration with other weather balloon launches.

Andrew Killingsworth, the facilitator of Berryville’s Environmental and Spatial Technology (EAST) program, said the EAST students and the gifted and talented (GT) students helped synchronize four weather balloon launches on Monday, Aug. 21, in order to collect data during the solar eclipse.

“The Eureka Springs School District launched one here in Eureka,” he said, “and we launched three up in Marshall, Mo., as part of ‘Project Stratoclipse.’ ”

Project Stratoclipse was founded by Beau Hartweg and Jake Vaught, Killingsworth said, and the idea behind it was to collect as much information and data as possible during the solar eclipse. To accomplish this

goal, he said, the students coordinated the launch of their own balloon with two other balloon launches in the city.

“Our partners launched one on the other side of Marshall, and a young lady from St. Louis and her dad happened to be there on the same day,” he said. “Their names were Lucy and Hugh Flores. She was in 10th grade, and they had never launched a balloon before. We’ve been a part of 10 launches, so we jumped in there to help.”

Killingsworth said he and the Berryville students asked Flores to be part of Project Stratoclipse as well, and she wound up sharing her data from the eclipse with them.

“The collaboration turned out to be a really great thing because each group succeeded and failed at different parts of the mission,” he said, “so all of our pieces of data have come together like a puzzle and have given us a complete picture that we were wanting.”

Killingsworth continued, “We’re really thrilled that this endeavor was successful. The kids got to see collaboration in action, which is what EAST is all about. It ended up being to our advantage big time on this one.”

Although the students had set up in Marshall, he said they had to drive south before the eclipse because there was too much cloud cover in the city.

“We weren’t seeing anything. We could see rain coming in from the north and blue skies to the south, so we made a decision to just jump in the cars and chase down the blue skies,” Killingsworth said. “The kids said ‘It’s like we’re storm chasers but opposite’ because we were trying to get to blue skies.”

GT student Lily Geren said they had set up the cameras, a tent, chairs and other items in Marshall at about 8 a.m. before realizing they needed to head south.

“We realized we needed to pack up if we really wanted to see the eclipse,” she said. “We began to load up all of the equipment and raced down the dirt road to get a clear patch of sky.”

GT student Jack Dignan said they pulled over in a church parking lot a few minutes before totality.

“Right before totality, there was a flash where the sun was, which is called the ‘Diamond ring effect,’ ” he said. “A few minutes before totality, I looked around and saw a sunset at 1 p.m. in the afternoon.”

Geren said it was worth heading south to see the eclipse better.

“All I could remember hearing was Coach Killingsworth saying ‘Wow, this is amazing,’ ” she said. “I looked to my right and saw a beautiful sunset. I knew that I would remember this forever.”

Killingsworth said it was like nothing he has ever seen.

“It was as awe-inspiring as taking in the Grand Canyon for the first time or seeing a giant redwood for the first time,” he said. “One moment it was daylight, and the next moment there was like an explosion of white light from one side of the sun. People all around us were yelling and screaming. It was that intense.”

The eclipse lasted for 2 minutes and 38 seconds where they were stationed, he said.

“It got completely dark. Everywhere you looked it was pink like a sunrise,” Killingsworth said. “You could see a few stars and planets, like Jupiter. The birds were quiet, and the crickets just started getting louder and louder. It was unlike anything I have ever seen in my life. It was nuts.”

He said Berryville’s weather balloon wound up landing in the Sanganois State Fish and Wildlife Area, a 10,000-acre wildlife conservation site in Chanderville, Ill.

“It was in the middle of the forest. We gave up finding it the first day because it disappeared from our radar. It wasn’t tracking correctly,” he said. “Then it popped back up on the radar in Illinois. I drove up there about seven hours away and went into the conservation site with three wildlife biologists.”

Killingsworth continued, “It was in the middle of the forest laying on the ground. We couldn’t figure out how it came through and landed on the ground. We really thought it would be up in a tree. I’m really thankful that those guys were able to help.”

He said the students will be working on organizing and comparing the data collected by the four balloon launches now that the balloons have been retrieved. Eventually, Killingsworth said, they will be able to share images and video of the solar eclipse

He said he is thankful that superintendent Owen Powell, high school principal Donnel Armstrong and middle school principal John McClellan gave him and the students permission to launch the balloon during the solar eclipse.

“Our administrators let us dream big! We are very grateful,” Killingsworth said.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: