Science Diary: Lightning – Lost

Music
Ambience: thunderstorm
“We finally had the weather, and we flew into a storm that looked like just a perfect flight.”

Welcome to Pulse of the Planet’s Science Diaries, a glimpse of the world of science from the inside. Atmospheric Physicist Richard Sonnenfeld and his students have just successfully launched an instrument designed to study lightning. The instrument is carried aloft into a storm by a weather balloon. However, once in the air, things don’t go quite as planned.

“We tracked it out to twenty miles, but there was a serious problem. The cut-down package, which is supposed to cut the balloon free and let the instrument return to earth – it failed. But when we noticed that because the package went up beyond ten kilometers and it wasn’t coming down. Finally, it started to come down, and we thought that the cut-down package had operated but we didn’t know why it was coming down so slowly. And just as it got to that point, it turned around and went back up. It was back up at seven and a half kilometers altitude, when the batteries died. So, we kissed it goodbye. The package was there. It had valuable data on it. But we couldn’t get to it. It was just floating above the earth.”

But then, there’s some good news.

FINDER: “It was coming down pretty fast. We knew it was a weather balloon right away. And found a place to park and went and got it.”

“About four hours after we launched the package, a man from Winston, New Mexico saw our package falling out of the sky. Recognized it as weather-related, and hiked out a half-mile to get it. We’re just pleased as punch.”

Losing an instrument means not only the loss of valuable data, but also the time and money it takes to replace it. You can find out more about Richard Sonnenfeld’s work on pulseplanet.com. Pulse of the Planet’s Science Diaries are made possible by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

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Science Diary: Lightning - Lost

A stroke of luck and a pair of keen eyes rescues a lost instrument.
Air Date:09/10/2007
Scientist:
Transcript:

Music
Ambience: thunderstorm
“We finally had the weather, and we flew into a storm that looked like just a perfect flight.”

Welcome to Pulse of the Planet's Science Diaries, a glimpse of the world of science from the inside. Atmospheric Physicist Richard Sonnenfeld and his students have just successfully launched an instrument designed to study lightning. The instrument is carried aloft into a storm by a weather balloon. However, once in the air, things don’t go quite as planned.

“We tracked it out to twenty miles, but there was a serious problem. The cut-down package, which is supposed to cut the balloon free and let the instrument return to earth - it failed. But when we noticed that because the package went up beyond ten kilometers and it wasn't coming down. Finally, it started to come down, and we thought that the cut-down package had operated but we didn't know why it was coming down so slowly. And just as it got to that point, it turned around and went back up. It was back up at seven and a half kilometers altitude, when the batteries died. So, we kissed it goodbye. The package was there. It had valuable data on it. But we couldn’t get to it. It was just floating above the earth.”

But then, there’s some good news.

FINDER: “It was coming down pretty fast. We knew it was a weather balloon right away. And found a place to park and went and got it.”

“About four hours after we launched the package, a man from Winston, New Mexico saw our package falling out of the sky. Recognized it as weather-related, and hiked out a half-mile to get it. We're just pleased as punch.”

Losing an instrument means not only the loss of valuable data, but also the time and money it takes to replace it. You can find out more about Richard Sonnenfeld’s work on pulseplanet.com. Pulse of the Planet’s Science Diaries are made possible by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

Music