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CWC launched high altitude balloon Monday

Amanda Fehring | County10 | August 5, 2023


High altitude balloon

CWC Professors Bill Finney and Kate Patterson along with students carefully launch the high altitude balloon so the parachute does not prematurely deploy (h/t Amanda Fehring, County 10)

(Riverton, WY) – Counting down from 10, because that’s what NASA does, Central Wyoming College launched a high altitude balloon just after 9 am on Monday morning, July 31. This was their first test launch for the Nationwide Eclipse Ballooning Project, funded by NASA and the National Science Foundation.

The balloon rose to an altitude of 98,360 ft. before popping, and its payload of technology parachuted back to Fremont County, landing just east of Shoshoni. The crew had to hike two miles on rough terrain to collect it.

CWC’s Professor of Chemistry & Physics Bill Finney and Associate Professor of Mathematics Kate Patterson led Monday’s launch with the help of CWC students. Casper College professors and students were also there to assist as they did something similar during the 2017 eclipse.

The payload of technology attached to the balloon contained an iridium satellite, GPS, modem, atmospheric sensors, and two cameras. All of this technology weighed 12 pounds and were attached by a fishing line to the balloon in four separate boxes.

“Part of the science of these launches is to help better understand atmospheric gravity waves, which are different from the gravitational waves,” they said. “Both liquids (like lakes and oceans) and gases (like Earth’s atmosphere) can be described as behaving as fluids. An up and down motion of layers in the atmosphere can be caused when air moves over mountains, similarly to ripples in a stream when water passes over rocks. It is believed that the moon’s shadow passing over Earth’s surface during an eclipse can do so too.”

After the balloon launched, Finney kept an eye on it in the sky and on his phone, where he could see the altitude so he could call the Salt Lake control tower and let them know when it passed through certain levels of airspace.

“It’s just like flying a plane, except I’m not on board,” he said.

All of this was in preparation for the October 14, 2023, annular eclipse and the April 8, 2024, total eclipse. They will base out of Richfield, UT and southeastern Oklahoma during the eclipses, respectively.

“More important than the science, my goal for having our students participate in this project is for our students to engage in hands-on, practical applications of the scientific and engineering principles that they are learning in our classrooms,” Finney said. “In working together on this project that they will build relationships that will help them be more successful in all their learning, and build their teamwork and leadership skills.”