Sunday, April 22, 2012

Springtime in Denali

Reflection panorama

It doesn't get very dark anymore, and soon it won't at all, so aurora season is pretty much over (though noctilucent cloud season is coming, and I've never seen one of those!). Combined with end-of-semester projects and I haven't had much to write here. The semester will be over in three weeks, though, so I expect the posting frequency to increase substantially at that point. And spring is here, so it's been perfect weather for outdoor activities (highs of 50-60ºF).

It's Earth Day, so for now, how about some photos from my trip to Denali National Park last Sunday? The park road is currently open to private vehicles as far as mile 30 (that'll change to mile 15 when tourist season starts), and you can go further under human power. I made it to mile 36, two miles from the top of Sable Pass, via bicycle. I saw 4 other people the whole time in the park; 2 of them were in cars on the park road, and the other two were walking a dog within a mile of the road closure. Past there it was pure solitude.

The mountain in the background, poking up through the clouds, is Denali. It's tall.

Denali on a fine spring afternoon.

The mountain in the clouds Aufeis reflection

Evening on the Savage River Evening clouds

The way through Denali

The first bear of the season was sighted on Tuesday at Polychrome Pass. The crew working on plowing the road snapped this picture.

Source: NPS

I think I can make it to Polychrome from Teklanika in a few hours ride without totally wearing myself out, so I might try for it next weekend.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Helium Balloon Launch

Helium balloons are a viable way to get equipment up into parts of the atmosphere; they are cheaper than flying an airplane and can go higher. Thursday night I watched a group of students from Texas launch a balloon carrying cameras. They launched others while in Fairbanks, but mostly from parking lots; this time they got to come to Poker Flat, launch, then get a tour of the facilities. I stopped by to watch and take a few pictures.

Weighing the PVC mount (balloons have strict weight limits!) The balled up orange sack you see is the parachute for after the balloon bursts at high altitude.

On the cross-shaped mount will be fitted a gyro (to help stabilize the cameras - they're hanging from a string) and the payload, which is a makeshift foam box containing several GoPro Hero2 cameras, some chemical hand warmers (read: HotHands) to keep things from freezing, a GPS based position transmitter to help find it once it falls to the ground, a radio transmitter as backup to the GPS, and a little plastic astronaut.

See the head-mounted GoPro camera. GoPro is sponsoring this launch, and set those little cameras everywhere to film it. I was told they brought 'a hundred' of them. I'm not sure that's an exaggeration. Anyway, this is the payload foam box, all closed up. It then gets shoved in the blue 'NASA' lunchbox/cooler thingy and zipped closed. Holes were cut in the cooler for the cameras to see out.

Just a boy and his balloon / just a girl and her balloon.

Nobody thought about how to get this balloon outside before blowing it up inside. We're scientists, not engineers. So everyone pitched in to keep it's thin skin away from the pointy edges of the construction equipment as they moved it outside.

A girl and her balloon, soon to part ways:

The balloon was released, the line was fed out, with the PVC frame and payload hanging about 50 feet down.

And there it goes:

Their projection was for it to land in the Yukon Flats, about halfway between the White Mountains and Fort Yukon. Yeah, good luck recovering it. They'll need to rent a helicopter.