Scientists are scouring a patch of central Victoria for equipment after a test flight that could one day help scientists find extrasolar planets.
La Trobe University graduate students believe their helium weather balloon launched during a test flight came down somewhere between Wedderburn and Epsom on Thursday.
The Bendigo team started their maiden run earlier that day in Nhill ahead of work that could trigger a series of scientific breakthroughs, including finding planets hiding in the depths of space.
La Trobe expert James Maxwell is advising on the project and says it was a success even if tracking equipment stopped working during the flight.
"It got to about 90,000 feet [27.4km] and stopped submitting GPS coordinates. We don't know if that was to do with the cold or some other malfunction," he said.
It does not matter too much that something went wrong. The balloon was only carrying $500 worth of equipment.
"This first flight was just to test our systems and make sure we knew how to do it before we put any expensive equipment on the balloon," Professor Maxwell said.
Next time scientists will fly the balloon higher and will eventually try to break the world record by rising more than 53 kilometres above the earth's surface.
They want to see stars without them twinkling.
"That twinkling is basically the air currents in our atmosphere. Once you are up high enough all of that goes away and you can see much more sharply, with the right types of telescopes and other equipment," Professor Maxwell said.
The team could even send up two balloons at a time, with one blocking certain stars so that the other could detect signs of light bouncing off of their planets.
"Usually it's like trying to take a picture into the headlights of your car. It all just gets washed out," he said.
"A planet has maybe a 1000th brightness of a star, usually a lot less. So what you have to do is somehow subtract all that light."
The balloons could also be used to measure phenomena closer to home.
Climate change researchers are yet to make detailed measurements of the way the earth's atmosphere and stratosphere interacts with solar radiation.
The balloons could also help scientists understand some of the more bizarre things that happen above people's heads.
Scientists are still trying to understand a type of lightning that strikes upwards instead of downwards after discovering it about 10 or 15 years ago.
"They are extremely powerful bolts of lightning that spread out into the stratosphere and into space. No-one totally understands how that works," Professor Maxwell said.
"We could actually fly above thunderclouds and measure those electric fields."