Mines News

Release Date Friday, October 13, 2023

South Dakota Mines Team Heads to New Mexico to Help Record Saturday's Eclipse

Students work to fill a weather balloon as part of their preparations to record the ring of fire eclipse on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023.

A ring of fire eclipse will light up the sky on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023, and a team from South Dakota Mines (SDM) will be working to capture it on camera.

Jason Ash, Ph.D., an associate professor of mechanical engineering at SDM, will be taking students from the university and area high schools to Farmington, N.M., which is within the path of the eclipse, to capture it on video in real-time from a weather balloon. The work is all part of the Nationwide Eclipse Ballooning Project, an initiative spearheaded by Montana State University, incorporating 80 universities/institutions nationwide. Teams will launch video equipment to record the eclipse on Oct. 14 and again during the total eclipse on April 8, 2024.

The eclipse will be live-streamed in real time, says Peggy Norris, Ph.D., who is retired from the Sanford Underground Research Facility and is volunteering with the project. Norris says the balloon will serve two purposes during its launch: collecting atmospheric data and broadcasting the eclipse in real time.

Ash says it takes upwards of two hours for the balloon to rise to its expected height, around 100,000 feet above the Earth's surface. The balloon will collect and send data using an RFD link during its flight. Once the balloon returns to Earth, the team from SDM will retrieve the payload instrumentation to gather additional data that will be collectively pooled by all teams for broader research and public release. 

Ash explains that the university is within a pod of Midwestern universities, with SDM as the lead for the collaborators within South Dakota and Wyoming and the University of Minnesota as the overall pod lead. Funding for the overall project comes from the NASA Science Mission Directorate and National Space Grant Foundation with additional support from the NASA South Dakota Space Grant Consortium.

With the team arriving in Farmington on Thursday, Ash says, "We'll do some additional outreach-related activities and ensure the payload instrumentation is ready to go and prepared so that, Saturday morning, we can launch those on time." Ash adds that the group will be split into a launch team, a ground station team to do the tracking and a recovery team.

This project has involved students at SDM and various West River and western Wyoming high schools, including Spearfish, Lakota Tech and Newcastle, and a teacher from Southwest Middle School.

South Dakota Mines students are capitalizing on this project to help inspire future research. This semester, Evie Chang, a senior electrical engineering major, joined the project. She wanted to participate because she was interested in helping with the radio frequency from the balloon and says there are plenty of opportunities to tie the work from the ballooning project into what she is learning in the classroom.

"I think there are opportunities for me to tie this into my senior design project or at least get more experience working with radio frequencies," Chang says. "Dr. Ash talked to me about increasing the signal-to-noise ratio for the cameras, so I think we can get a better range and just a better signal in general, and that would be my potential future project."

For those in South Dakota who want to view Saturday's eclipse, Norris says the eclipse will be at about 60% within the area.


About South Dakota Mines  

Founded in 1885, South Dakota Mines is one of the nation’s leading engineering, science and technology universities. South Dakota Mines offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees and a best-in-class education at an affordable price. The university enrolls 2,493 students with an average class size of 24. The South Dakota Mines placement rate for graduates is 98 percent, with an average starting salary of more than $70,036. For these reasons  South Dakota Mines is ranked among the best engineering schools in the country for return on investment. Find us online at www.wnolkl.com and on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Snapchat.