When a Center Grove Middle School North teacher launched a weather balloon into the sky, he expected it to land within 30 miles — not 300 miles — of the school.
The space kit Jeff Peterson and his students sent soaring on March 5 included a helium-filled balloon, parachute, GoPro camera and computer to track data such as atmospheric pressure, temperature and wind speed.
The plan was for students to get the balloon after its nearly three-hour flight and immediately be able to study the data. Instead, students still have not dug into the data; and Peterson can’t get to the balloon.
Thirteen days have passed, and the balloon is stuck in a tree in Ohio, about 50 feet above the ground. Forget Peterson’s expectation of the balloon landing in Johnson County or nearby. Instead, it landed in Greentown, Ohio, a town of 3,000 south of Akron.
Peterson has family and friends who live in the area, but the balloon is on private property behind a house. Friends of friends stopped by the house to retrieve it, but the homeowner was not home, and the balloon is too high to grab without a ladder or a pole.
Through friends of friends, Peterson contacted the homeowner on Monday to tell her about the situation. She hadn’t been aware there was a balloon in her backyard, Peterson said.
He has called the local sheriff, fire department and a roofing company to try to get the balloon out of the tree. Since the balloon is on private property, he wanted permission to remove the balloon. A roofing company or fire department would have the ladder and equipment to reach the balloon, he said.
Another friend has talked to Asplundh Tree Expert Co., a business that specializes in clearing trees high above the ground, typically for utility companies. It would have the equipment necessary to reach the top of the tree and retrieve the balloon.
“There was an open field about 20 feet away from that tree,” Peterson said. “So close.”
Peterson’s students ask him every day where the balloon is now and whom he needs to talk to next to get the space kit back.
“Each class wants to know the latest on the recovery process, and middle school kids are always eager to share their ideas (on how to retrieve it),” Peterson said.
In the meantime, Peterson has been able to show his students weather balloon data from a school in Pennsylvania that also did the experiment. The school sent footage of the launch, where students can see the balloon traveling into the stratosphere.
“We can correlate with our data,” Peterson said. “It really helps reinforce to students that multiple tests are needed (in experiments).”
Even without studying the data yet, Peterson said, the experiment was a success. Typically, his students care about the weather only if it means they get a two-hour delay or a snow day, he said.
“The students have been more engaged in the understanding of weather and the layers of the atmosphere than I’ve ever seen before,” Peterson said.