Archived Story

Science in the sky [UPDATED]

Published 10:47am Wednesday, October 24, 2012 Updated 11:20am Wednesday, October 24, 2012

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, is it a UFO? No, it’s a large weather balloon.

Students from Central Lakes College and Bemidji State University got a hands-on experience Tuesday morning, successfully launching the large weather balloon up into the sky from the field near the M state- Fergus Falls campus baseball diamond.

The large balloon was part of a scientific research project to collect data including weather temperatures, pressure, humidity, ozone and UV data as it made its flight.

The balloon, filled with 350 cubic feet of helium and reaching a diameter of 30 feet, reached an altitude of 96,200 feet and traveled 60 miles before landing nine miles north of Menahga.

The group of more than 20 students ranged from elementary education students to science majors.

“Once it hits its maximum altitude, the balloon won’t pop like a normal




l balloon but it will literally shatter into pieces because it will be frozen at that point,” said Dan Vital, a student working on the project.

More then five different classes were involved in collecting the data from the balloon as it made its journey. One included an elementary class who sent up in one box a student’s packed lunch to see how the UV rays and different elements would affect it.

Among the other boxes, one had a bag of beans taped to the side of it to determine if the high altitude would change the beans’ growth patterns, another had a camera to show a bird’s eye view of the trip the balloon took, and the fourth had a GPS tracking device with radio signals so students on the ground could track the location of the balloon once out of site.

Only five minutes after the much anticipated launch, the balloon had already reached 5,100 feet and was moving at 22 miles per hour.

“I think the launch went very well today,” said Professor Dave Kobilka with Central Lakes College of Earth Science. “We were lucky to have light winds near the ground and it is fairly warm out, for this state.”

The group chose Fergus Falls as a launching point because the area had the most agriculture landscape, making it easier to retrieve once the balloon exploded and came to the ground.

The balloon landed about 1:10 p.m., spending a total of two hours in the air.

Once the balloon is retrieved the students will collect and analyze the data from its journey and write a report on the findings, which will be used as teaching materials and scientific research projects in the future.

Launches like this one are done two times a year by Central Lakes College students and Bemidji State University and are funded by a NASA Space Grant.

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