Weather Balloon

Student Bailee McMahon holds a weather balloon Tuesday in a physics classroom at Southwestern Oregon Community College that will be launched by students Friday at the campus.

COOS BAY — For the second time ever, students at Southwestern Oregon Community College will be launching a high-altitude weather balloon to collect a wide range of meteorological data in the area.

As part of a student-led project, the Southwestern Physics Experimental Atmospheric Research (SPEAR) team will release the helium filled balloon Friday beginning at 2 p.m. from the Henry Hansen Square on campus.

SWOCC physics instructor Dr. Aaron Coyner said the team will be able to gather information regarding the area’s temperature, dew point, pressure and wind speeds using radio sounding instruments attached to the balloon.

“The advantage of the launch is that we’ll be better able to do weather predictions and weather forecasting,” Dr. Coyner said. “The more data we collect over time the more we’ll be able to build up a climate database that we can also track changes with.”

The balloon will transmit information through its attached radio instrument to a laptop monitored by the SPEAR team. Last June, the group conducted their first launch, which reached heights of 40,000 feet before popping. The balloon had traveled up the coast near Florence and then inland toward Eugene, before it lost contact with the team’s radio system, said Dr. Coyner.

“The launch in June was sort of a test flight for us,” Dr. Coyner said. “We got a lot of help from a colleague of mine, Matthew Fisher, a biology teacher from Oregon Coast Community College, who had worked with the Oregon NASA Space Grant Consortium to perform a balloon launch during last year’s eclipse.”

According to Dr. Coyner, all the equipment and balloons acquired by the SPEAR team to conduct these types of launches were from donated materials by OSGC. With the extra balloons, he said he hopes to continue doing launches at least once a quarter.

“We’ll probably do our next one in January or February,” said Dr. Coyner. “I’d like to find different places to do future launches just to get some comparative data and see what the variations are.”

While the launch isn’t a part of his class curriculum, Dr. Coyner said it will give students who volunteer a chance to gain some firsthand research and field experience that they could transfer to their studies beyond SWOCC.

This time, the team is looking to add more helium to its weather balloon with the hopes of reaching a higher altitude and more air time.

“We wanted to make this a public event to bring more awareness to these types of projects,” Dr. Coyner said. “We hope it brings interested parties, either students or community members together to future launches.”

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