SPACE WEATHER BALLOON LAUNCHED: Energetic protons are swirling around Earth this week. The ongoing radiation storm was triggered by an X-class solar flare on Jan. 7th, and two days later it is still going strong. To study the effects of the S3-category storm on Earth's atmosphere, yesterday the students of Earth to Sky Calculus launched a space weather balloon from the Sierra Nevada mountains of central California:
Lofted by approximately 200 cubic feet of helium, the balloon ascended to an altitude of approximately 110,000 feet. Its payload contained an x-ray/gamma-ray dosimeter, a GPS altimeter, and a cryogenic thermometer. Together these instruments can form a complete thermal and radiation profile of the atmosphere throughout the flight. Of special interest are aviation altitudes--i.e., between 5 km and 15 km--where planes carry human passengers through the storm. The students want to find out how much ordinary air travelers are exposed during an event like this.
The balloon popped as planned on Jan. 8th and the payload parachuted back to Earth, landing in a remote corner of Death Valley National Park. The students will recover the payload and its data on Jan. 9th. Stay tuned for results. Solar flare alerts: text, voice.