Oregon Coast Community College Students Study Eclipse

Students at Oregon Coast Community College are interested in the upcoming total solar eclipse. In fact, they’re so interested that they’re out to get a closer look. A group of students from the OCCC STEM Club (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) are participating in a research project led by the Oregon NASA Space Grant Consortium. On the day of the eclipse, Monday, Aug. 21, the group will send aloft [several] high-altitude balloon to take precise measurements of the atmosphere before, during and after the moon’s shadow passes.

“Similar data will be collected at various points across the country as the eclipse moves along from west to east,” OCCC biology instructor Matthew Fisher said. “Ours will be the first airborne platform to experience the eclipse.” Fisher, who supports the student STEM club, said the project is just the first in a new atmospheric research program that OCCC students will be pursuing well into the future. The National Weather Service launches observation stations, called radiosondes, every day from nearly 100 locations across the country. They help provide the baseline data used to create accurate weather forecasts. The OCCC radiosonde would be the first on the Oregon Coast.

According to a National Weather Service web page, radiosondes are small, expendable instrument packages weighing 250 to 500 grams. Each is suspended below a large balloon inflated with hydrogen or helium gas.  As the radiosonde rises at about 300 meters/minute (about 1,000 feet/minute), sensors on the radiosonde transmit pressure, temperature, relative humidity and GPS position data each second.

The eclipse will provide a rare opportunity to measure the effects of the moon’s shadow on temperature, wind speed and other conditions at altitudes of as high as 115,000 feet. After the eclipse, Fisher said OCCC hopes this group of students, and future students who join the volunteer STEM club, will continue the College’s ongoing atmospheric study efforts.

Preparing for launch

This summer, the OCCC STEM club is hard at work preparing for the eclipse monitoring project. Later this month, from July 20 to 23, the group will travel to the University of Montana in Missoula to train and conduct test balloon launches. That preparation will continue with more tests in Oregon in August. After the eclipse, in November, the OCCC group plans to present its findings at the Oregon NASA Space Grant Student Consortium at Oregon State University in Corvallis.

To learn more, follow the OCCC STEM Club on Facebook or contact Fisher, at matthew.fisher@oregoncoastcc.org.

Information and photo provided by OCCC