A 'Skyhook' for Studying the Atmosphere: Exploring High Altitudes With a Low-tech Tool-the Kite

Terry Devitt
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Nearly 250 years after Benjamin Franklin flew a kite to sample the electric fields in a Pennsylvania thunderstorm, meteorological kites are again flying high as platforms for scientific research.

Used for fun for thousands of years, kites were first launched in the interest of science in Scotland in 1749 when Professor Alexander Wilson and his student Thomas Melville deployed a string of paper kites, each carrying a thermometer, on a single tether. The thermometers were released at set altitudes by a high-tech trigger-a smoldering fuse. Cushioned with paper, the thermometers crashed to earth where the scientists-if they were nimble enough to recover the thermometers in time-obtained a rough atmospheric temperature profile.

Our money says it was really grad students who went chasing, not the august Professor Wilson, but let's get on with the story.

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