Students Launch Second Successful Weather Balloon Project
Four Moreno Valley College physic students successfully launched and recaptured a weather balloon on December 5. The launch and recapture marked the second successful weather balloon experiment by a Dipen Bhattacharya’s physics class. The first came back in 2013.
Weather balloons are routinely launched across the country and they are becoming increasingly common at educational institutions and with hobbyists thanks to better GPS tracking systems, said Bhattacharya, associate professor, Physics, Science and Kinesiology.
“Our project was designed to go in tandem with the Physics 4C class where students learn about heat, thermodynamics and pressure,” Bhattacharya said. “The mission was to see if the students could successfully track the balloon, keep the instruments alive during the flight, and recover the payload. That's why we are calling it an engineering flight (proof of concept) where we verify the flight-worthiness of the GPS tracker and camera, and not a science flight where specific science goals are achieved.”
The students — Hollie St. Claire, Richard Wotring, Matthew Scudder and Van Vinh Nguyen — launched the weather balloon from Riverside and recovered it in Joshua Tree National Park, over 75 miles from its original launch site. The balloon reached an estimated height of 75,000 feet and “luckily” landed in an area accessible by a dirt road on the backside of the park. The flight provided the students with “spectacular video footage.” Future flights are being planned which will include more scientific payloads.
“We are currently planning to make a light-weight radiation Geiger counter to fly in the next flight,” Bhattacharya said. “The Geiger counter will provide an x-ray and gamma-ray radiation profile of the atmosphere. Students are also working to see if light-weight ozone, particulate, NO or NO2, SO2 or other detectors can be made or purchased so that they can get pollution profiles of the local atmosphere as functions of altitude.”
Bhattacharya said there is a lot work that goes into each flight, but students gain a great deal of knowledge in preparing, executing, recovering and interpreting the data.
“Students learn about pressure, the use of helium, prevailing wind directions in various atmospheric layers, atmospheric pressure, and the use of various heating elements to keep the temperature in the payload at a workable level as well as the use of GPS tracking,” he said.