California Student Space Program Looks Down on Meteors

Bishop, California, high school students participating in Earth to Sky Calculus conducted a night mission into Near Space. Their weather balloon carried a camera into the stratosphere to take pictures of the Camelopardarid meteor shower from a different perspective - looking down. You can read about it at the Los Angeles Times, but there’s more to the story.

The students run Earth to Sky Calculus like a small-scale science business. Clients pay to send billboards, greeting cards, and tickets for the occasional cow to the edge of space. The money pays for the balloons, equipment, and the tanks of helium the students need to conduct their research. Last month’s flight was just the latest in dozens of scientific flights the students have sent into Near Space:

  • Last January, Earth to Sky Calculus students flew their Rapid Response Space Weather Payload - x-ray, gamma-ray, and temperature sensors - into Near Space to measure the effects of a geomagnetic storm triggered by an X-class solar storm. A flight last October created a profile of radiation conditions from the surface to an altitude of 27 kilometers.
  • Conditions in Near Space are very similar to conditions on the surface of Mars. A series of Earth to Sky Calculus missions like this June 2014 flight send halobacteria into Near Space to see how well the critters survive the intense ultraviolet radiation and near-vacuum. 
  • Last month's meteor-watching flight was the latest attempt to observe meteors from Near Space. Nasa's Watch the Skies featured a 2012 attempt. Meteor-spotting is harder than you'd think. So far none of the flights have captured pictures of meteors due to weather, technical glitches, and the unpredictable nature of meteor showers. 

Of course you can do science and have fun at the same time:

Ultimately the students want to launch their own space mission. Carl Sagan arranged for the Voyager space probes to carry a golden record into interstellar space. Billions (and billions) of years from now an alien civilization may hear voices from Earth - and some groovy 70’s music. Earth to Sky Calculus’s student Near Space explorers want to bring that into the 21st Century by sending a Golden iPod into orbit with messages from today’s students - and an updated playlist. They already tested the iPod in Near Space (with some help from Camilla the space chicken).

It’s just a matter of time before Bishop’s students boldly send their music where no iPod has gone before.