First Message in a Bottle found from Solar Balloon!

A couple of weeks ago I posted about my launch of a large solar balloon, called “Jake III”, from Norwood, Massachusetts.  Jake III was carrying nine messages in a bottle held together (and to the balloon) with a melted sugar seal.  I had the messages in bottles idea when I realized that prevailing winds should carry the balloon over the Atlantic.  The sugar seal was designed to dissolve on contact with seawater; the idea being that each bottle would drift off on its own.

Well apparently it worked!

At 6 AM this morning, a man walking his dog on Humarock Beach in Scituate, Massachusetts, found one of the bottles.  It was my wife’s bottle, in fact, and he emailed her this morning.  The bottle came ashore after a week of exceptionally high tides and stormy weather (his deck was damaged by waves). 

Although I was hoping for a little more distance than Scituate, I am very happy that someone found a bottle.  This means both that Jake III did land in the ocean (since it wasn’t tracked, I wasn’t positive that it had) and that the sugar seal successfully detached the bottles from the balloon and each other.

Jake III was likely in the air for at least 12 hours, so I’m at a bit of a loss to explain why the bottle was found so close to the launch site.  I have a couple of ideas:

a) The payload fell off somewhere over Massachusetts Bay.

b) The entire balloon went down.  Maybe the patchy high clouds did it in, or part of it ripped open.

c) It wasn’t very windy, so the balloon didn’t go very far.

d) The balloon went over 60,000 ft high, where the winds were predicted to be going east-to-west (so it went out over the ocean, then came back towards land)

e) The balloon landed hundreds of miles northeast, and the near shore southern current off New England and the recent nor’easter pushed it all the way back to Massachusetts.


I can eliminate c) pretty easily.  Even in a 10 mph wind, the balloon would have flown 120 miles (90 miles offshore).  Plus there was an 80 mph jet stream that day.

a) is possible.  I’m not sure how melted sugar stands up to loads.  I doubt b) happened though.  It takes a lot to rip a balloon suspended in air (major wind shear).  Plus if it had come down just offshore we’d probably have picked it up with our tracker.

d) would be awesome, but there’s no way to know.  Plus it seems improbable that the balloon would come right back at us.

This leaves e).  According to current maps and how the winds probably were this week, I’m pretty sure e) is the answer.  The jet stream was going to the northeast on launch day, so the balloon probably came down off of Labrador, and the ocean current brought the bottles back to Massachusetts.  I was hoping to make it to the Gulf Stream, but that looked unlikely even before the bottle was found since the winds were not due east.


Here’s to hoping for more bottles, this time a bit further afield!

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