A stunning photo taken from a height of 117600 feet, or 35850 metre, above Alberta, Canada, by the Southern Alberta Balloon Launch Experiment #3 (SABLE-3). (Credits: Tony Rafaat for the SABLE-3 collaboration)
Ballooning has a long and outstanding tradition in scientific research - from the early heroic ascents of Jacques Charles and Joseph Gay-Lussac to the discovery of cosmic rays by Victor Hess and the modern-day experiments such as Boomerang.
Never mind if you have not heard before of the Southern Alberta Balloon Launch Experiment #3 (SABLE-3) - it's not really a large scale experiment, but the endeavour of a group of avid Canadian amateur scientists. What they do, though, is extremely stunning:
Take a standard KCI 1200 Sounding Balloon, add as a payload a digital camera and a FM transmitter coupled to a GPS receiver, and let it fly! The camera takes a photo every minute, while the balloon climbs to a height of roughly 33 km, where it will burst and fall down on a parachute. Due to the tracking device, the position of the balloon and the camera is known during the whole flight, and the payload can be recovered.
During the flight over Alberta on Saturday, August 11, 2007, the balloon reached a top height of nearly 36 km, and travelled a distance of about 100 km. The SABLE-3 website shows much more stunning photos taken during the flight, and documents the preparation of the launch and the recovery of the camera. It shows also a map of the flight path of the balloon.
It's really amazing what you can do with quite inexpensive equipment and a lot of enthusiasm - I just wonder if one needs the vast open spaces of Alberta to do such an experiment!
UPDATE (September 7, 2007): Thanks to SABLE-3 collaboration member James Ewen (VE6SRV), here is the link to a radio interview with Tony Rafaat (RealPlayer) by CBC Calgary - you should absolutely listen to it: Tony Rafaat tells about how he came to the idea, some mishaps with SABLE-1 and SABLE-2, and explains exciting details about the SABLE-3 flight, the tracking, the fear that the falling balloon may cause some harm, and whether the camera had survived the freezing cold of the stratosphere ...
- The idea of the Southern Alberta Balloon Launch Experiment goes back to Tony Rafaat, a photographer based in Hanna, Alberta, Canada. The experiment was covered, for example, in The Globe and Mail - from where I have borrowed the catchy title - , and the Edmonton Journal.
- For a great overview of scientific ballooning, see Julian Nott's talk Intellectual Courage and Scientific Ballooning - Exploring Landscapes Near & Far at the KITP.
TAGS: Scientific Ballooning, Physics