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NASA, U of I Balloon Launches During Eclipse to Improve Weather Tracking

MOSCOW, Idaho — Oct. 11, 2023 — A team of University of Idaho engineering students is helping NASA gather complex datasets by launching weather balloons during the upcoming annular solar eclipse. 

The data scientists have been working on capturing for decades can improve global weather forecast models and climate change mitigation processes, and the U of I team has been integral to gathering this data. 

U of I is a lead university in the Nationwide Eclipse Ballooning Project (NEBP) and has been training four university teams across the U.S. all year long to successfully track and gather data on gravity waves using weather balloons.  

The U of I team will join about 400 high school and middle school students in Lakeview, Oregon, to launch weather balloons Friday and Saturday, Oct. 13-14, gathering data during a 30-hour launch session held during the annular solar eclipse. All university NEBP teams will be stationed along the path of totality from Oregon to Texas, engaging in launches to gather data.

“If we can improve long-term weather forecasting, that has a global impact on agriculture, aviation, the economy and so much more,” chemical engineering graduate student Konstantine Geranios said. “To do that, we need a lot of data.” 

High school and middle school students will learn about gravity waves and the importance of the solar eclipse. Gravity waves are produced by the loss of solar energy in the atmosphere. The same University of Idaho group will travel to Pennsylvania in April 2024 for launches during the total solar eclipse. The next visible eclipse in the U.S. after 2024 will be in 2044.   

“Gathering data to better describe these gravity waves could vastly improve our weather forecast accuracy and ability to anticipate large weather patterns,” said Matthew Bernards, U of I College of Engineering associate professor and co-project lead. “This is one of the last chances we have to get good data in the U.S., and we’re proud to be a part of the national team of university students committed to this project.” 

Students traveling include Geranios of Spokane, Washington; chemical engineering senior Caeley Hodges of McCall; mechanical engineering sophomore Logan Kearney of Moscow; chemical engineering senior Ashley Keeley of Mukilteo, Washington; mechanical engineering junior Cole Long of Boise; mechanical engineering sophomore Chase Long of Boise; computer science junior Shashwot Niraula of Nepal; and chemical engineering junior Will Schaal of Coeur d’Alene.