Weather Balloons Launched from the Planetarium

Ozone Garden at the Saint Louis Science Center located outside of the James S. McDonnell Planetarium in Forest Park
Ozone Garden located outside of the entrance to the James S. McDonnell Planetarium

Have you ever wondered how pollution impacts our planet? The Ozone Garden at the Saint Louis Science Center shows firsthand the effects of pollution and climate change on plants in our community. The garden is located just outside the Science Center’s James S. McDonnell Planetarium in Forest Park and is free to the public. Saint Louis University, the Science Center, and the Missouri Botanical Garden teamed up to create this garden to educate the public on air quality and the impacts that the ozone has on living organisms.

For the last two years, the Saint Louis Science Center and SLU’s Center for Environmental Sciences have observed ozone damage on plants and collected data from the garden to send to the NASA air quality database. Beginning this week, the Science Center will serve as one of six research sites for NASA’s SEAC4RS (Studies of Emissions and Atmospheric Composition, Clouds and Climate Coupling by Regional Surveys) mission. Weather balloons called ozonesondes will be launched from Forest Park’s Archery Field and will monitor ozone pressure, temperature, and relative humidity.

Weather balloons were used to conduct research about the layers of the atmosphere as early as 1896. Created from latex, these balloons launch into our atmosphere carrying payloads, which hold GPS trackers, cameras or any other recording device. The three basic parts of a weather balloon are the balloon, a parachute, and the payload. Because helium has less density than air in the atmosphere, balloons will float, expand, and lift the parachute and payload high into the edge of space. As the balloon travels higher into the atmosphere, the pressure decreases, causing the balloon to stretch and stretch until it bursts. The parachute opens as the payload floats back down to Earth, where scientists can monitor the data collected from cameras and other devices in the payload.

Video Credit: Alex Kotsakis (@akotsakis)

Video Credit: Alex Kotsakis (@akotsakis)

Observe the launches firsthand everyday except for Sundays at 2 p.m. from outside of the James S. McDonnell Planetarium through the end of August. Weather balloons will be launched at 2 p.m. on even numbered days through the end of September. Learn more about the people behind the launches.

Data from these weather balloons will be collected and published on the official NASA website within 24 hours of the balloon’s launch. Check for updates beginning August 12th through the end of September. If you happen to find a payload, call the toll-free number listed on the equipment for return instructions. Visit the Ozone Garden at the Science Center to see firsthand how the ozone is affecting plants right here in our community!

Written by Kellyn, Communications

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