Researchers test launch balloon ahead of August eclipse

Crews at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale filled Saluki Stadium Thursday to test out a research and video plan for the total solar eclipse on Aug. 21.

Despite the rainy weather, research leaders and students worked to get the research balloon up and launched into the sky Thursday morning. Louisiana State University student Brad Landry was there with a group from his school working to get the balloon ready for the eclipse, though the weather presented a challenge.

"Oh yeah, the weather was a big factor today. We don’t typically launch in conditions like this," he said.

Doug Granger, a computer analyst for Louisiana State University, explained: "With the eclipse, if you have a good stable platform, you can actually watch the eclipse start to happen and study the light structure." Analyzing the data coming in, Granger said the balloon’s video signal went out after the equipment went through the cloud cover while the different trackers continued to follow it through the sky.

They’re testing their research balloon out now, so they’re prepared for anything the weather gives them during the solar eclipse.

"The high altitude balloon launch, which we practiced today, that’s going to happen again in August but on a little bit larger scale. We have two teams launching in August from this stadium, and one of those teams is here today to coordinate with LSU," said Bob Baer, a member of the SIU Carbondale Physics Department and co-chair of the eclipse steering committee with SIU Carbondale.

Baer is helping coordinate eclipse events like Thursday’s at SIU and others leading up to the event. It’s crunch time for Baer and others at the university as they rush to wrap up plans for events and activities on campus. With thousands of visitors, including NASA, expected the weekend of the eclipse, there’s a lot of work left to do.

"It’s 60 days, but we’re really down to the final days of planning for this," Baer said.

Thursday’s test launch did provide the crews a few hiccups.

"Video actually died when we went through the cloud layer. I’m hoping to reestablish once it clears up for a second," Granger said.

"The wind made it a bit difficult and the rain, but we got it done," Landry said.

With every test and event, crews at SIU Carbondale and around the country are getting ready for the eclipse, come rain or shine.

Baer said visitors with tickets to watch the eclipse from Saluki Stadium at SIU will have access to videos from NASA and SIU Carbondale about the eclipse. After the balloons are launched, video will also show the eclipse on the jumbotron and other video monitors in the stadium, giving visitors a look at the eclipse no matter the weather that day.

For more information on eclipse events and activities on campus, including where to buy tickets to watch from Saluki Stadium or stay in a dorm on campus, click here.

For more activities happening in Carbondale during the eclipse, click here. 

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