Editor’s note: Oklahoma City-based Caisson Biotech sponsored a recent high school scientific project that was out of this world. A group of high school students in California launched a helium balloon to measure radiation in the Earth’s upper atmosphere after what is known as a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) by the sun. Below are the results:
STUDENTS MEASURE ‘FORBUSH DECREASE’: On Sept. 12th, a CME hit Earth’s magnetic field, igniting the most intense geomagnetic storm of the year. The students of Earth to Sky Calculus quickly launched a helium balloon to the stratosphere to see what effect the storm was having on Earth’s upper atmosphere. They expected to measure more radiation than usual. Instead, they measured less. This plot shows a sharp drop in high energy radiation on Sept. 12th compared to previous flights in May, June, and August:
What caused this counterintuitive drop? Answer: When the CME swept past Earth, it swept aside many of the cosmic rays that normally surround our planet. The effect is called a “Forbush Decrease,” named after physicist Scott E. Forbushwho first described it.
Wherever CMEs go, cosmic rays are deflected by magnetic fields inside the CME. Forbush decreases have been observed on Earth and in Earth orbit onboard Mir and the ISS. The Pioneer 10 and 11 and Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft have experienced them, too, beyond the orbit of Neptune. Now high school students have detected a Forbush Decrease in the stratosphere using little more than an insulated lunchbox and a helium balloon.
The balloon’s lunchbox-payload is shown in the top photo suspended more than 100,000 feet above the Sierras of central California.
Inside the payload, there was an ionizing radiation sensor (energy range: 10.0 KeV to 20.0 MeV), a cryogenic thermometer, multiple GPS altimeters and trackers, and three cameras. During the 2.5 hour flight, the buoy collected more than 50 gigabytes of video and science data ranging in altitude from 8,500 ft to 113,700 ft above sea level. The analysis is still underway.
The students wish to thank Caisson Biotech LLC for sponsoring this flight. Note their logo on the upper right corner of the payload!