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Students touch space with balloon experiment

Published: May. 3, 2012 at 7:49 PM CDT|Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 at 4:59 PM CST
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RIDGELAND, MS (Mississippi News Now) - A group of Ridgeland middle schoolers are taking learning to new heights. Recently they conducted an experiment that is quickly gaining them attention, and almost a world record.

On March 3, students in the science and the radio and technology club, and their teachers launched a giant weather balloon, with experiments and a digital camera, into the air in Gluckstadt.

The goal of the students was to get the balloon as high as they could into the stratosphere.

"We had 14 different experiments we sent to near space," said Science Department chair Bobby Robinson.

"It has communications gear, tracking gear from amateur radio that allows us to chase it down and recover everything," says History teacher Bill Richardson.

Students tracked the balloon, and followed it through re-entry, landing in Asheville, Alabama, 300 miles away. When they looked at the camera, they were amazed.

"We took about 1300 pictures, some of them were absolutely amazing, literally out of this world."

The images showed the edges of space, a middle school science project that soared 18 miles into the air.

"We talked to pilots and so forth that have been that high and they say yeah that's the real thing and you can see the very thin blue atmosphere and you're out of the oxygen, there's no oxygen up there," said Richardson.

The experimental camera even caught a glimpse of a high speed light particle, never captured before.

"I even showed this to a guy that works at NASA; I sent it to him and he called me back, he's and astrophysicist. He goes, I've never seen this, never seen anything like it," said Robinson.

The students also came close to breaking a world record, while tracking their balloon by radio, becoming number two in the world for VHF telemetry distance reception.  (HAM radio operators could hear the beacon in their balloon that far away!)

Instructors say the experiment has peaked their students interest in science, and their desire to learn.

Richardson says, "Back in the 60's we put a man on the moon, we built things no one had ever heard of, that's what I want them to do is be better than they could ever imagine."

Copyright 2012 WLBT. All rights reserved.