Solar Eclipse Balloon Network

https://player.vimeo.com/video/179806783

We are actively raising funds for the Solar Balloon Eclipse Network. Scroll down for a list of unique gifts flown to the edge of space.

Experience the Great American Solar Eclipse from the edge of space! Help us create the first-ever 360-degree movie of the Moon’s shadow sweeping across the continental U.S. during a total eclipse of the sun.

Spaceweather.com and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus have developed a balloon payload that can photograph solar eclipses from the stratosphere. This sets the stage for a one-of-a-kind photography experiment: On August 21, 2017, the Moon will pass in front of the sun over the USA, producing a total eclipse visible from coast to coast. We will launch balloons to record the event from multiple points along the path of totality. The pins show our confirmed launch sites so far:

Floating more than 100,000 feet above the clouds, the balloons will have an unobstructed view of the eclipse.  Each payload will be equipped with a 360-degree camera.  This camera will record not only the sun’s ghostly corona in the sky above, but also the Moon’s dark shadow racing across the landscape below. When the eclipse is finished, we will combine the footage to create a unique video portrait of an eclipse sweeping across the American continent. This will be the first time in history a movie of a full eclipse as it moves across the United States is captured from the stratosphere.

Our payload has already traveled to the stratosphere and photographed a partial solar eclipse in Oct. 2014:

matrixTo test the payload under conditions of totality, a team of students and parents from Earth to Sky Calculus visited Indonesia on March 9, 2016.  They were stationed on a beach on the island of Belitung when the Moon’s shadow enveloped them for 3 full minutes. Our spherical eclipse camera and other optics did a great job recording the event.

belitung_stripThere’s more to our mission than photography, however. We are also going to conduct a unique experiment in atmospheric radiation.

For the past three years we have been flying balloons to the stratosphere equipped with neutron, X-ray, and gamma-ray sensors.  As a result of these flights, we’ve discovered that cosmic rays in Earth’s atmosphere are intensifying.  Here is a plot of radiation dose rates over California:

radplot_stripWhat’s happening over the rest of the country? The solar eclipse gives us a chance to find out.  With teams launching balloons and radiation sensors from as many as a dozen sites, we can get a unique snapshot of the cosmic ray environment in the North American atmosphere from ground level to 120,000 feet and from coast to coast.

Readers, would you like to join the Solar Eclipse Balloon Network? There are many ways you can help.

We still need lots of hardware for our payloads–including more radiation sensors, GPS trackers, and cameras. To fund the cost of the launch sites and balloon payloads, we are selling eclipse-related products on our Earth to Sky website. Purchasing these products will allows us to by the crucial items needed for each launch site and to dispatch teams of students across the country to study the Great American Solar Eclipse from the edge of space. With enough funding we can launch multiple balloons from each site, increasing the footage we can take and the number of people who can participate. A limited number of people can even join us in the path of totality!

We are offering a variety of eclipse-related products on our website. If you are interested in participating directly at a launch site and supporting the Solar Eclipse Balloon Network at a higher level, please visit our GoFundMe campaign.

Safe Solar Eclipse Viewing Glasses:

snoopy4_cropGet ready for the Great American Solar Eclipse! These safe solar glasses will allow you to view any phase of the solar eclipse without fear of damage to your eyes. The Family Pack includes 3 pairs of glasses and costs only $29.95.

And there’s a bonus: They have all been to the edge of space! On June 23, 2017, the students of Earth to Sky Calculus flew a payload-full of solar glasses to the stratosphere onboard a high-altitude space weather balloon. The glasses ascended more than 95,000 feet above the Sierra Nevada mountains of central California before parachuting back to Earth.
Each Family Pack of solar eclipse glasses comes with a unique gift card showing the glasses floating at the top of Earth’s atmosphere. The interior of the card tells the story of the flight and confirms that these items have been to the edge of space and back again.
Price: $29.95

Solar Eclipse T-Shirt:

tees_strip600Become an honorary member of the Earth to Sky Solar Eclipse Team! Official club tee-shirts are available in four sizes (S, M, L and XL) and two styles (Male and Female). The shirt was designed by Earth to Sky founding student Ginger Perez. All proceeds support student space weather research and our Solar Eclipse Balloon Network. (Specify the size and style you want in the comments field at checkout.)

Price: $39.95.

Solar Eclipse Pendant:

pendant1_strip2

This solar eclipse-themed pendant flew to the stratosphere on July 2, 2017, attached to the payload of a giant space weather balloon. Floating at an altitude 105,000 feet above Earth’s surface, it made contact with space, experiencing temperatures as low as -63 C and a dose rate of cosmic rays 100x Earth normal. Artwork on the pendant commemorates the upcoming Great American Solar Eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017.
Buy one of these pendents now and for no additional charge we will fly it back to the stratosphere during the total eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017, where it will be enveloped by the shadow of the Moon over our launch site in Oregon. To make this happen, please make a note in the COMMENTS BOX of your shopping cart: “Fly my pendant during the eclipse!”
Each pendant comes with a unique gift card showing the jewelry floating at the top of Earth’s atmosphere. The interior of the card tells the story of the flight and confirms that this gift has been to the edge of space and back again.
Price: $79.95.

stamps_strip

On June 20, 2017, the US Postal Service issued a first-of-its-kind Total Eclipse of the Sun Forever stamp, which commemorates the August 21 eclipse. On July 2nd, we flew them to the edge of space 105,000 feet above central California. You can have a sheet of 16 stamps for the collector’s price of $89.95. They make great Birthday and Christmas gifts.
These rare temperature-sensitive stamps depict the Moon eclipsing the sun. When the stamp gets cold, the Moon darkens, forming a space-black disk. During our balloon flight on July 2nd, the temperature dropped to -63 C. The Moon darkened in the extreme cold of the stratosphere, then lightened again when the payload parachuted back to Earth, landing on the warm foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains near Big Pine CA. The recovered stamps are perfectly intact and continue to change their appearance as intended when exposed to heat and cold.
The Total Eclipse of the Sun stamp is a Forever stamp, which is always equal in value to the current First-Class Mail 1-ounce price.
Each sheet of 16 stamps comes with a unique gift card showing the stamps floating at the top of Earth’s atmosphere. The interior of the card tells the story of the flight and confirms that this gift has been to the edge of space and back again. You will receive the stamps in a black protective envelope that protects the stamps from UV radiation and preserves them for future gift-giving.
Price: $89.95

Thank you for your support!

Earth’s Magnetic Field is Changing

by Dr. Tony Phillips (Spaceweather.com)

Anyone watching a compass needle point steadily north might suppose that Earth’s magnetic field is a constant. It’s not. Researchers have long known that changes are afoot. The north magnetic pole routinely moves, as much as 40 km/yr, causing compass needles to drift over time. Moreover, the global magnetic field has weakened 10% since the 19th century.

A new study by the European Space Agency’s constellation of Swarm satellites reveals that changes may be happening even faster than previously thought. In this map, blue depicts where Earth’s magnetic field is weak and red shows regions where it is strong:

Data from Swarm, combined with observations from the CHAMP and Ørsted satellites, show clearly that the field has weakened by about 3.5% at high latitudes over North America, while it has strengthened about 2% over Asia. The region where the field is at its weakest – the South Atlantic Anomaly – has moved steadily westward and weakened further by about 2%. These changes have occured over the relatively brief period between 1999 and mid-2016.

Earth’s magnetic field protects us from solar storms and cosmic rays. Less magnetism means more radiation can penetrate our planet’s atmosphere. Indeed, high altitude balloons launched by Spaceweather.com routinely detect increasing levels of cosmic rays over California. Perhaps the ebbing magnetic field over North America contributes to that trend.

As remarkable as these changes sound, they’re mild compared to what Earth’s magnetic field has done in the past. Sometimes the field completely flips, with north and the south poles swapping places. Such reversals, recorded in the magnetism of ancient rocks, are unpredictable. They come at irregular intervals averaging about 300,000 years; the last one was 780,000 years ago. Are we overdue for another? No one knows.

Swarm is a trio of satellites equipped with vector magnetometers capable of sensing Earth’s magnetic field all the way from orbital altitudes down to the edge of our planet’s core. The constellation is expected to continue operations at least until 2017, and possibly beyond, so stay tuned for updates.

12-Year Old Invents a New Kind of Space Selfie

by Dr. Tony Phillips (Spaceweather.com)

Last December, Joyce and Tad Lhamon of Seattle, Washington, bought their 12-year-old grandson Barrett a far-out Christmas gift–that is, a trip to the edge of space. In exchange for this gift certificate, Barrett could fly any experiment he wanted to the stratosphere onboard an Earth to Sky Calculus helium balloon. He thought about it for months and, after discarding many ideas, Barrett decided to fly a convex mirror. The payload’s cameras could look into the mirror and take a new kind of “space selfie.” Would it work? On April 17th, we flew Barrett’s experiment, and the results were better than anyone dreamed:

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“Spaceweather.com and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus have flown more than 150 missions to the edge of space monitoring cosmic rays and stress-testing microbes. We’ve never seen our payload quite like this before.

A particularly interesting sequence of images shows the balloon exploding above the payload 117,100 feet above Earth. The following video frames are separated by only 1/30th of a second: #1, #2, #3, #4. Note how the payload remains motionless during the explosion. It takes more than a second for the shock wave from the explosion to propagate down the long cord connecting the payload to the balloon.

Congratulations, Barrett, on a very successful experiment!

Physics of an Exploding Space Weather Balloon

by Dr. Tony Phillips (Spaceweather.com)

On Feb. 27, 2016, the students of Earth to Sky Calculus launched a space weather balloon to measure increasing levels of cosmic rays. At the apex of the flight, the balloon exploded as planned and the radiation sensors parachuted back to Earth. A high-speed camera on top of the payload captured some extraordinary images of the pop:

These images illustrate new findings about the physics of exploding balloons. In Oct. 2015, researchers Sébastien Moulinet and Mokhtar Adda-Bedia of the Ecole Normale Supérieure published a Physical Review Letter entitled “Popping Balloons: A Case Study of Dynamical Fragmentation.” In it, they reported the results of a series of fun yet informative laboratory experiments in which one balloon after another was popped and analyzed.

Basically, there are two ways a balloon can pop: along a single tear (the “opening regime”) or along many tears (the “fragmentation regime”). This video shows the two regimes in action. Which way the balloon decided to pop depends on the stress in the rubber membrane. When the stress is low, it can be relieved with a single tear, but when the stress is high, many tears are required to do the job.

Clearly, space weather balloons explode in the fragmentation regime. This is hardly a surprise. When space weather balloons are launched, they measure no more than 6 to 8 feet in diameter. By the time they reach the stratosphere, they have stretched into a sphere as wide as a house. That’s a lot of tension to release!

More information about this research is available from the American Physical Society.

Spherical Camera at the Edge of Space

On Feb. 27th, Spaceweather.com and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus launched a helium balloon to the stratosphere to monitor increasing levels of cosmic rays. In addition to radiation sensors, the payload carried something special: a spherical camera. Click and drag on the image below to explore California’s Sierra Nevada from an altitude of 115,300 feet–and don’t forget to look up at the balloon!

The camera, a Ricoh Theta S, will probably become a regular part of our cosmic ray payload. Imagery should improve in future flights as the students learn to lower the profile of the camera’s thermal pack–the strange-looking black object in the center of the 3D image. During its flight to the stratosphere, the camera experienced temperatures as low as -65 C. The thermal pack helps keep the camera’s batteries warm in these harsh conditions.

more spherical images: the students preparing to launch the balloon, the balloon ascending through clouds, the balloon exploding in the stratosphere.

Next week, the camera will take another trip–to Indonesia. The students will be using it to record a total eclipse of the sun on March 9th. Stay tuned for that!

Cosmic Rays Continue to Intensify

Researchers have long known that solar activity and cosmic rays have a yin-yang relationship. As solar activity declines, cosmic rays intensify. Lately, solar activity has been very low indeed. Are cosmic rays responding? The answer is “yes.” Spaceweather.com and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus have been using helium balloons to monitor cosmic rays in the stratosphere. Their data show that cosmic rays in the mid-latitude stratosphere now are approximately 12% stronger than they were one year ago:


Cosmic rays, which are accelerated toward Earth by distant supernova explosions and other violent events, are an important form of space weather. They can seed clouds, trigger lightning, and penetrate commercial airplanes. Furthermore, there are studies linking cosmic rays with cardiac arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death in the general population. Among patients who have an implanted cardioverter – defibrillator (ICD), the aggregate number of life-saving shocks appears to be correlated with the number of cosmic rays reaching the ground. References: #1, #2, #3, #4.

Why do cosmic rays increase when solar activity is low? Consider the following: To reach Earth, cosmic rays have to penetrate the inner solar system. Solar storms make this more difficult. CMEs and gusts of solar wind tend to sweep aside cosmic rays, lowering the intensity of radiation around our planet. On the other hand, when solar storms subside, cosmic rays encounter less resistance; reaching Earth is a piece of cake.

Forecasters expect solar activity to drop sharply in the years ahead as the 11-year solar cycle swings toward another deep minimum. Cosmic rays are poised to increase accordingly.

Cosmic Rays Continue to Intensify

Last month, we reported that cosmic rays are intensifying. Measurements so far in February indicate that the trend is continuing. In fact, the latest balloon flight over California on Feb. 5th detected the highest value yet:

The data show that cosmic rays in the mid-latitude stratosphere now are approximately 10% stronger than they were one year ago. All of these measurements were collected by Spaceweather.com and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus.

Cosmic rays, which are accelerated toward Earth by distant supernova explosions and other violent events, are an important form of space weather. They can seed clouds, trigger lightning, and penetrate commercial airplanes. Indeed, our measurements show that someone flying back and forth across the continental USA, just once, can absorb as much ionizing cosmic radiation as 2 to 5 dental X-rays. Likewise, cosmic rays can affect mountain climbers, high-altitude drones, and astronauts onboard the International Space Station.

This type of radiation is modulated by solar activity. Solar storms and CMEs tend to sweep aside cosmic rays, making it more difficult for cosmic rays to reach Earth. On the other hand, low solar activity allows an extra dose of cosmic rays to reach our planet. Indeed, the ongoing increase in cosmic ray intensity is probably due to a decline in the solar cycle. Solar Maximum has passed and we are heading toward a new Solar Minimum. Forecasters expect solar activity to drop sharply in the years ahead, and cosmic rays are poised to increase accordingly. Stay tuned for more radiation.

Cosmic Rays are Intensifying

For the past year, neutron monitors around the Arctic Circle have sensed an increasing intensity of cosmic rays. Polar latitudes are a good place to make such measurements, because Earth’s magnetic field funnels and concentrates cosmic radiation there. Turns out, Earth’s poles aren’t the only place cosmic rays are intensifying. Spaceweather.com and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus have been launching helium balloons to the stratosphere to measure radiation, and they find the same trend over California:

In the plot, neutron monitor measurements from the University of Oulu Cosmic Ray Station are traced in red; gamma-ray/X-ray measurements over California are denoted in gray. The agreement between the two curves is remarkable. It means that the intensification of cosmic rays is making itself felt not only over the poles, but also over lower latitudes where Earth’s magnetic field provides a greater degree of protection against deep space radiation.

Cosmic rays, which are accelerated toward Earth by distant supernova explosions and other violent events, are an important form of space weather. They can seed clouds, trigger lightning, and penetrate commercial airplanes. Indeed, our measurements show that someone flying back and forth across the continental USA, just once, can absorb as much ionizing cosmic radiation as 2 to 5 dental X-rays. Likewise, cosmic rays can affect mountain climbers, high-altitude drones, and astronauts onboard the International Space Station.

This type of radiation is modulated by solar activity. Solar storms and CMEs tend to sweep aside cosmic rays, making it more difficult for cosmic rays to reach Earth. On the other hand, low solar activity allows an extra dose of cosmic rays to reach our planet. Indeed, the ongoing increase in cosmic ray intensity is probably due to a decline in the solar cycle. Solar Maximum has passed and we are heading toward a new Solar Minimum. Forecasters expect solar activity to drop sharply in the years ahead, and cosmic rays are poised to increase accordingly. Stay tuned for more radiation.

Meteor Balloon in the Stratosphere

When the Geminid meteor shower peaked on Dec. 14th, a snowstorm was in progress over the mountains of central California. No stars? No problem. Using a helium balloon, the students of Earth to Sky Calculus launched a low-light camera to photograph the shower high above the obscuring clouds. Their experimental payload ascended to 91,000 feet where the night sky looked like this:

The big white object at the top of the frame is the balloon, surrounded by some of the bright stars and planets of the pre-dawn sky. From the lower stratosphere, the freezing camera was able to see stars as dim as 2nd magnitude. This wasn’t as sensitive as the students had hoped, but it was good enough to record several Geminid fireballs. Here are a couple of movies showing Geminids emerging from behind the balloon: fireball #1, fireball #2. In the movies, stars and planets move in a lazy circle around the balloon–a result of the payload’s gentle spin–while Geminids streak in straight lines. The camera also recorded the balloon exploding at the apex of the flight, and the payload parachuting back to Earth.

The students plan to observe more meteor showers in the future with even better results. They believe they can boost the sensitivity of the camera by, e.g., warming the payload bay during the flight and improving the camera’s focus, pre-launch. If their improvements succeed, they could establish ballooning as a practical and fun way to monitor meteor showers in all kinds of weather. Stay tuned for updates.

Neutron Bubble Chamber in the Stratosphere

June 23, 2015: For nearly two years, Spaceweather.com and the students of Earth to Sky Calculus have been using helium balloons to monitor X-rays and gamma-rays in the stratosphere. Their successful program has detected multiple radiation events in response to solar storms. On June 18th they added something new. For the first time, the group’s Space Weather Payload included a bubble chamber for measuring neutrons. The device flew 109,012 feet above California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range, then parachuted back to Earth, landing near Death Valley National Park. The results: Neutrons were detected.

Circled above are some of the bubbles that formed as neutrons passed through the chamber. By counting the bubbles, it is possible to estimate the total dose of neutron radiation absorbed during the 3 hour flight. The answer is 600 microRads (energy range 200 keV – 15 MeV). Interestingly, this is almost the same dose detected by onboard X-ray and gamma-ray sensors: 620 microRads (energy range 10 keV to 20 MeV). Lesson: if you only count X-rays and gamma-rays, then you are missing at least half of the radiation in the atmosphere. Neutrons matter, too.

Indeed, neutrons are a very important form of cosmic radiation, providing much of the biologically effective radiation dose at altitudes of interest to aviation and space tourism.  Low-energy neutrons also cause single-event upsets in aircraft avionics, especially devices that contain Boron 10. Adding a neutron sensor to the Space Weather Payload allows the students to monitor this type of radiation at altitudes ranging from ground level to 120,000 feet.