SLU professor wants you to be part of his eclipse project

ST. LOUIS • St. Louis University associate professor Robert Pasken and a team of students are taking part in a project to send video to NASA during the Aug. 21 solar eclipse, and they are inviting the public to help with the research.

The project will send high-altitude balloons into the sky during the eclipse to record and relay information. Planning has been underway for almost a decade.

The local scientists are among 20 university teams that will take part in the research along the path of the eclipse, from the coast of Oregon to the coast of South Carolina.

Pasken and the students practiced filling a weather balloon with helium Tuesday.

“There’s an awful lot of things that happen to get a balloon off the ground,” Pasken said, “and it’s a coordinated effort that they actually have to put the balloon together, fill the balloon full of helium and tie all of the pieces together.”

A unique part of the eclipse project is its availability to the public. People who are interested in the eclipse are encouraged to get involved by photographing the shadow bands that appear just before and just after totality.

NASA describes the bands as a “phenomenon of light and motion.”

Pasken wants to learn more about why they form and at what altitude.

“This is an opportunity for the general public to help scientists across the country,” Pasken said. “It’s actually very easy. What you need to do is take either a white piece of cardboard or a white sheet, just something that’s white that’s about 3 foot by 4 foot and lay it on the ground, and put some rocks on it so it doesn’t blow away, and then take some video.”

The video should then be emailed to Pasken at

Pasken’s team will be working toward finding the source in the atmosphere of the bands. “One of the things that’s being explored in this experiment is what causes these shadow bands during the eclipse. Is it something high up at around 60,000 feet, or is it something down low, around 1,000 feet above the ground?”

As a meteorologist, Pasken tends to study the weather behind a computer. “This is an opportunity to actually get outside and into the real world and actually see real meteorology.”

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