I’m kind of obsessed with the idea that another world exists right over our heads without our even being aware of it. It’s like urban fantasy stories, where magical stuff happens invisibly around normal people. Except it’s actually real. And it probably happens right where you live. What I’m talking about is life in the night sky, of course. Specifically, animal behavior and interactions that happen beyond human abilities to see or hear it. As a scientist, I use a variety of tools to pierce the veil and peer into that world. But direct observation into that world is really difficult. And those tools all have limitations, so we have to make lots of assumptions about what we’re actually seeing.
Piercing the veil
That is why I came up with the idea of an Aeroscope. What if we could take the tools we use to study life directly on the ground, like audio and visual recording, and nets to capture insects, and raise it up into the night sky? A toolkit that we could take anywhere, in any season. We could use it document migration events. Or, behavior near tall man-made structures like buildings or wind turbines or bright lights. We could use it to validate the assumptions necessary for interpreting remote sensing data like radar. Luckily for me, National Geographic agreed to help me build a prototype.
The Aeroscope system
The main components of this Aeroscope are an aerostat (a tethered helium kite-balloon) to lift the equipment high up into the air, a fixed array of ultrasonic audio recorders, a night-vision video camera, an insect net, and various sensors to measure wind, temperature, and humidity at various altitudes. I’ll share more about our team, the various components of the Aeroscope, and some things we learned during this first expedition with the prototype in the next few blog posts. We deployed the prototype for the first time in Texas this September. Here’s a short video I put together about it: