Boaters recover floating mystery
CENTREVILLE — Two unsuspecting boaters stumbled across a most unusual discovery earlier in July while boating along the Chester River. Les and Carol Davis from Marydel were anchored in waist deep water when they observed a floating box that looked “bomb like.”
It was a very strange thing to see floating toward the beach, said Les Davis, so he decided to investigate the white styrofoam package wrapped in tape with wires and rope protruding. Fortunately for Davis, the box turned out to be an air sampler sent out by researchers at Howard University in Washington, D.C.
Carol Davis said on closer inspection they discovered papers on the box that described its contents and purpose. According to the information included on the package, the box, which is the size of a small disposable cooler, is sent into the atmosphere on days when a Code Orange or Code Red is in effect and carried approximately 16 miles up into the atmosphere by balloon to collect data. When the balloon pops, a parachute deploys and the box lands.
Dr. Ricardo Sakai from Howard University is the professor the Davises reached when they called to let the university know they had recovered the air sampler. They said Sakai was very pleased to be able to recover the device, as the components inside are reusable. He shared that a similar air sampler had been released and landed in Prince George’s County. Someone called 911 to report the suspicious looking box, and Sakai said the bomb squad arrived and detonated the air sampler.
The letter attached to the box stated, “This sensor was launched from Howard University Beltsville Campus as part of a study by the Maryland Department of the Environment and the NOAA Center for Atmospheric Sciences to better understand the processes leading to poor air quality over the region.”
The sensor, or air sampler, is used to determine the concentration of ozone gases present, explained the letter. It further stated, “[the sensor] consists of a DC motor, batteries, circuit board and two electrochemical cells. The motor may still be operational when found, thus accounting for the humming sound that might be perceived ... batteries may give off a strong odor when recovered.”
Additional sensors located in the box are used to measure air pressure, temperature and relative humidity and transmit to the ground station in Beltsville via the radio transmitter.
Units were anticipated to land 10 to 100 miles from the launch site in Beltsville.
The information gathered from the data collected is shared with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Maryland Department of the Environment.
Carol Davis from Marydel holds the air sampler she and her husband, Les, retrieved from the Chester River.
Top view of the air sampler recovered by Les and Carol Davis while boating in the Chester River.