EOL weather balloon launches

American science students and Dr. Tony Phillips. Photo: Sharnae Hope.

It’s up, up and away, for the sub-orbital helium space weather balloons.

The first weather balloons will be launched today in the Waikato as part of the global Spaceweather.com and Earth to Sky Calculus initiative run by a group of visiting American science students and Dr Tony Phillips.

The balloon is expected to land in the Bay sometime this afternoon.

Tony says they have launched around 250 sub-orbital helium space weather balloons across the world and plan to do three across the weekend.

“The main reason we came here is because we were invited, but also we’ve been visiting different places around the world measuring cosmic rays in the atmosphere.”

Cosmic rays are a high-energy radiation from stars, mainly found around the solar system, but also can be found at lower altitudes, where planes fly.

Tony says cosmic rays can cause things like cancer if people are exposed to too much cosmic rays.

He says they are also unraveling the effects of cosmic rays in Chile and California by doing tests in New Zealand.

“New Zealand has the same latitude as where we are from, California- but negative- and it’s also the same latitude as Chile which has some novalis radiation.

“So coming over to New Zealand to launch this balloon in this particular spot is going to tell us a lot about what’s going on in California and Chile.”

Each launch is planned to commence around 9am. The balloons ascend to the edge of space to gather critical scientific data on earth's cosmic radiation environment, then the balloons pop and the payloads descend, landing somewhere in the Western Bay of Plenty region with 2.5 – 3 hours.

“It’s the first time we will be launching in New Zealand, but we do have a prediction software that will show what our flight path might be.

“It’s not 100 per cent, but there are things that we can do to mitigate issues, like filling the balloon up more, if we think for example it is going to land in the ocean.”

He says the biggest issue will be the wind and landing in the ocean or forest.

There’s a chance for the public to track them and guess where they land to be in to win one of three $100 Prezzie Cards thanks to local internet provider EOL.

The team have also teamed up with local students from Otumoetai, Bethlehem, Mount, Tauranga Girls’ and Tauranga Boys' Colleges along with Toi Ohomai to show them how to do the launches, conduct experiments and train them so that Tauranga can set up its own Earth to Sky Calculus initiative for future launches.


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