Adler Planetarium astronomers to use balloons to observe solar eclipse

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Friday, August 18, 2017
Adler Planetarium astronomers to gather data on solar eclipse
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We are counting down to Monday's solar eclipse and Chicago's Adler Planetarium is playing a big role in the event.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- We are counting down to Monday's solar eclipse and Chicago's Adler Planetarium is playing a big role in the event.

Adler astronomers are travelling south to observe the path of totality and are planning on getting some unique data.

In the basement of the Adler Planetarium is a mini space program. It's called the Far Horizons Lab and scientists there have been working for more than a decade on sending instruments into space to record data.

"We are heading down to southern Illinois and Missouri to launch two high-altitude balloons that will be able to observe the eclipse from about 100,000 feet above any clouds that there may be that day," said Mark Hammergren, an astronomer at the Adler Planetarium.

Those balloons will provide incredible video of the eclipse and one of those balloons will provide livestreaming video shown on the Far Horizons Youtube channel.

"We'll have another one carrying a full 360 degrees, a set of cameras, to give us a full VR experience. That will actually see the shadow of the moon racing to us from the west," said Hammergren.

Figuring out the best way to capture the 360 degree video proved to be a challenge.

"We had to create a mount in order to get the best viewing area," said Mary Greenlees, intern at Far Horizons Lab.

Greenlees is one of the high school summer interns at the Far Horizons Lab. Using a 3D printer, she designed a mount for the 360 degree cameras.

"We have two cameras. We have one at the top and one at the bottom and both of them record simultaneously. They each capture a bit more than 180, so they are able to have the two hemispheres and attaching them together," Greenlees said.

The result is dramatic 360 video that you can put on your smartphone and look in all directions.

The eclipse will reach its point of greatest duration near Carbondale. ABC7 Meteorologist Larry Mowry will have live reports from there starting Sunday morning.

ABC News will have a special report on Monday for the Great American Eclipse, with live coverage starting at noon.