A group of eighth-grade science campers and their teachers in Owego, N.Y., are asking for help locating their lost weather balloon project.
The students from Owego Apalachin Middle School launched the helium-filled balloon about 80,000 feet into the stratosphere Tuesday morning and expected it to land somewhere north of Allentown, said science teacher John Heath.
They hoped a still camera and video camera in a 1-foot-by-1-foot foam cooler attached to the balloon would snag some NASA-quality photos on a school budget.
They were counting on two GPS apps running on Heath's iPhone -- also inside the cooler -- to help them find the balloon once it landed. The campers and their teachers surmised Thursday they had put too many hand warmers in the cooler to offset the minus-50 degree stratosphere.
“Where we think we went critically wrong is temperature,” Heath said. “If it got too hot and shut down, both of our GPS options were gone.”
After the initial launch, about twelve students and their teachers loaded into a van and traveled an hour and a half to a McDonald's in Pittston, to wait for the 9-foot-wide balloon to land, but the GPS malfunction left them in the dark, Heath said.
Sean Rowland, meteorologist and operations manager with Hackettstown-based WeatherWorks, said that based on quick modeling and a few calculations, the balloon likely would have landed somewhere in Pennsylvania in northern Luzerne, Sullivan or Lycoming counties. Pinpointing a more specific location would require figuring out when the balloon popped, he said.
Upper-level winds would have determined where the balloon made its final landing, Rowland said. A strong jet stream -- a focused area of strong winds in the upper atmosphere -- could push the balloon 200 miles from where it initially launched, he said.
Rowland added in an email that the mid-upper level winds that day were from the northwest. In the summer, it's more common for the wind to come from the west, so the science project may have ended up further southeast than anticipated, Rowland wrote.
Wherever it landed, the teachers and their campers hope someone stumbles upon the bright orange parachute attached to the cooler, sealed with bright orange duct tape.
Heath said prediction websites at the time of launch said it should have landed between Hazleton and Allentown, but could have landed as far south as Philadelphia or as far north as Wilkes-Barre. The GPS would have helped the campers get a more precise location once it landed.
Some of the campers were angry they didn't find their weather balloon, and others were disappointed they made the journey without results, Heath said. But they all want to go back to the drawing board and launch another balloon in the fall.
"I've kind of come to the realization that we probably won't recover it,” Heath said. “But it's always fun to hold onto a little bit of hope.”
Students and their teachers from Owego Apalachin Middle School in Owego, N.Y., ask anyone who finds their Styrofoam cooler containing camera equipment to notify Sandy Stiles at [email protected]