Ballooning Team Prepares to Fly During Upcoming Solar Eclipses

On Saturday, October 14, 2023, portions of North America will experience an annular solar eclipse in which the moon will block up to 90% of the sun, resulting in a “ring of fire.” Through NASA's Minnesota Space Grant Consortium (MnSGC), Professor James Flaten will travel with a group of eight students (six AEM majors, one Mechanical Engineering, and one Computer Science and Engineering) from the University of Minnesota’s High-Altitude Ballooning Team to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to study the eclipse from stratospheric ballooning platforms. The University team, as part of NASA’s Nationwide Eclipse Ballooning Project (NEBP), is also serving as a “pod lead” to help train ballooning teams from South Dakota, Nebraska, Texas, Tennessee and Iowa.

AEM senior and ballooning team lead, Ethan Thompson-Jewell, has been preparing the team by running practice flights in advance of the first eclipse on October 14. The team will offer a pre-eclipse outreach event on the UMN campus on Saturday, September 23. On the day of the eclipse, Saturday, October 14, there will be a watch party (the eclipse will be partial, as viewed from campus). While the eclipse is going on, the view from the teams’ in-flight experiments will be live-streamed to the internet. 

MnSGC payload
Student team member Jasmine Thayer, who handles the vent, parachutes and 3D (non-streaming) cameras, demonstrates how the payload design works.

During the eclipse, the team will fly their payloads on weather balloons to study eclipse-induced phenomena including changes in light intensity, temperature, and meteorological gravity waves. The team will travel to Indiana to fly additional balloon-borne experiments on April 8, 2024, only this time they will be in the path of totality during a total solar eclipse when the moon will completely block out the face of the sun for several minutes.

Check back on the AEM News & Features page and on the AEM Instagram page where we will post updates and articles on their progress.