What kid doesn’t love outer space? Not only is it full of mystery and magic, space and the explorations that take us there provide a great opportunity to understand the universe beyond our own world.
We had SO much fun figuring out all the details of sending a weather balloon and Beaker Creatures into space. Hopefully your little ones will have just as much fun watching the video!
To introduce kids to outer space and provide an understanding of our atmosphere, we decided it would be fun to send ice cream to space along with our Astrolyte guides from the planet Starus, our fun friends from the Beaker Creatures’ Super Lab!
Before we get into the excitement of the weather balloon, let’s first understand… Earth’s atmosphere!
“Outer Space” begins at the Karman Line, approximately 62 miles above sea level.
Interestingly enough, our atmosphere actually continues through the Exosphere where it gradually fades into further outer space.
Our weather balloon, with our trustee Beaker Creature friends on board, reached an altitude of 97,000 feet aka 18 miles aka 28 km into the atmosphere; which means that we crossed Earth’s ozone layer!
The Troposphere is where clouds form, and is considered slightly unstable. This layer contains half of the earth’s atmosphere, and all of earth’s weather!
Next, the Stratosphere. We can thank the Stratosphere for giving us our Ozone layer as well as protecting us from harmful sun radiation! The air in the stratosphere is much dryer and thinner than at sea level and thus is the perfect location for jets and weather balloons to fly!
The Mesosphere is a whole other type of protector. There’s not much scientific research that can be done here yet because it’s too high for weather balloons and other in-atmosphere air crafts, and satellites and spaceships orbit outside of this layer. However, this layer is responsible for burning up the meteors heading our way. (Thanks, Mesosphere!)
The thermosphere is the area of our atmosphere where the International Space Station soars and where the temperatures can get up to… 2700 DEGREES FAHRENHEIT!
The farthest layer of our atmosphere is the Exosphere, made up mainly of hydrogen and helium particles.
The higher you get in our atmosphere, the lower the air pressure drops and this is why our balloon popped! Well… plus a few other reasons.
Let’s talk weather balloon!!!
It’s no small feat to send a weather balloon to space. And Oh BOY did we learn that!
First, we found a company that sold full kit weather balloons. This ended up being super helpful, since it came with a GPS unit, a computer that would track our altitude and temperature and a nice rig to build our GoPros, ice cream, and little Astrolyte buddies onto.
Locating a decent launch site is super important, and there are a lot of federal compliances to be aware of. We filed a Notam (Notice to Air Maintenance), learned aeronautical charts, how to calculate nautical miles and how to tell time in Zulu (the “world time”)!
When prepping a weather balloon, every gram added to your payload (what the balloon is carrying below the parachute) is important, every knot tied in the flight line is important; the exact time of launch, ground wind, jet streams, cloud cover, everything you can think of!
A weather balloon is filled with helium because helium is lighter than air and will cause the rise of the balloon. However! Once the balloon starts rising in the atmosphere, the surrounding pressure drops, the helium inside the balloon pushes outward (because now there’s less pushing it inward), and that push stretches the latex until the balloon pops!
For our experiment, the pop happened at 97,000 ft, just above our ozone, inside the inner layer of Stratosphere.
Thankfully, since we had our GPS unit attached, once the weather balloon began descending and crossed below 60,000 feet (our GPS unit works from 0-60k ft, so you lose signal for a period of time), we were able to track its location!
Before the launch we did our best to estimate where it would land. However our balloon was sent to the opposite side of the mountain range because the weather was unpredictable.
(red dot is landing location)
That’s part of the fun of weather balloons, and if your kid is into space, they will love it as well. You calculate, you know so many tiny details, and have so much information but at the end of the day… you never really know where the winds will take you.
The winds that day took us two miles into Death Valley late at night. (What an ADVENTURE!)
But it worked! All our calculations (and some miscalculations), were well worth it. Even our Astrolytes made it back safely!
We learned a substantial amount, had a great time with our new Beaker Creature pals and who knows… maybe our safe landing was thanks to our Astrolyte buddies!