With Arkansas scheduled for a total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024, Arkansas State University’s eclipse ballooning team will launch high altitude balloons in order to “study atmospheric dynamics and capture images of our moon’s shadow as it races across Earth,” according to the Arkansas State University campus calendar.
The ballooning project is part of a nationwide eclipse ballooning project led by Montana State University and supported by NASA.
“We can have literal college and high school teams with a couple $1,000 worth of equipment, getting these images,” said Dr. Ross Carroll, associate professor of psychics.
In an effort to get students involved with the project, Dr. Ross Carroll, associate professor of physics, hosted a lecture on Friday to talk about the ballooning project.
“We’re going to get as many students as we can involved in this project and have them run through a NASA mission-like campaign,” Carroll said. “They’ll get a lot of career skills out of it, do something really impactful that gets people interested in science.”
The reason for launching balloons during total solar eclipses is their rarity. A total solar eclipse occurs when a new moon passes between the Sun and the Earth, totally blocking out the Sun. This is called totality.
The last total solar eclipse that passed over North America was in 2017 and Arkansas only had partial totality. In 2017, A-State students traveled to Fulton, Missouri to launch a high altitude balloon to capture the eclipse.
“Our balloon had a fun ride at about 40,000 feet. We got two and a half minutes of totality,” Carroll said.
In preparation for the 2024 eclipse, Carroll will be leading a team to do a “practice run” in 2023. In October, there will be a partial eclipse over Jonesboro, so the team will focus on live streaming the moon’s shadow from the stratosphere to NASA’s website.
The 2017 launch had some technical glitches, namely with the balloon’s ground tracker losing the balloon’s signal when it climbed to 40,000 feet. Additionally, the area where they were launching from, Fulton High School, lost its wireless internet signal, so a live feed couldn’t be steamed.
Carroll said despite the setbacks, the 2017 launch was a great learning experience and that the 2024 launch won’t have these same setbacks.
On April 8, 2024, the team will travel to the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, which will be near the center of the eclipse’s path. They are expecting to capture four minutes and 12 seconds of totality.
“It turns out there’s about a 14 minute window for that shadow to race across our horizon from Arkansas, a little shorter through Arkansas itself. We will have about a 30 minute window where we’re floating in the stratosphere before the balloon bursts. So timing is everything,” Carroll said.
One of the students in attendance, Eli Richmond, a junior computer science major from Jonesboro, said he attended the event due to his curiosity and intrigue surrounding solar eclipses.
“I’m considering (working on the teams). We will see, but if it requires legit engineering that is another story,” Richmond said. “I’m really intrigued by the beauty of the (eclipse) itself.”
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