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West Ranch's Weather Balloon Studies Radiation At Edge Of Atmosphere

West Ranch’s Weather Balloon Studies Radiation At Edge Of Atmosphere

The weather balloon that West Ranch High School students launched on Friday reached more than 80,000 feet and spent about two and a half hours in the air.

West Ranch High School studentsThis semester, the astronomy class at West Ranch High School did more than learn the order of the planets and study constellations.

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Under the supervision of earth science and astronomy teacher Christine Hirst, about 100 West Ranch students worked together to launch a high altitude weather balloon on Friday in attempt to collect cosmic dust and perform several other experiments at the edge of earth’s atmosphere.

Launching the balloon

A team of students, led by senior Daniel Tikhomirov, spent all semester designing a cosmic dust collection unit and writing computer code for its components.

The unit unexpectedly opened on reentry, contaminating the dust collection, but Tikhormirov and Hirst said that the experiment was a learning experience.

Related West Ranch High Astronomy Students Planning Balloon Launch Into Space

The students have already started brainstorming about how to better design the collection unit and payload distribution of the balloon next time.

Locating the balloon after it landed

“That’s the process of science,” Hirst said, “Even if you’re not successful, you revise and you repeat.”

And Hirst said that the process taught him and his fellow students other valuable lessons.

“The main thing that we learned with this experiment is how to work as a team to get something done in a short amount of time,” he said.

Students launched the balloon at 6:35 p.m. on Friday, and it spent two and a half to three hours in flight, snapping pictures and sending data back to teams on the ground.

It came down in the backyard of a Pasadena woman, who was excited to be a part of the school’s education experiment, said Principal Bob Vincent.

The Earth from 88,000 feet

Students tracked it through spot radio beacons, Hirst said. They were able to determine the address where the balloon landed, and she googled the phone number.

Hirst called the landing “quite miraculous,” noting that if the balloon had landed in a canyon with no cell service or on a busy street, the students might never have been able to retrieve it.

Some of the other experiments included testing the effects of radiation and altitude on food, time dilation with two synchronized stopwatches, measuring radiation with a geiger counter and studying the effects of the trip on live crickets.

Much of the funding for the project was provided through a grant from Toshiba, Hirst said.

For more information about West Ranch High School and student activities, click here.

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West Ranch’s Weather Balloon Studies Radiation At Edge Of Atmosphere

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