Professional Weatherman Takes Amateur Path to Near Space

YouTube videos of students and other amateurs sending balloon-borne cameras to the edge of space inspired Peter Gibbs to try it himself. But when you’re a weather presenter at the BBC, you can do things a little differently. Rather than release his balloon in the British countryside, he and a camera crew traveled to Malawi in eastern Africa.

Preparing the insulated instrument module in the Malawi countryside (Source: BBC)

Preparing the insulated instrument module in the Malawi countryside (Source: BBC)

Part of the motivation was science. There isn’t a lot of high-altitude data from the tropics. A climate researcher at the University of Reading loaned Gibbs a Geiger counter to measure radiation in the upper atmosphere. The data will contribute to research into the effect of solar wind and cosmic rays on cloud formation. GPS and altitude data recorded during the flight will help a researcher at Copenhagen University evaluate weather forecast models.

You can read Gibbs' article and watch the video at the BBC's website.

The brilliant thing about Gibbs’ project is that anyone can do it. Maybe not the travel to Africa bit, but the science is totally doable. Gibbs isn’t finished with his experiments. His future balloons will hover at altitude rather than rising until they burst. Catching the right jetstream would send the balloon around the world.

Check out our feature article on amateur Near Space ballooning to learn more.