Photo and video downloads
Photo and videos are provided for use by the media in the links below. Please attribute to Montana State University.
MSU project lead: Dr. Angela Des Jardins, director, Eclipse Ballooning Project
Media contact: Marshall Swearingen, Montana State University Communications
marshall.swearingen [at] montana.edu – (406) 994-5036
Frequently asked questions
The primary goal of the Eclipse Ballooning Project is to livestream aerial footage of the eclipse from the edge of space to NASA’s website for a worldwide audience. The video, plus still photos taken by cameras in the balloon payloads, will provide a resource for scientists who study the effects of the eclipse on cloud formation, among other things.
In addition, some of the balloons will carry instruments for collecting detailed data that could advance understand of the atmospheric effects of the eclipse. Others will carry samples of bacteria as part of a NASA experiment.
Total solar eclipses are rare and awe-inspiring events. Nobody has ever livestreamed aerial video footage of a total solar eclipse before, and we thought it would be an interesting challenge. By livestreaming the video on the internet, we are providing people across the world an opportunity to experience the eclipse in a unique way, even if they are not able to see the eclipse directly. The project also provides a valuable hands-on learning experience for our teams, and contributes to various scientific studies.
The Eclipse Ballooning Project was initiated by Montana Space Grant Consortium at Montana State University in 2014.
The project is sponsored by the NASA Science Mission Directorate and NASA’s Space Grant program, a national network that includes over 900 affiliates from universities, colleges, industry, museums, science centers, and state and local agencies belonging to one of 52 consortia in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
There are 55 teams from across the country who are participating in the project. A list of the universities, colleges, high schools are others who are participating can be found at http://eclipse.montana.edu/programs-of-the-eclipse-ballooning-project/.
Roughly 100 balloons will be launched. The 55 Eclipse Ballooning Project teams will launch one or more balloons from locations across the eclipse’s path of totality.
The teams will launch their balloons from within the eclipse's zone of totality, which is a roughly 70-mile-wide area stretching from Oregon to South Carolina. This map shows the approximate launch locations. Teams may adjust their launch locations based on wind predictions for Aug. 21, because the livestreaming works best when the balloons are closest to the small radio dishes that receive the video signal when they achieve the desired altitude of about 80,000 feet.
The primary payloads carried by each balloon consists of three things: a tracking system, a video system and a still-image system. These hang below the balloon along a line of string nylon cord that is roughly 20 feet long. The tracking system consists of a lightweight modem that communicates with a network of satellites, allowing our teams, as well as air-traffic controllers and others, to see the location and altitude of all of the balloons in real-time. The video system consists of ring of eight small video cameras hooked to a lightweight computer and radio transmitter. The teams can select which camera to transmit in order to have the most desired view. The still-image system consists of single camera hooked to a lightweight computer and radio transmitter. Some of the balloons carry additional equipment according to experiments that are being conducted.
The balloons are roughly eight feet tall when they are filled with helium at the launch sites. They are taller than they are round. After launch, as the balloons rise through the atmosphere, they grow as the atmospheric pressure drops, causing the fixed volume of helium gas to expand.
Each team will launch their balloon(s) roughly 80 minutes prior to the time of eclipse totality at the team’s location. This is done so that the balloons achieve the targeted altitude shortly before totality occurs. Shortly after totality, the balloons will pop because of the low atmospheric pressure, or the balloon’s payload will be cut down using a remotely controlled mechanical system, releasing the balloon, which will rise rapidly and pop.
The total cost of the equipment used by each team, including the balloon payload and the ground-based dish system, costs only $3,500. The money for that portion of the project comes from the NASA Science Mission Directorate. Other costs such as helium, balloons, and student support are borne by each team’s local space grant consortia.
As mentioned above, each balloon carries common payloads to stream live footage to the NASA website. Higher resolution footage will also be stored on the payload computers and will be shared after the eclipse. In combination with data collected by other weather balloons, interesting atmospheric science can be done by examining the clouds in the footage. We will also share all of our images with the Eclipse Mega Movie Project (http://eclipsemega.movie), which will use the images of the last moments of sunlight, called Baily’s Beads, to examine the surface of the sun. In addition, we are partnering with researchers at NASA’s Ames Research Center to fly a special type of resilient bacteria on several balloons. The temperature and pressure conditions at 85,000 feet in Earth atmosphere are similar to those on the surface of Mars. Flying the bacteria to the edge of space provides a unique opportunity to examine how bacteria are able to survive in harsh Martian conditions. Finally, each student team is flying an experiment of their own design. More information about those experiments can be found at http://streameclipse.live.
Several research and education entities will look at the data that is retrieved from the balloon payloads including but not limited to NASA, National Science Foundation, and National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists, the teams’ institutions’ faculty members and students, and the general public.
We hope to gain valuable insight in science, technology, and education arenas. Some of the questions we hope to learn about include: How does our atmosphere react to the sharp shadow of the eclipse speeding across the continent at over 1,500 miles per hour? What does the exact surface of the sun look like? What happens to resilient bacteria when exposed to a Mars-like environment? How do we transmit live video with inexpensive equipment from space-like conditions and over long distances? What happens on the Internet when hundreds of millions of people are watching live streams from the same source at the same time? What can students gain by working together on a massive scientific collaboration? How do we communicate science to the public in a meaningful way?
Each team will use ground-based antennas (it looks similar to a residential satellite TV dish) to receive the video and photo transmission from its balloon. The antennas are connected to a computer, which has an Internet connection. Specially designed software immediately “pushes” the footage from the computer to the Web. Each team will also retrieve the payload(s) once they parachute back to Earth.
The balloons pop and return to Earth separately from the payloads. The balloons are made of a lightweight biodegradable latex and are not re-usable.
Because the balloon payload includes a tracking system, the project teams can know the exact location of the payload at any time. The location data are also used by air traffic controllers and others to track the balloons.
Nobody has ever live-streamed aerial video footage of a total solar eclipse before. Nobody has ever examined eclipse atmospheric effects in as much detail as will be done during this eclipse. Nobody has ever gathered as many photos of Bailey’s Beads as the Eclipse Mega Movie Project will. Nobody has ever tested resilient bacteria on multiple simultaneous high altitude balloon flights. Nobody has ever attempted to fly 55 balloons with identical payloads at the same time across a continent (and these are student teams!). Nobody has ever reached the general public in such high numbers with awe-inspiring ‘edge-of-space’ footage as we will do during the eclipse.
Please be safe! Without special (but low-cost and readily available) protective eyewear, you can only safely look at the eclipse during totality, which occurs for a period of roughly two minutes when viewed from the zone of totality, a roughly 70-mile-wide swath that passes across the continental U.S. from Oregon to South Carolina. Protective eyewear should be worn while viewing the eclipse during all other times and places. For more safety information: http://eclipse2017.nasa.gov.