Weather Blog

Why was a rubber chicken sent to the edge of Earth's atmosphere?

Why was a rubber chicken sent to the edge of Earth's atmosphere? »Play Video
Camilla at about 115,000 feet. (Courtesy: NASA & Earth to Sky Calculus Class, Bishop, Calif.)

Blog originally posted April 23, 2012

What do you do if you're a group of science-minded middle and high school students who want to study the effects of a solar flare?

If you're part of Dr. Tony Phillips' Earth to Sky Calculus class in Bishop, California, you strap a rubber chicken to a weather balloon and send it 115,000 feet up to the Earth's stratosphere -- right on the front door to outer space.

The class has used weather balloons before but as NASA Science reports, this time they were studying the effects of the massive solar flare that occurred in mid-March.

The rubber chicken comes courtesy of NASA -- "Camilla" is the official mascot of the agency's Solar Dynamics Observatory. So what better way to study the effects of the sun by sending Camilla along for the ride?

Each balloon was equipped with radiation sensors, along with a few other research items such as insects and sunflower seeds (which they've planted upon return), to see the effects, if any, of the storm. The class sent up one balloon with Camilla on March 3 before the solar storm hit, then again on March 10 during the peak of the storm, NASA said. They're still waiting for analysis to be completed.

But oh, what a view Camilla had. Weather balloons typically reach altitudes of about 100,000 feet or so before the balloon finally pops. (The National Weather Service weather balloon launched from Forks, Washington Saturday morning made it to 103,000 feet). At that altitude, you're above 99 percent of the Earth's atmosphere and temperatures can be colder than -70F.

And what happens when the balloon finally does pop? In a word: chaos:



(Not to worry, Camilla had a safe landing in the desert.)

Phillips and his class have big plans for this spring and summer, with projects to photograph the Lyrid meteor shower and efforts to launch a satellite that will take pictures and video of the Northern Lights.

Find out more about their projects from Science@NASA. And you can always follow Camilla on Twitter and on Facebook