Experience the Eclipse
Moscow High School group offers sky-high view of first eclipse to cross U.S. in 38 years
For a few hours on Aug. 21, 2017, people around the United States will see the summer sky go dark as North America experiences its first solar eclipse in decades.
Beyond just the coolness factor of seeing the sun disappear in the middle of the day, an eclipse offers scientists the opportunity to study parts of the sky we can’t normally see, measure atmospheric changes as the eclipse’s shadow moves across the Earth, and conduct experiments.
Among the thousands of scientists poised to study this rare astronomical event is a group of students from Moscow High School. Led by physics teacher and UI alumnus Pat Blount ’05, the students are members of Near Space Engineering, an extracurricular group that conducts high-altitude balloon launches to the edge of Earth’s atmosphere.
The students are participating in the Eclipse Ballooning Project, led by the Montana Space Grant Consortium at Montana State University and funded through the NASA Science Mission Directorate. The project is bringing together nearly 50 teams from 31 states along the eclipse “path of totality” (that is, the areas that will experience total dark-ness). Each team will launch a high-altitude balloon carrying an identical camera. The cameras will stream videos of the eclipse as it happens, allowing those outside the path to watch the shadow cross the Earth.
Moscow’s team also received funds from the Idaho Space Grant Consortium (ISGC), housed at the University of Idaho. ISGC awarded a nearly $16,000 grant to help pay for the materials, as well as launch and travel costs, Blount said. The team will monitor Idaho’s portion of the eclipse from Weiser in southern Idaho.
The Near Space Engineering group is made up of six high school students and UI mechanical engineering student Richard Baptista, who serves as a mentor and resource for the students. Baptista is also a member of the TATERTOTS program at UI (see story on Page 10). Last summer, the students attended a workshop in Montana to learn how to build the camera system and other technical aspects of the launch.
In addition to the camera, the students plan to launch sensors to collect atmospheric data. They are also building communication devices and a drone that will collect photos of the ground during the eclipse.
It’s a unique experience for high schoolers to be able to participate in, Blount said. Each has his or her own area of interest — one student serves as a media specialist, one is interested in scientific data collection, and another focuses on engineering.
“They each bring a particular ability and interest to the team that together work really well,” he said.
Article by Savannah Tranchell, University Communications & Marketing