Somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, a Styrofoam cooler filled with GPS equipment and GoPro cameras floats toward Nova Scotia. The cooler, with a popped balloon and parachute attached, is actually the body of a weather balloon that the Colgate Engineering Club designed and built.
The club launched the balloon on October 5, and they tracked its flight via satellite GPS. It passed within a quarter mile of the Ho Science Center and then drifted east until atmospheric pressure burst the balloon, parachuting the cooler into the ocean 70 miles off Cape Cod.
“The balloon reached a height of about 120,000 feet, which is three to four times the height that a commercial airliner flies at,” said physics major Brendan Corrodi ’18 (Medfield, Mass.), the president and co-founder of the club. “If we had the video, you could see the curvature of the Earth.”
The group continued to track the cooler as it floated in the ocean; physics majors Stephen Paolini ’18 (Amherst, N.Y.) and Austin Chawgo ’18 (Oswego, N.Y.) led the mission to recover it. They contacted the Cape Cod Coast Guard for help, and used public-access GPS data to reach out to nearby fishing boats.
“A lot of the boats in the area were commercial non-trap lobster boats,” said Paolini, who is the project manager of the club. “They could potentially sail past and scoop it right up in their nets, but none were near enough.”
The balloon’s GPS stopped transmitting on October 9 and the group abandoned the rescue mission, but they hope that the cooler will make it to the shores of Nova Scotia intact and be found. “My phone number is on the side, so if someone finds it, we might get a nice Christmas present,” Corrodi said.
If the weather balloon makes it back to Colgate, the club will be able to recover the GoPro video footage of its journey and reuse the equipment for another launch. In the meantime, they can use the GPS data to analyze wind patterns, air currents in the jet stream, and even ocean currents.