A weather balloon lost in storm system that spawned numerous tornadoes throughout the Midwest in mid-November is back with the Purdue University students who launched it.
Students in the Association of Mechanical and Electrical Technologists launched the balloon Nov. 16, the day before more than two dozen tornadoes touched down in Indiana.
Technology Professor Davin Huston is working with the students, who are using data from the balloons to prepare for a rocket launch next year. He says they lost contact with the balloon shortly after it was launched. Huston thought it was gone forever.
“But about a week later, a farmer contacted Purdue after finding an object in his field and then almost running over it with his tractor,” says Huston.
Joseph Recker lives in Kalida, Ohio — about 180 miles from the launch site. When he found the balloon on his farm, it had lost all its identification and contact information in the storm. But Recker says he realized it was something substantial when he took a closer look.
“There was a very small camera and I noticed it had a really small sim card in it, so I popped that out and walked over to my computer,” says Recker. “I don’t have anything quite new enough to run that so I brought it over to my local fertilizer plant to see if they could run it on their newer computer system.”
Recker says the footage in the video is incredible: The balloon reached an altitude so high he could see the curvature of the earth. But what helped him to identify the owners of the balloon was in the very first frame — the students launching the balloon were wearing Purdue University gear.
Recker called Purdue and was connected with the science department. He held the balloon until Huston was able to pick it up.
The only thing Recker asked for in return was a Purdue University hat.
You can find footage of the weather balloon’s journey here.