Above: The Let’s Talk Science Outreach sites at the University of Guelph, McMaster University and the University of Toronto Mississauga worked together to launch a high altitude helium balloon in April 2016 (Courtesy of Kurt Faris)
Filling the balloon with helium (Courtesy of Let’s Talk Science at the University of Guelph)

In April 2016, three Let’s Talk Science Outreach sites worked together to send a helium balloon to the edge of space. It was the first time that volunteers from the University of Guelph, McMaster University and the University of Toronto Mississauga had participated in the the National High Altitude Balloon Experiment.

Our latex balloon was launched from Harriston-Minto and landed about 45 km away in Keldon, Ontario. It was outfitted with several different sensors that collected atmospheric data during the two-hour journey. Along with video footage, the experiment gathered information on altitude, temperature, pressure, humidity, and ozone.

The balloon climbed just over 25 kilometres into the sky. That’s above the troposphere, where the weather we experience on Earth develops.

April 28, 2016 High Altitude Balloon Launch: Time vs. Altitude

In fact, the balloon climbed all the way to the top of the stratosphere, where ozone concentrations are at their highest.

April 28, 2016 High Altitude Balloon Launch: Ozone vs. Altitude

There are two more layers of the atmosphere above the stratosphere: the mesosphere, where meteors burn up, and the thermosphere, where auroras (Northern and Southern Lights) occur. Still, by the time the balloon reached the top of the stratosphere, pressure had gone almost all the way down to zero.

April 28, 2016 High Altitude Balloon Launch: Pressure vs. Altitude

At an altitude of about 11 kilometres, the temperature dropped below -40 degrees Celsius. But then the temperature increased again as the balloon continued further up into the atmosphere. In fact, it was warmer at 25 kilometres above the surface of the earth than it was on that April day in Harriston-Minto. That’s because of how ozone absorbs UV radiation from the sun.

April 28, 2016 High Altitude Balloon Launch: Temperature vs. Altitude

Our first high altitude balloon launch was a big success and we hope to do another one in 2017.

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