Palmetto Scholars Academy set to monitor eclipse

Palmetto Scholars Academy set to monitor eclipse
September 12 15:28 2016 Print This Article

Total solar eclipses are only observable in North America about once in a generation. The last solar eclipse passed over the continent in 1979. A solar eclipse occurs when the moon casts a shadow on the sun.

Palmetto Scholars Academy (PSA), a charter school for gifted and talented students located near Charleston Air Force Base in North Charleston, is participating with the South Carolina Space Consortium to monitor and videotape the eclipse passing over our area Aug. 21, 2017.

PSA is a charter school open to all South Carolina residents in grades 6-12. Students are admitted through a lottery system, with 20% of the spaces reserved for the children of military families. The school emphasizes project-based inquiry learning with students designing and leading the projects.

The eclipse monitoring project team recently met for the first time with teachers Kellye Voigt and Rhys Harris. The team of 11 students range from grades 6 to 12. Harris presented a project overview. The students are enthusiastic, introspective and uninhibited. They don’t hesitate to ask questions or share information gathered on laptop computers or mobile devices.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) calculates that the eclipse will reach North America in the state of Oregon on August 21, 2017 and pass over the Charleston area at 2:36 pm. It will be observable for between two and three minutes.

The PSA project team will launch a helium balloon equipped with video cameras and an array of sensors about 90 minutes before the eclipse arrives. The balloon will reach an altitude of 60,000 feet in what is known as the stratosphere region above the clouds. A middle school student inquired as to whether the cameras could function in the cold temperature at that altitude and several students researched the question and determined that they would but not at a much higher altitude.

The balloon is equipped with a parachute, and its landing is projected to be near the Francis Marion National Forest. The Trident Amateur Radio Club and the U.S. Coast Guard will assist the students in recovering the balloon. The class will do 10 trial launches prior to the eclipse, with students planning launch sites and preparing a launch checklist.

NASA paid for Voigt and Harris to do balloon launch training in Montana and is providing the hardware. The students will have to raise money to pay for the helium, which will cost approximately $200 per launch. A middle school student suggested that they sell shaded eclipse glasses.  The students will design t-shirts to commemorate the event.

Gov. Nikki Haley plans to work with all of the South Carolina school districts to ensure that students will have the opportunity to observe this rare astronomical event.