Solar-storm launch boldly goes where no rubber chicken has gone before

NASA and some California high school students found a novel way to study the intense radiation storms that resulted from solar flares in March. They sent a rubber chicken into space to reconnoiter the effects of the storm.

It wasn’t just any rubber chicken, either. The students from Bishop Union High School used Camilla, the mascot of NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory who, with an assist from Romeo Durscher of Stanford University, has some 20,000 followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

This time, Camilla took a break from cyberspace to head into outer space, attached to a helium balloon with a payload that included radiation-detecting badges, four cameras, a cryogenic thermometer, two GPS trackers, seven insects and two-dozen sunflower seeds in a modified lunch box, NASA said in a post on the experiment.

The students, as part of an astrobiology project, made two launches, NASA said: One March 3 before the solar storms, another March 10 at the height of the storm, the strongest of its kind since 2003. NASA said satellites showed proton counts were about 30,000 times higher than normal.

In each two-and-a-half-hour flight, Camilla’s craft ascended to about 120,000 feet, above 99 percent of the Earth's atmosphere, before the balloon popped and she parachuted back down to Earth, NASA said.

The radiation badges have been sent in for lab analysis and the students have planted the sunflower seeds to see if those exposed to the radiation grow any differently. The insects, alas, are part of a classroom exhibit. 

A video of Camilla’s flight is below. 

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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