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COOS BAY — The Southwestern Physics Experimental Atmospheric Research group conducted its first high-altitude balloon launch of the academic year Saturday at noon, with nearly perfect weather, organizers said.

The balloon, launched from the "quad" on the Southwestern campus, reached a new altitude record of 95,167 feet while recording data using a shoebox-sized weather instrument call a radiosonde inside the balloon.

The Southwestern Physics Experimental Atmospheric Research student group looks to the sky Saturday after a high altitude balloon launch at Sou…

The balloon finally popped with a final pressure of 1/60 at its maximum altitude due to expansion from the lower air pressure. 

The radiosonde landed about 61 miles southeast of campus between Powers and Cow Creek. The data in the radiosonde was saved and analyzed using special software. Early viewing of the skew-T plot showed a clear inversion layer as the balloon crossed into the stratosphere at about 50,000 feet, according to a SPEAR spokesperson.

Weather balloons are launched around the world for observations used to diagnose current conditions for forecasting, such as atmospheric pressure, temperature, relative humidity and wind speed. Specialized uses also exist, such as for aviation interests, pollution monitoring, photography or videography and research.

About 800 locations around the globe do routine releases, twice daily, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The helium or hydrogen-filled weather balloons rise into the atmosphere at about 1,000 feet per minute. 

The Southwestern Physics Experimental Atmospheric Research student group watches updates on a laptop Saturday after a high altitude balloon la…

Overall, only about 20% of radiosondes that drop back to Earth are ever recovered, according to the National Weather Service.

Southwestern's launch was assisted by a grant from the NASA Space Grant Consortium, with help from the radio tower crew at Southwest Oregon Regional Airport.

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