Where were you during this year’s Annular Solar Eclipse? Well, four research teams from Plymouth State University, University of Albany, and Oswego State University were right in the heart of Moriarty.

All four research teams spent 30 hours working on an outreach and research project supported by NASA.

From 10 a.m. Oct. 13 to 3 p.m. Oct. 14, the scientists released weather balloons every 12 minutes into the sky to measure data in the atmosphere during the Solar Eclipse.

Each weather balloon that was released had a sensor attached to it to measure temperature, humidity and air pressure, as well as a GPS tracker.

Weather balloon with sensors.
The weather balloon contained sensors to measure temperature, humidity and air pressure.

The sensors track the location of the weather balloon, the pressure as it rises, the wind speed and the direction. All those variables are what each research team looks at to understand how the Eclipse will affect the atmosphere.

“We’re going to get a really high resolution roughly every 315 feet or so. We’re going to get another measurement of all the atmospheric variables I mentioned all the way up into the stratosphere,” said Dr. Eric Kelsey of Plymouth State, one of the project directors. “Then the balloon will pop when it’s around 100,000 feet in the sky.”

Each team that was stationed in Moriarty released a weather balloon every hour but to make sure their radio frequencies didn’t interfere with each others as they launched at different times. This meant that there was a balloon launch every 12 minutes, which meant classes from all grades throughout the Moriarty- Edgewood School District got a chance to see and learn about the NASA-like research.

Throughout the day around 800 students visited the launch site. “Go to space!” yelled a handful of first graders from Moriarty Elementary School.

Before every launch of a weather balloon, scientists from each research team would talk to the students to explain what they were doing.

Moriarty-Edgewood School District students
Students from across the Moriarty-Edgewood School District

“The group that came and talked to our third graders were young college students, who interacted wonderfully with the kids and answered their questions,” said Lisa Gustin, a third grade teacher at South Mountain Elementary in Edgewood. “That was just really special for me that our third graders got to have that experience.”

The visit from each research team became a great educational opportunity for all the students.

Each student was given the opportunity to ask questions, touch a deflated weather balloon and yelled the countdown before the balloon was released into the sky.

Each student also received a pair of their own Solar Eclipse glasses so that way they could watch the Solar Eclipse in a safe way the next day.

Now, some teachers look to possibly use this research in their future lesson plans.

Gustin said her class isn’t quite there in their curriculum to use this but when they get there, she will use this as part of her lessons.

“When we do start studying weather, we will look up more videos on weather balloons, the solar eclipse and we will bring up what the kids learned there into the classroom,” she said. “But just not right now until we get to that, that subject is in our curriculum.”

The research that was gathered from this event will help the research teams with the data analysis of all the profiles they measured of the atmosphere and the results will most likely be published in some scientific journals, but the main goal was to reach students and introduce them to something they may have never been able to see before.

“The main purpose of it is really the outreach to engage students in a NASA mission-like experience,” Kelsey said. “Maybe one day some of these kids will become scientists.”

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