While this year’s summer reading program for the Mexico-Audrain Library District is drawing to a close, that didn’t mean that there weren’t a myriad of activities for adults and children alike to keep their reading interests motivated. The summer reading program takes place from mid-May to mid-July.

This year’s summer reading theme “Universe of Stories” focused on the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing, and activities were developed for patrons around space, time and science. One such science-related activity was held Wednesday at Plunkett Park with the release of a weather balloon. Patrick Market, with the University of Missouri’s Atmospheric Science Program, was the featured speaker.

“I talked about MU, the atmospheric science program that we have here and then some of the research that I specifically have been engaged in over the last 20 years,” he said.

When Market first started at the university, his focus was on winter weather events, including what is known as thundersnow.

“I think 20 years ago, in the late ’90s, there were people who still questioned whether or not such a thing existed,” he said.

The work he and others did laid the groundwork for research on the mysterious weather event. Research on thundersnow really started to pick up after 2005, he said. Market’s career has transitioned some in the last 10 years, however, to focus more on spring weather events, particularly warm season heavy rainfall and flash flooding. That has been a particular issue this year in Missouri and the greater Midwest.

Weather balloons are released to collect weather and climate data. They take readings every second or roughly every 15 feet, which is transmitted to researchers, Market said. The equipment attached to a balloon, known as a radiosonde, will take temperature, moisture, wind speed and direction, and air pressure readings as it ascends.

“We had about 50 people there that enjoyed (Market’s speech),” Library Director Christal Bruner said. “He had some of the children participate in releasing the balloon and they really liked that.”

Participants also could tour the truck researchers use to receive data from released balloons.

Questions asked Wednesday included balloon flight length — both time and distance and altitude. Balloons will burst after reaching a certain altitude due to air pressure. The research equipment and balloon remnants will then tumble back to earth, Market said.

“Everybody really liked the launching of the weather balloon,” Bruner said. “People asked a lot of really good questions about why they do it, when do they do it.”

Weather balloon components are generally biodegradable as not all weather balloon equipment will return to researchers, Market said. The balloons the university uses send data via VHF frequencies. Once a balloon travels past a horizon — about 20-30 miles — the equipment is considered lost, because VHF signals are blocked over horizons and even when equipment falls behind trees.

“We’ve had balloons completely cross the state of Missouri and part of Illinois,” Market said. “The specific unit that we use does have a bag. There is a little door you can peel back, pull out the bag, put the instrument in the bag and then mail it back to the company that (the university) purchased it from.”

Mexico is one of Market’s favorite places to give presentations and to release weather balloons, he said. He and the atmospheric research team have given programs to pre-kindergarten students, and Wednesday was the first time they have given a presentation in Mexico to an adult audience.

“Whether it’s kids or adults, we always get a lot of good questions. We look forward to going back next year if we get the opportunity,” Market said.

Once the data is compiled from Wednesday’s launch, it will be shared with the library district, Bruner said.

Other programs this summer have included a variety of movie showings at the various Mexico-Audrain library branches. They all focused on science or the space program. Another speaker from this summer included Paul Baum, Audrain County Historical Society Living History coordinator, who presented a program titled “Beyond the Arctic Mirage.”

The district also received a donation of LEGO sets of the Saturn V rocket, which meant there could be LEGO parties for youth participants to construct the models. “It takes quite a bit to get it together, because it’s several thousand pieces, and they are small,” Bruner said.

Branches with finished models include Farber and Vandalia. The model at Martinsburg is nearly finished as is the one at Mexico, Bruner said.