Over the next year, six St. Cloud State University College of Science and Engineering (COSE) students along with faculty lead, Assistant Professor Rachel Humphrey, are preparing to take part in the NASA Nationwide Eclipse Ballooning Project (NEBP).
The NEBP immerses teams of STEM students from a wide range of higher education institutions in an innovative NASA-mission-like project in data acquisition and analysis through scientific ballooning during the Oct. 14, 2023 annular and April 8, 2024 total solar eclipses.
The six COSE participants who are representing SCSU are Caitlyn Andersh, Amanda Banyas, Azara Boschee, Regina Fleischman, Annette Lujan and Sophie Tice. The SCSU group is partnering with two other Minnesota based teams, one from St. Catherine University and one from Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College. The combined team is comprised of all women, making it the only all-women team in the NASA NEBP.
The group will be launching radiosondes (weather instrument packs attached to weather balloons) 24 hours prior to and then six hours after the two annular eclipses. The balloons will take measurements of temperature, relative humidity, pressure, wind speed, wind direction and location (horizontal and vertical) to assess how atmospheric conditions in the troposphere and stratosphere change in response to an eclipse. In the spring of 2023, SCSU students took a course to help prepare them for this project. This summer, the entire student group will get together at least twice to simulate launch conditions.
In early July, students and faculty from the joint group met in Mora, Minnesota to practice launching weather balloons and radiosondes. At these practice launches, students familiarized themselves with hardware and software necessary to collect atmospheric data extending from the surface up to a height over 32,000 meters (105,000 feet).
A big portion of the project is educational outreach. Therefore, numerous K-12 events will be organized at local and regional K-12 schools leading up to the deployments of the balloons. The student participants will play a role in helping to instill an interest an astronomy and meteorology in young learners.