LSU group will launch solar eclipse balloon at SIU campus

Updated: Nov. 23, 2016 at 10:31 AM CST
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(KFVS) - A team from Louisiana State University is the latest group planning to travel to Southern Illinois University Carbondale next summer for the total solar eclipse.

The team made up of students and researchers plans to launch two large weather balloons from Saluki Stadium about 90 minutes or so before the eclipse totality, set for 1:21 p.m. on Aug. 21.

The team will coordinate the expected climb rate of the balloons with the event in order to capture live video and conduct student-driven experiments.

T. Gregory Guzik, director of the Louisiana Space Grant Consortium at LSU's Department of Physics and Astronomy, said his students have conducted such balloon launches in the past to study a variety of phenomena, but never for an eclipse.

"The difference this time will be the precision of the launch, both from a particular site and within a margin of error of about 15 minutes or so," Guzik said. "We want the balloons to be at about 90,000 feet when totality begins, and they typically ascend at about 1,000 feet per minute."

The balloon will send back real-time video images as the moon blots out the sun.

The feed will be made available to the NASA television program, Edge, which also will be broadcasting from SIU that day.

Southern Illinois will be the site of the longest duration of the upcoming total solar eclipse.

SIU is gearing up to play a major role in the event, which will feature the first total solar eclipse over the mainland United States since 1979.

As many as 50,000 eclipse enthusiasts are expected in Carbondale in the days and hours leading up to the event.

The university is planning a variety of activities for the 2017 eclipse, including the Crossroads Art and Craft Fair, the Crossroads Astronomy, Science and Technology Expo, and educational programming provided by the Adler Planetarium of Chicago.

The main event, of course, will be eclipse viewing in Saluki Stadium.

More information, including ticket prices, is available at

The second balloon the LSU team plans to launch will carry up to five scientific experiments currently being designed by students at other Louisiana institutions as part of a competition, Guzik said.

The exercise will help train students to think like scientists do in developing such payloads, as well as build presentation and leadership skills.

Guzik, whose work as a scientist focuses on cosmic radiation, has been involved with launching such high-altitude balloons for 20 years.

After the event, and once the balloons reach about 100,000 feet, the teams will activate a terminate device which will send the equipment falling back to Earth before parachutes activate.

Guzik said the team expects the equipment to land about 35 miles northeast of Carbondale, and chase vehicles with GPS equipment will be ready to track them down.

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