campus news

UB SEDS to launch weather balloon 15 miles into air at eclipse viewing event

Group photo of UB SEDS members with their weather balloon.

Members of UB’s Students for the Development and Exploration of Space (SEDS) — Jesse Kopasz, Brian Syzbist, Krish Patel, Ruben Jovel, Nick McNally, John Cerne, Richie Magnani and Arnav Mohapatra — pose with the weather balloon they'll launch on April 8 shortly before the total solar eclipse. Photo: Douglas Levere


Published April 1, 2024

“This is a rare occurrence and it’s happening right over our school. ”
Richard Magnani, president
Students for the Development and Exploration of Space

Members of UB’s Students for the Development and Exploration of Space (SEDS) are inviting the UB community to join them in viewing the upcoming eclipse — not only from the ground, but also through footage gathered by a 360-degree GoPro camera attached to a weather balloon launched 80,000 feet into the air.

“This is a rare occurrence and it’s happening right over our school,” says SEDS President Richard Magnani. “We want to get some cool footage of it from about as high a vantage point you can get before reaching space with our on-board camera.”

On April 8, the club will launch the balloon at 1 p.m. ahead of the solar eclipse. The launch precedes the university’s viewing event at 2 p.m. in the grassy field along Lee Road near Lake LaSalle and the University Bookstore. Free snacks and solar eclipse glasses will be available. SEDS members will have a solar telescope on hand to provide visitors with another view of the eclipse, and will also guide guests through eclipse eye safety.

The weather balloon is a revival of a project that SEDS students took part in prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. While primarily used to measure weather factors, such as humidity and temperature, weather balloons can also be used to collect altitude data. Led by Nick McNally, a graduate student studying aerospace engineering, the project gives students experience working in strict high-altitude constraints and the challenges that come with below-freezing temperatures and low oxygen.

“Keeping this project in the UB SEDS spirit of hands-on learning, we're trying to make everything ourselves, within reason,” Magnani says. “We’re not making a latex balloon ourselves, but we are sewing our own parachutes, as well as a few other components, like a student-made printed computer board (PCB) altimeter.”

The students will conduct other experiments as part of the launch, including attaching undeveloped film to the balloon to test the effects of the sun’s radiation on the film.

The balloon launch is highly weather dependent, Magnani adds. SEDS will use a program to track the trajectory of the balloon a couple of days before the launch to make sure factors like the wind will not take the balloon off course. If the weather allows, footage will be available on the UB SEDS YouTube channel after the flight. The viewing party will be held if the sun is visible.  

To learn more about the eclipse ahead of the event, the UB community is invited to join SEDS at 6:30 p.m. on April 4 in 110 Knox Hall for a presentation on the eclipse and the creation of the weather balloon.