About a dozen weather balloons carrying high-definition cameras and science experiments took to the skies this month as part of an unprecedented study of auroras.
Launched from near Fairbanks,Alaska, the balloons were designed to be a cost-effective way to study the light shows, which are created when charged solar particles interact with Earth’s atmosphere.
“We’re trying to image the auroras from an altitude of about 100,000 feet [30 kilometers],” said project founder Benjamin Longmier, a physicist with the Ad Astra Rocket Company and an adjunct member of the physics department at the University of Houston in Texas.
“We knew going into this that this was going to be a very difficult feat, but we were attacking it from quite a few engineering and technology-development approaches.”
Over the span of about a week, project members attached sensors, science experiments, and modified GoPro cameras to latex weather balloons and released them in central Alaska, where auroras are visible nearly year-round. . .
At that height, the change in air pressure caused each balloon to expand to almost 30 feet (9 meters)—”about the size of a small house”—before popping, Longmier said.
Once the balloons burst, the payloads fell back to Earth on parachutes, and scientists found them using satellite and ground-radio GPS.
Read more about this project at the National Geographic site. For more video footage of this year’s spectacular displays of the Northern Lights, go here.