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University of Maine students will launch balloons to livestream the total solar eclipse

The University of Maine High Altitude Ballooning group will be at Clemson University on Aug. 21 to live stream the total solar eclipse. From left are Rick Eason, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering; Cameron Sullivan, a computer engineering major; and Derek Haas, an electrical engineering major.University of Maine

If you’re having difficulties getting your hands on the special glasses used for viewing the solar eclipse, don’t fret — students from the University of Maine have got you covered.

The best part? You won’t even need to leave the comfort of your computer chair to take in the excitement.

As the moon overtakes the sun on Monday, Aug. 21, during the first total solar eclipse to be visible from coast-to-coast in 99 years, students from the school’s High Altitude Ballooning Program will launch specialized balloons, equipped with multiple cameras, into the sky. As they float higher and higher, the devices will livestream the event as it’s happening.


The University of Maine group is part of the larger Eclipse Ballooning Project, a NASA-funded initiative that includes students and researchers from 54 similar teams nationwide.

On the day of the eclipse, each participating group will release its balloons from different points within the “path of totality,” the stretch of land from Oregon to South Carolina that will be cast almost completely in shadow when the moon passes between the sun and earth.

The total solar eclipse will be visible within that path for just over two minutes. Regions not in the path, such as New England, will experience a partial eclipse.

NASA is hosting a website where people can click on small dots on an interactive map -- with each dot representing a balloon floating inside the path.

The space organization expects this to be their most-watched livestream event, surpassing the Mars Curiosity Landing in 2012, according to a press release from Stream, the company that teamed up with NASA to power the videos.

Students from the University of Maine will be setting their balloons free from Clemson, SC, at Clemson University.


According to Rick Eason, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the school, the video cameras on the balloons will give viewers a unique vantage point from the edge of space, in real time.

University of Maine

“It’s just another perspective of totality, and what it looks like from around 100,000 feet,” said Eason, who is helping to lead the students from Maine in the project. “It’s something that’s fun to see.”

The balloons will ascend to around 100,000 feet before they eventually pop, and parachute to the ground, according to officials from Montana State University, who coordinated the project with NASA’s assistance.

Eason is traveling to South Carolina with around 20 students. On the day of the eclipse, the group will split up into different teams, he said.

Some of the students will be stationed in an area where the payloads attached to the balloons will land once the balloons pop. Others will monitor the balloons as they take to the sky to capture video.

In addition to streaming the event, other cameras being carried by the balloons will take high-resolution images of the eclipse every five seconds.

The students have been conducting test launches all summer. On Monday, they did one final test, in Pittsfield, Maine.

“Everything is pretty much in order,” said Eason, adding that he’d be excited about the eclipse even if the group wasn’t a part of the project.

“I hope we will pull it off,” he said.


Steve Annear can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.