Science Club launches eight-foot weather balloon

Norfolk Collegiate’s Lower School students gathered around the fall science club members and science teacher John Burnham at the athletic field. It was the day that they had waited for quite some time. It was the day that the students were releasing their eight-foot weather balloon. 

The event was the culmination of several months of study, in which members of the science club explored speed and calculations, and created and tested a paper-tissue hot-air balloon to measure the ascent rate in preparation of the big release.

“It's a project educational activity,” said Burnham. “It’s a combination of mathematical, meteorology and technology. These are fifth graders and in their class, they learned about speed and how to calculate it and this is an application of that lesson.”
For fifth-grade student Malachi Love, the experiment helped visualize what he had learned in class. “It (science club) helps with diameters and circumstances and radiuses. Of course, we took a lot of notes in the science club. I never actually thought this day would come. In my mind, it helps makes it eight-foot because in my mind, I thought, ‘How can this be eight feet?’” 

Before the balloon could be released, Burham had to get permission from Federal Air Administration (FAA) Air Traffic Control to insure the balloon didn’t interfere with surrounding flights. Once permission was granted, Burnham and the science club proceeded to fill the balloon with about 2,200 pounds of helium and a letter to whomever finds the balloon.

Once launched, club members used compasses to try and get a bearing to figure out where the balloon was headed.

“According to our compass readings, the balloon left Norfolk heading due east (bearing 90°),” said Burnham. “Current wind patterns suggest that it will begin tracking northwesterly as it moves into the tail circulation of the low pressure system that went through our area yesterday and last evening.” 

In the past, Burnham has released weather balloons, but it’s been years since the last launch. “I did it years ago and a farmer found it in Poole, Maryland, and returned the letter,” he said.