Shelton students participate in eclipse research

The University of Bridgeport hosted weekly meetings on their campus where the Fairchild Wheeler students participated in preparing for the balloon tests used to gather data on the effects of the eclipse.

Three local students were granted the opportunity of a lifetime when they were permitted to tag along with engineers from the University of Bridgeport (UB) on a trip to Paducah, Kentucky, to conduct a study with members of the Discovery Museum on the eclipse that took place Monday afternoon.

Ryan Gay, 16, of Shelton, Hritish Bhargava,15, of Shelton, and Ryan Dang, 16, of Stratford were a part of the Connecticut Space Grant Consortium research team that live streamed and collected data from the Aug. 21 eclipse.

The three Fairchild Wheeler Magnet School students said they were surprised by the opportunity, and couldn’t pass it up.

Dang said being that this was he and his peers first time witnessing an eclipse, they were surprised at the amount of work that went into conducting this study.

“I’m just taking it all in,” said Dang. “It’s been an amazing experience working with the UB staff, they’ve taught us a lot of interesting things.”

The chance of a lifetime

If you would’ve told these three students that they would get to witness and study the eclipse from Kentucky last year, they wouldn’t have believed you.

The opportunity stemmed from one of Gay’s Fairchild Wheeler teachers asking him about the possibility of starting an astronomy club at school earlier this year.

Not long after Gay and his classmates created the club, its members were taken to UB to listen to a lecture regarding this year’s eclipse. That lecture took place in March and that’s when the three students were selected to be involved in the University’s research team.

“It was exciting to hear that we would be a part of something that we had previously no knowledge of,” said Gay. “We’re hoping to learn more about what happens during an eclipse. More specifically, how quickly does the temperature drop and how it looks from above the clouds.”

The students wasted no time and shortly after the lecture was over they began educating themselves on eclipses and its history. They began attending meetings at UB with the rest of the research team to prepare for the exciting experience and to learn about the process in which the study would be conducted.

Between meetings and conferences, the three students were informed that they would be releasing a form of balloons 60,000 to 80,000 feet into the atmosphere to collect data.

“The balloons measure air pressure, temperature and different types of weather variations that take place before, during and after the eclipse,” according to Dang.

The team said that they will be staying in Kentucky for six days to witness the team analyze the data that it collected during its experiment.

Gay, Bhargava and Dang were responsible for “manning the ground stations” and actually releasing the balloons when they received a cue from a senior member on the team.

“My favorite part of everything has been the involvement in the conferences,” said Dang. “I finally got to see what all of the engineers in the room are responsible for. I get to see what everyone does.”

Bhargava said although this was his first experience studying and conducting research on an eclipse, he hopes to continue.

“I’ve learned so much from this one experience that I just want to keep doing this over and over,” said Bhargava. “I’d love to continue to work on projects such as this one.”

‘A beautiful sight like no other’

Fastforwarding to Saturday, Aug. 19, the students boarded a bus to their Kentucky destination in anticipation of witnessing something many people will go their lifetime without seeing.

According to Bhargava, the experience was unlike anything else he had ever seen.

“The next eclipse isn’t until 2024 so my advice to anyone that didn’t get to see it this time around is to not miss it next time,” said Bhargava before explaining the process of the experiment.

Bhargava said the team arrived to the site on the morning of the eclipse at 11 a.m. approximately two hours before it was expected to begin.

“We got there early and immediately began to prepare,” said Bhargava. “We were there all day and didn’t retrieve the balloons until about 5 p.m. or so.

“It was beautiful, nothing like I had ever seen.

Bhargava explained that the GPS trackers provided the team with the coordinates of the several balloons the team had released. He said that he and his two Fairchild Wheeler peers will receive copies of the data in days to come.

Viewers across the country

Eclipse “viewing parties” took place all over the country where people wore the special protective glasses that allowed them to view the eclipse without injuring their eyes.

Shelton’s Education Chair Mark Holden took a road trip to Niota, Tennessee, to view and photograph the eclipse. He and his family paid to station on someone’s property to view the eclipse.

Mark Holden photo

“It was amazing,” said Holden. “We were fortunate enough to witness approximately two minutes and 39 seconds of totality.”

The staff at the city’s Board of Education offices gathered outside of the building to see the approximately 68% of the eclipse.

If you missed the eclipse this time around, unless you have pictures, you’ll have to wait seven years until you can see another. According to NASA, on April 8, 2024, a total solar eclipse will stretch diagonally across the U.S. from Texas through the Northeastern U.S.

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