100,000-foot-high livestream planned for August 21 solar eclipse

PHOTO: Start of the Total Lunar Eclipse as seen from Denver Colorado, Photo Date: 9/27/15 - Photo: Ed Clemente / MGN
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LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska will be one of the best locations in America to view this summer’s total solar eclipse, and the state has caught the attention of scientists working with NASA.

According to Lora Young, representing the Nebraska Eclipse Coalition, an organization formed to promote Nebraska as a top travel destination for the August 21 solar eclipse, NASA scientists have targeted two Nebraska locations, Grand Island and Alliance, for their High Altitude Ballooning Program.

“The Nebraska High Altitude Ballooning Program is one of over 50 teams participating in a nationwide project to launch weather balloons with scientific payloads during the total solar eclipse on August 21,” Young said.

For an interactive map showing when a specific area will experience the eclipse, click here.

In what could be the space agency's most-watched livestream on record, more than 50 high altitude balloons with video equipment attached to them will beam back live images of the eclipse from an altitude as high as 100,000 feet.

Dr. Peggy Norris, PhD, a physicist and science educator at Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead, South Dakota, is leading a South Dakota team of undergraduates and high school students and teachers to conduct high altitude balloon flights in Western Nebraska.

“The Eclipse Ballooning Project will launch a high altitude balloon system from the Scottsbluff area to intercept the eclipse on August 21 as it passes through western Nebraska, including tracking and cutdown systems, a video imaging payload with live streaming to a NASA website, and detectors to measure cosmic rays and look for changes due to changing atmospheric conditions during the eclipse,” said Dr. Norris.

“The balloons, which reach heights of up to 100,000 feet, will be broadcasting live from 20 sites along the eclipse path including Alliance. The broadcast will be seen on NASA TV and NASA.gov with real time footage of the moon’s shadow on Earth and the darkened sun,” Dr. Norris said.

The public is invited to attend a viewing event in Alliance on Eclipse Day that includes telescopes, pictures from the balloon and other eclipse related activities in Alliance. The group will be set up at Alliance High School, one of the public viewing sites along the eclipse centerline.

According to Michael Sibbernsen, a Special Projects Facilitator for the NASA Nebraska Space Grant, and Lecturer of Astronomy at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, it’s been 63 years since Nebraska has experienced a total solar eclipse.

“Although solar eclipses of some type happen on an average of about 2.5 times per year, and total solar eclipses around every 18 months, what is rare is having the chance to experience one in your part of the world. The last total solar eclipse in the contiguous United States was 38 years ago, and 63 years for the state of Nebraska,” Sibbernsen said.

“On August 21st, the ‘path of totality’ where we find the deepest part of the Moon’s dark shadow, will forge a trail through the United States, and diagonally through Nebraska from Scottsbluff to Falls City.

“Nebraska is an ideal location for eclipse hunters because over 250 miles of Interstate 80 lies within the path of totality, allowing observers an easy route to travel to their home-base of choice or to stay mobile should the weather turn overcast,” Sibbernsen said.

Another balloon launch will take place at the Stuhr Museum in Grand Island. That team is supported by NASA Nebraska Space Grant based at the University of Nebraska-Omaha and led by Dr. Kendra Sibbernsen, PhD from Metropolitan Community College. Dr. Sibbernsen’s student teams from Omaha is designing experimental payloads to take data during the balloon flight from Stuhr Museum.

“Grand Island was selected as a base of operations because it is easy to travel to on I-80, is near the centerline of the path of totality and will provide us with over 2 1/2 minutes of darkness,” Dr. Sibbernsen said.

“Historical meteorological data suggests that we will have a 70-75 percent chance of having favorable weather to see the eclipse and the Stuhr Museum has a large flat open observing field giving us nice views of the sky. Even if it is cloudy, we should get good images of the shadow of the eclipse once the balloon ascends above the clouds,” Dr. Sibbernsen said.

“In addition to the large public event planned at the Stuhr Museum, a research team plans to set up a tower and take meteorological data before, during, and after the eclipse. Therefore, a lot of science will be taking place amidst the fun and excitement of viewing the total solar eclipse.”

The Nebraska Eclipse Coalition is comprised of 10 Nebraska communities that will have some of the longest views of the total solar eclipse. They are Scottsbluff, Gering, Alliance, North Platte, Kearney, Hastings, Grand Island, Lincoln, and Beatrice. Although Omaha is not in the direct path, it is also a Coalition member due to the expected large demand on air travel and hotel rooms.

“More than 200 Nebraska communities and nearly 30,000 square miles, or nearly 40 percent of Nebraska lie within the path of totality of the 2017 total solar eclipse. Many of these communities are in the process of planning major hosting events,” Young said.

Nebraskans are urged to learn more, including lodging, special viewing events, best viewing areas, and a countdown clock by visiting neclipse17.com.

For more information on the event provided by the National Park Service, click here.