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NASA balloons to study total solar eclipse

NASA

New York: NASA is collaborating with student teams across the US to send balloons into the sky in one of the most unique and extensive eclipse observation campaigns ever attempted, which will also help expand the understanding about life beyond Earth.

NASA’s ‘Eclipse Balloon Project’, led by Angela Des Jardins from Montana State University, will send more than 50 high-altitude balloons that will livestream aerial footage of the August 21 total solar eclipse to the space agency’s website.

NASA will coordinate with Ames Research Centre from California’s Silicon Valley to conduct a low-cost experiment on 34 of the balloons called MicroStrat, which will simulate life’s ability to survive beyond Earth and maybe even on Mars.

“By live-streaming it on the internet, we are providing people across the world an opportunity to experience the eclipse in a unique way, even if they are not able to see the eclipse directly,” Jardins said.

“The August solar eclipse gives us a rare opportunity to study the stratosphere when it’s even more Mars-like than usual,” added Jim Green, Director (Planetary Science) at NASA Headquarters.

NASA will provide each team with two small metal cards — which will have harmless, yet environmentally- resilient bacteria dried onto their surface.

One card will fly up with the balloon while the other remains on the ground. A comparison of the two will show the consequences of the exposure to Mars-like conditions, such as bacterial survival and any genetic changes, the report said.

“With student teams flying balloon payloads from dozens of points along the path of totality, we’ll study effects on microorganisms that are coming along for the ride,” Green said.

“This project will not only provide insight into how bacterial life responds to Mars-like conditions, we are engaging and inspiring the next generation of scientists,” he noted.

The results of the experiment will improve NASA’s understanding of environmental limits for terrestrial life, in order to inform our search for life on other worlds.