CWU News

CWU Astrophysicist, Students Take Part in NASA Eclipse Experiment

As part of a NASA mission, physics professor Darci Snowden and a group of Central Washington University students will launch a weather balloon with an imaging payload during the August 21 total eclipse. They will be one of more than 52 teams from 31 states from Oregon to South Carolina who will conduct high altitude balloon flights to capture—and livestream—video and images of the eclipse from near space. The effort is funded through the NASA Space Grant network.

There has never been live video and images from the edge of space to the internet, and certainly not in a network of coverage across a continent.

"There are a lot of technological challenges with this experiment," said Snowden, in the physics lab. With her are two seniors, Kayla Brown, from mechanical engineering technology and Joe Cuthbertson, industrial engineering technology, who are working on creating a stable platform for the imaging payload. The balloon is also equipped with GPS responders so their location can be tracked via satellite.

Snowden's team has already performed one test flight--"a risky business," she noted, since balloons are notoriously unpredictable once they are released. The balloons are roughly six feet in diameter, and filled with helium. As they rise, and atmospheric pressure decreases, they can expand to more than 10 times that size. And then they pop.

"After they pop, they go down pretty fast," she commented. "We have the GPS spot trackers so we can roughly locate where it lands."

Snowden, and her group of seven students will leave to camp out at a football stadium with other teams in Culver, Oregon the Sunday before the eclipse.

All the teams will launch at a specific time to have the balloons aloft at maximum altitude at totality. Students are building various payloads, such as magnometers, gas sensors, and thermometers to measure changes wrought by the eclipse.

For more information about the upcoming solar eclipse, go to,, or

To watch the eclipse via lifestreaming, go to

Photo: High altitude image captured by Snowden's group from test balloon launch

Media Contact: Valerie Chapman-Stockwell, Public Affairs, 509-963-1518,