In the hands of scientists, a toy does serious data gathering.
Before airplanes and hot-air balloons came along, early meteorological research was like child's play on a windy day: Scientists flew kites. In the mid-18th century, researchers studied the atmosphere by attaching well-padded thermometers to a kite's tether and sending them aloft. A slow-burning fuse later released the instruments, which plummeted to Earth. The scientists' big challenge was to quickly find the thermometers that survived the fall before they warmed up.