It took a chainsaw and some careful navigation along remote Nova Scotia logging roads, but members of the Annapolis Royal Space Agency retrieved their very special cargo, fresh from space, on Saturday afternoon.
A group of students, their teacher and some community members launched a weather balloon into the sky above Annapolis Royal, N.S., early Saturday morning.
The balloon was toting a Styrofoam box containing a canvas and a smaller balloon filled with paint.
When the large weather balloon exploded almost 33 kilometres above the Earth’s surface, the whole package began plummeting.
Sometime during the journey, the small balloon also popped — and the paint began to cover the canvas.
“It’s crazy to think that that painting was made in space,” said Finn Hafting, a Grade 12 student at Annapolis West Education Centre. “It’s crazy that the motion of the balloon was the thing that made that painting. We didn’t touch it at all.”
The launch and descent went off without a hitch, said Derick Smith, the school’s physics and art teacher.
“That’s not something we often get to say with a project like this, but every aspect of it worked really really well.”
The group had predicted the balloon’s trajectory, considering the winds and the jet stream, and that prediction almost precisely mirrored the balloon’s flight.
Since members tracked the balloon’s location and altitude using GPS, they were able to retrieve it fairly quickly.
After free-falling for a while, the equipment was eventually carried to Earth gently with a parachute, landed in a sapling only about 10 kilometres from where they launched it.
“When we came and approached it we saw all the paint was dripping down on the leaves, so we knew that the balloon had burst, which was a relief,” said Hafting.
Since the tree was too small to climb, the group used a chainsaw to cut it down and retrieve their gear.
Hafting described the painting as “kind of wavy” with “a lot of streaky lines.”
“It kind of looks like space, actually — like a big Nebula or something.”