Science,  Technology

The Uses for a Near Space Balloon

The French balloonist Jean-Pierre Blanchard set off on a record breaking journey from Paris in 1785. He brought his assistant John Jeffries onto a balloon that carried the pair high into the sky. Unfortunately, the balloon soon lost its lift and was in danger of crashing into the English Channel. They managed to lighten the load and save themselves, but today’s scientists use a much safer way to monitor the skies.

A high altitude balloon lets meteorologists and other experts document their observations from the safety of the ground. On any given year, more than 60,000 weather balloons will be launched in the name of science. Hobbyists launch them with cameras attached to participate in near-space photography, launching photos from distances of up to 200 miles in the air. Even NASA uses weather balloons to monitor the conditions of a launch site before a rocket launch.

A weather balloon kit includes gear that records readings from the upper atmosphere. These readings help scientists predict weather patterns, charting the movement of storms and helping give advance warning of catastrophic storms before they happen. A GPS unit can track the distance of the balloon, and help scientists retrieve it when it falls. An onboard computer can track atmospheric pressure, record moisture levels and other important readings.

These science experiments aren’t just a novel forays into the stratosphere, entire cities rely on this data to plan for natural disasters. Thanks to weather balloons, scientists are able to spot impending thunderstorms and flash floods just before they happen.

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