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In Print: Balloon Returns Home, Earthshaking Stadium

The Newscripts blog would like to be closer Internet buddies with our glossy print Newscripts column, so here we highlight what’s going on in this week’s issue of C&EN.

Weather Balloon_Newscripts121613_Blog

Homeward Bound: Lyles holds AMET’s weather balloon as it prepares for one wild ride. Credit: Dahlon Lyles

Purdue University‘s Association of Mechanical & Electrical Technologists (AMET)–a hands-on STEM-oriented student organization that works on everything from robots to Rube Goldberg devices to rockets–expected the weather balloon that it launched on Nov. 16 to return to Purdue’s West Lafayette, Ind., campus. As this week’s Newscripts column describes, however, the trek back home was anything but predictable.

Takeoff of the balloon started easily enough, as this video from the balloon shows:

When the balloon reached an altitude of 40,000 feet, however, AMET lost all contact. As a result, the organization didn’t know the kinds of spectacular views their balloon was enjoying as it ascended to a height of 95,000 feet above Earth. That ascension is captured in the following videos:

Because everything that goes up must come down, the balloon soon plummeted back to Earth:

And it wound up in the soybean fields of Joseph Recker, who lives near the town of Kalida in northwestern Ohio, 170 miles from Purdue’s campus. The crash landing can be seen at the 16 minute, 10 second, mark of the following video:

But that’s only the start of the weather balloon’s incredible journey. After finding the balloon in his fields, Recker noticed it had a variety of expensive-looking devices on it, including a radiation monitor, GPS unit, pressure sensors, temperature sensors, and accelerometers. Correctly presuming that the balloon’s owners would want their expensive device returned to them, Recker tried playing the balloon’s video camera for clues about who had launched the device.

Unfortunately, Recker didn’t have the equipment needed to watch the video at home, so he took the camera to a nearby fertilizer facility. There, Recker was able to play the video, which, at its beginning, had captured a number of students setting up the balloon for launch. Noticing that many of these students were wearing Purdue apparel, Recker put two and two together and contacted the university.

“None of us believed that we’d ever see the balloon again,” says Dahlon P. Lyles, AMET project manager and a Purdue student researcher. “And so all of us were just amazed that it survived and how much effort the farmer went through to actually find it and get it returned.”

Lyles tells Newscripts that, since returning back home, the balloon has been signed by all AMET members and placed in the organization’s workroom alongside other burst balloons. And the balloon doesn’t just serve as a cool trophy for the organization. The balloon has also provided AMET with atmospheric information that it needs to realize its hopes of launching a rocket into space next year.

Moving from hopes of entering outer space to hopes of entering the playoffs, the second part of this week’s Newscripts column revisits the Dec. 2 football game in which the New Orleans Saints visited the Seattle Seahawks. The game held playoff implications for both teams, who are among the best in their conference. The way the game went, however, was slightly unexpected.

The Saints were crushed by the Seahawks, 34 to 7, and the Seahawks made national headlines for generating an earthquake with a magnitude between 1 and 2 during the celebration of a fumble recovery that the Seahawks returned for a touchdown. Alert readers may remember that Seahawks fans made similar headlines during a 2011 playoff game, when the celebration of a touchdown run by Marshawn Lynch resulted in another earthquake. The Seahawks opponent in that game? You guessed it: the Saints.

These are impressive displays of fanaticism, for sure, but there are some potential misconceptions that can result from such stories. For starters, according to John Vidale, the seismologist at Pacific Northwest Seismic Network (PNSN) who monitored earthquake activity during the Dec. 2 game, not every Seahawks game is checked for seismic activity. In fact, the 2011 and 2013 Saints games previously mentioned in this post are the only two times PNSN has ever checked for seismic activity during a Seahawks game. (Fun side note: The earthquake generated by fans in 2011 garnered such media attention that Lynch’s agent actually contacted PNSN, offering to have his client make a promotional video for the organization. Unfortunately, this video never came to fruition.)

What’s more, says engineer John Hooper, the seismic activity around the Seahawks’ CenturyLink Field might very well be similar to the activity around other stadiums during games. The problem is that other stadiums don’t monitor such activity, he says, giving the Seahawks stadium the appearance of being a uniquely raucous environment.

Hooper works as director of earthquake engineering for Seattle-based Magnusson Klemencic Associates, the engineering firm that designed CenturyLink Field, so he is definitely knowledgeable about the stadium’s inner workings. He adds that CenturyLink Field was not specifically designed to amplify fans’ cheers. The stadium “just happens to do a very good job of amplifying on its own,” says Hooper. This is particularly noteworthy since, during the Dec. 2 game, Seahawks fans actually set a Guinness World Record as the loudest crowd at a sports stadium ever. So Seahawks fans should definitely take pride in their raucous behavior. Their loud cheering, without any help from their stadium, truly is one-of-a-kind.

Also of note, Hooper reveals that his firm has actually designed the new stadium that Seahawks archrivals the San Francisco 49ers will move into next year. Laughs Hooper, the 49ers “probably won’t like the fact that we designed their stadium and we’re from Seattle, but that’s OK. That’s OK.”

 

 

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