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Fermilab | Batavia, IL | USA

View Blog | Read Bio

Balloon launch busted by boat

Editor’s note: Bob’s most excellent particle detector adventure, part 9.

Bob Peterson continues to travel with his QuarkNet particle detector around the edge of Africa recording remnants of cosmic rays. This offers a chance to study how cosmic ray recordings differ on land and sea and at different latitudes. The data will be accessible to high school students and teachers in several countries who use similar detectors to learn about particle physics.

His previous posts:  The voyage begins, Turning the detector on, Other science on the sea, Particle detectors don’t like light, Enduring a branding for science A teaching moment on the ocean, Using ballons to study the sky to help IceCube and QuarkNet, Cosmic ray detector weathers sea mount survey and storms.

17 May 2011
R/V Polarstern
Latitude: 48-29.8 N
Longitude: 5-50.9 W
Bay of Biscay
Ship course 033° T
Ship velocity 11.2 knots

17 May:
That was quite a storm starting the early morn on Saturday, and it didn’t abate ’til Monday morn. The Polarstern was caught between a high-pressure system to the north and a low-pressure system south of us. The two conspired to “blow like stink” straight on the nose into the direction we needed to go. So, pound away we did, making progress at about 3-5 knots. You can walk that fast. (Well, not on the Atlantic Ocean in the midst of a storm, but you get the idea.)

At the height of the storm, it blew at 45 knots and Klaus estimated wave heights at 20 to25 feet tall. (As a weather technician, that’s what Klaus does; estimate the wave conditions. He also launches the weather balloons. More on that later.) My bunk runs fore to aft, which made the ship motion easier to bear; athwart ship and I would have gotten rolled out of my bunk. Still, I did not sleep well for two nights. But, Max and Klaus said that was nothing. They shared stories and pictures of hurricane force winds in the southern ice.

By Monday afternoon the storm had blown itself out and the waves had gone away and wind had gone away and the entire ship’s company had a nice pleasant BBQ dinner: well- deserved with roast pig and all the trimmings.

The cosmic ray muon detector (CRMD) ignored the storm and keep on taking data. An important data set that we hope to couple our data to is the upper-level balloon soundings. This requires a once-a-day balloon launch and faithful to his charge, Klaus proceeded in the midst of the storm. He has recruited a small group of graduate students to assist. (Well, I recruited, and he pretended to resist assistance Tom-Sawyer style.)

On the Saturday when Julia launched the balloon, it got caught in the slip stream behind the ship and forced down and toward the large A- frame mounted on the transom. The ship stern pitched up; the balloon went down and zoomed under the A- frame. Klaus said, “Hmmmm, never did that before!” Unfortunately, the radiosonde dipped in the water and the entire signal was lost. A busted flight.

Cosmic ray muon detector. Credit: Fermilab

The ship board pulse has quickened as we are a couple hours from entering the English Channel. This is a controlled water way. So, ships are under guidance and obliged to stay on the right-hand side of the road. And just as the second mate predicted, many ships are now on the horizon converging to take their turns through the Channel. I count eight within view, and they are BIG ships. Home is not far. We will arrive in Bremerhaven at 0600 Friday morn.

Michael Walter will meet me and proceed with one cosmic ray muon detector to DESY, a physics laboratory in Germany, for use by education groups in the area. Tomorrow, I will disassemble the detector marking the end of the data session. My cosmic ray muon detector will end up at CERN, the European high-energy physics laboratory in Switzerland.

Glossary

*Fore: Forward

*Aft: The opposite of forward. Tricky, eh?

*Athwart ship: If fore and aft runs the length of the ship, then athwart ship is across the width of the ship.

*Transom: The flat surface forming the stern of a vessel.

*Pitch: A swaying or oscillation of a ship, aircraft or vehicle around a horizontal axis perpendicular to the direction of motion.

*Stern: The rearmost part of a ship or boat

*Radiosonde: An instrument carried by balloon or other means to various levels of the atmosphere and transmitting measurements by radio.

–Bob Peterson

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