Solar balloon aims to set record for highest hot-air balloon flight

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When it comes to ballooning, Albuquerque is home to numerous world records. 

People from the Duke City were the first to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a balloon, and an Albuquerque native currently holds the distance record for gas ballooning. 

After a launch at Balloon Fiesta Park on Wednesday, Albuquerque may soon be able to boast a brand new record. 

Four stories tall, the unmanned solar balloon is called the “Jon Magnus.” 

Leading the team is Daniel Bowman, a geosciences engineer, who designed the balloon to capture and hold the sun’s heat. 

“This balloon is a solar balloon with a thin plastic envelope that allows sunlight in and that sunlight is what heats the air inside. It’s coated on the inside with a dark material known as biochar, and that insulates the hot air inside as it rises higher and higher,” said Paul Garver, Albuquerque Balloon Museum manager.

Throughout the day, that heat will drive the balloon higher and higher into the atmosphere. If the Jon Magnus reaches 100,000 feet, it will likely qualify as the highest hot air balloon flight ever. 

“So to break the record, they would have to reach an altitude of about 100,000 feet, which is in the stratosphere over twice the altitude of commercial airliners,” Garver said. 

Due to its special makeup, it would also qualify as the highest solar balloon flight; and there is a stowaway on the flight that makes it even more exciting. 

It’s called a raspberry boom — an experimental device that listens for sounds that humans can’t hear. 

Drifting high above Eastern New Mexico or West Texas, it might capture the sound of a volcano erupting halfway around the earth, or ocean waves crashing thousands of miles away. 

“It detects low frequency sounds like ocean waves or volcanic eruptions, things we don’t necessarily hear, it can hear them far away and high above them,” Garver explained. 

If the balloon reaches 100,000 feet, the raspberry boom might even pick up the sound of people back at the Balloon Museum, celebrating. 

Sensors aboard the balloon are transmitting its position and altitude. It’s expected to land in Oklahoma or Texas after the sun goes down. 

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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