Noah Lambert, a student at the University of Maine, holds the video payload that will be attached to a high-altitude balloon set to livestream the moon’s shadow passing over Maine during Monday’s total eclipse. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

ORONO — While almost everyone else will be looking up to watch Monday’s eclipse, a team of University of Maine professors and students will launch a high-altitude balloon to give the public a view looking down – from 90,000 feet above the Earth.

The high-altitude ballooning, or HAB, team will livestream the eclipse on YouTube, and the vantage point will be as though the viewer is standing on the moon and watching its shadow travel across Maine and the Earth.

“The reason for going so high up is to offer a unique perspective,” said Aedan Bryant, 20, a sophomore computer engineering student from Orono. “We will be able to see the moon’s shadow as it moves across the Earth, which you won’t be able to see from the ground.”

The HAB team has been preparing for Monday’s eclipse for about a year. UMaine is joining efforts with 75 universities across the country, thanks to a $7 million NASA grant for the Nationwide Eclipse Ballooning Project, headed up by Montana State University. The universities will livestream the eclipse at 53 points along the path of totality, which is where the moon will completely block out light from the sun.

This image was captured by the University of Maine team while taking video of the moon’s shadow during the 2017 eclipse. The eclipse shadow Monday will be larger. Although some curvature of the earth should be evident from the stratosphere, much of what is seen in this photo is fish-eye effect from the camera. Courtesy of the University of Maine

In Maine, the total eclipse will occur at about 3:30 p.m. Monday and last about 3 minutes and 20 seconds, depending on where viewers are watching from. The longest eclipse times will be at the midpoints of the path of totality, which in the United States stretches from Texas through Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and the northern New England states. Viewers should use sunglasses designed for the eclipse, or other safe methods of viewing, as looking directly at the eclipse without proper eye protection can cause permanent eye damage.

For Maine, the path of totality will go through Rangeley, Jackman, Presque Isle and Millinocket, among other towns and locations.


Members of the HAB team will be launching the balloon likely from somewhere in northern Maine, near the Canadian border. They are still determining the exact location because it all depends on Monday’s wind conditions.

In Barrows Hall at the University of Maine Orono this week, the video payload sat on a classroom desk, ready to be deployed. It’s a contraption made of lightweight foam insulation, a cube painted yellow and orange, with holes cut into the side for the cameras.

Noah Lambert, a student at the University of Maine, makes adjustments to the video payload that will be used to livestream the eclipse Monday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Inside the cube are several tiny electrical and computer parts, including camera lenses that are about a half-inch in diameter. The cameras will capture a wide-angle view.

The device must strike a careful balance – it has to be light enough to be lifted up by a balloon, yet still powerful enough to transmit signals to the ground from 90,000 feet up.

Noah Lambert, a junior computer engineering major from Bar Harbor, said he’s spent about 600 hours perfecting the video payload so there are no glitches when it floats into the atmosphere to livestream the eclipse. The onboard computer looks similar to a credit card.

“It has to be lightweight (and) not use a lot of energy, but use enough energy to transmit video,” Lambert said. “We need it to not use a lot of battery power.”


The video signal will be transmitted to a roughly 6-foot-tall ground station dish, which is portable and can be maneuvered for the optimal signal.

Everything has to be engineered to precision for the livestream to work as intended.

Even then, there are still some unknowns, said Rick Eason, associate professor emeritus of electrical and computer engineering. Eason and engineering lecturer Andy Sheaff are the faculty members leading the project.

From left, UMaine student Noah Lambert, engineering lecturer Andy Sheaff and associate professor emeritus Rick Eason, who have been preparing for a year to launch a balloon to livestream Monday’s eclipse from a balloon drifting 90,000 feet over Maine. The orange box will be suspended beneath the balloon and hold the video equipment, while the ground station dish, at right, will receive the video signal. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

For instance, Eason said they can’t pinpoint exactly where the balloon will come down, but they can narrow it down to about a 10- to 20-mile radius.

During other high-altitude ballooning experiments, they’ve had to hike deep into the woods to fetch the balloon and its contents, occasionally using long poles to extract it from tree canopies.

“We’ve never lost a payload,” Eason said. “Luckily, it’s never landed in the ocean.”


The balloon used to carry the cameras is in many ways similar to hot air balloons that people ride in for pleasure. But it will expand from about 6 feet in diameter at launch to about 40 feet in diameter as it climbs to 90,000 feet, because the air is less dense at high altitudes.

The plain, off-white balloon is inflated with helium. For the most part, it can’t be controlled as it moves through the atmosphere by the prevailing winds. The team is studying wind conditions and other weather conditions on that day so it can track relatively closely where the balloon will go.

Eventually, after more than 90 minutes in the air and capturing the eclipse, the balloon could pop from atmospheric pressure. In that case, a parachute would open for the descent. But if the balloon doesn’t pop, the team can remotely release helium gas to partially deflate it, and then the balloon would function as its own parachute as it descends.

Eason said another engineering problem that had to be solved was designing a vent, which will be controlled remotely to slow the balloon’s ascension. That will help keep the cameras from moving around too much while capturing the eclipse.

“The vent helps keep the balloon steady,” Eason said, although the balloon’s path is still largely at the mercy of the winds.

When the balloon launches, it will also have a kite-like tail, with the payload attached to strings hanging from the bottom of the vent.


The HAB team also livestreamed the 2017 total solar eclipse and did a trial run during an annular eclipse in October, traveling to Nevada to be in an area where that eclipse could be viewed. An annular eclipse does not completely block the sun because the moon’s orbit is much farther away from the Earth.

Monday’s eclipse will also be somewhat different than 2017’s, according to NASA, because the moon will be slightly farther away than it was seven years ago. That means the amount of time the sun is blocked will be about two minutes longer on Monday than it was in 2017.

The next total solar eclipse visible from the continental United States will be Aug. 23, 2044.

Andy Sheaff, an engineering lecturer at the University of Maine, works on a computer as student Noah Lambert, left, looks on. In the foreground is the video payload that will be used when the team of students and scientists launches a balloon to livestream Monday’s eclipse. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

So, while most eclipse watchers on Monday will be focused on the sky, the HAB team will be both watching the eclipse and monitoring the livestream to make sure there are no technical hiccups.

Eason teaches a high-altitude ballooning class, and some students from that class were invited to participate in preparations for the livestream.

Karun Varghese, a sophomore computer engineering student, said that because livestreaming an eclipse from a balloon is still a relatively new scientific endeavor, the team has had to document many of the experiments and protocols. But the experience has been “amazing,” he said.

“Designing something that’s never been designed before is pretty exciting,” Varghese said. “There will be this great joy in seeing this thing actually work.”

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