Eastern Michigan University students preparing to livestream Monday's solar eclipse

EMU balloon.jpg
Posted at 6:34 PM, Apr 03, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-04 08:20:18-04

YPSILANTI, Mich. (WXYZ) — Students at Eastern Michigan University are preparing to livestream Monday’s solar eclipse from 80,000 feet in the sky.

They’re planning to do it using a high-altitude weather balloon that they’ve spent the last year-and-a-half working on. It’s part of a NASA-funded initiative to capture data during the eclipse. It’s extremely impressive work.

On Wednesday, I was able to meet up with students at Eastern Michigan University as they test-launched the balloon and find out how the launch went and how the technology works.

Students at EMU have been working hard on the project that will enable you to watch the solar eclipse from 80,000 feet in the air.

“If you guys want to step in and support the balloon too, just because we want to avoid pinching,” we heard from EMU senior Rosalyn Friend. “The wind is not helping.”

Wind was not on Flight Commander Friend’s side Wednesday afternoon as the senior worked with her classmates to fill this high-altitude weather balloon with helium.

“We are going to be putting, I think, a tank to a tank and a half in here, probably closer to a tank and a half so we can lift,” she told us.

This team of students has been working on this advanced balloon technology for a year and a half. You're watching them test launch it for Monday when they plan to release the huge balloon into the air to document the solar eclipse. They’re hoping there’s less wind then.

After about a half hour of work – success and take off.

“There you go,” said Friend. “Overall, I think it’s pretty good, it’s really up there.”

Today the balloon is tethered. Monday it won’t be. It will float 80,000 feet above the Earth’s surface. That’s about two-and-a-half times higher than an airplane flies!

It takes trial and error to make that impressive feat a reality, you’re about to see that.

About 15 minutes after students launched this balloon - the line snapped unexpectedly, leading all our scientists on a mad dash to catch their equipment as some of it crashed into a pond.

Watch drone video showing the launch and scramble:

WATCH: Drone video captures weather balloon test

“Successful test!” says EMU Professor of Physics Dave Pawlowski.

Successful in that the team’s emergency cut-down system allowed their most important equipment to fall here while only the replaceable balloon body floated away.

“Do we think everything will be okay by Monday?” I asked.

“I think so, I’m going to choose to be an optimist,” says Friend.

“Success or failure Monday is up to them and that’s real life,” says Pawlowski.

During Monday’s solar eclipse launch, the team’s balloon technology will livestream the eclipse from above the clouds and take measurements of the atmosphere as it changes.

It’s all part of a NASA-funded initiative - giving students scientific, sometimes unpredictable, missions that make a real-world impact.

“I think this eclipse in particular, there’s not going to be another one like this for another 20 years, so this is something that we need to take advantage of it while it's happening,” says EMU senior Hannah Popofski.

“To be able to document the eclipse, are you looking forward to that? What does it mean to you to be able to do that?” I asked.

“It’s just, it’s so cool to be doing science, I get to do real science!” said Friend.

If you’d like to watch the balloon’s eclipse live stream, you’ll be able to find it here: https://eclipse.montana.edu/livestream.html

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