On this day in 1904, the first U.S. lighter-than-air balloon equipped with meteorological instruments was launched at the World’s Fair in St. Louis. The balloon was the work of pioneering American meteorologist Abbott Lawrence Rotch, founder of Boston’s Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory and the first to suggest the use of daily maps at local weather stations to plot the direction of weather patterns. Rotch started out out in the 1890s using kites to carry meteorological instruments into the sky, so that he could study upper air patterns of wind, temperature and humidity and then compare them to conditions on the ground.
In 1904, Rotch decided to up the ante, and do observations at an even higher altitude by using a balloon. That vehicle had first been employed for atmospheric data-gathering by European scientists in the 1890s, including the German meteorologist and physician Dr. Richard Assman, who—aside from his snicker-inducing surname—is best known for discovering the stratosphere.
This 1904 article from the Boston Evening Transcript describes Rotch’s initial late-afternoon launch of four balloons, which carried meteorological instruments in wicker baskets, along with “if found please return to” cards with Rotch’s contact information. The balloons ascended to a height of 12 miles over the Missouri landscape, and drifted for 50 to 65 miles before bursting and descending to earth. Rotch was able to recover three of the four balloons and their data. Among other things, they recorded the temperature at that high altitude, a bracing 43 degrees below zero, Fahrenheit.
Meteorological ballooning really took off, if you will excuse the pun, and scientists eventually developed even more sophisticated balloons that ascended to higher altitudes and stayed up far longer. As this articledetails, in the 1960s and 1970s U.S. government weather researchers launched a series of Global Horizontal Sounding Technique (GHOST) balloons, which reached altitudes of 78,000 feet as they encircled the globe, staying aloft for as long as a year at a time. And with that, here are the science and technology stories of the day.
Gigabit-speed Internet in Chattanooga? The city’s electric utility has begun offering a fiber optic connection that’s among the fastest on the planet. Google and Verizon reportedly have similar proposals in the works.