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What Happens to a Helium Balloon Released into the Air?

"A kid lets go of a helium balloon and watches it rise slowly up to the sky. Does it: 

a) rise until the air pressure is low and the temp. is cold enough for the helium to compress and the balloon sinks, then when it falls back to regular air pressure and temp. it rises again and it continues in a loop (up and down) until ultimately it falls to the ground when it runs out of helium?

b) rise higher and higher until it floats/explodes in space?

c) explodes from the low air pressure, then the torn rubber/plastic falls slowly to the ground?

d) Other?

I've wondered about this since I was a kid..."

Answers (6)

doggy 05-03-2013
"a) no, the compression due to cooling is way offset by expansion due to lowering pressure b) no, it never reaches outer space. c) correct, except it explodes due to the lower air pressure. This causes the balloon to expand until it reaches it's expansion limit and breaks. This is why balloons intended to reach high altitudes start out with the envelope only partially filled. edit: ""I never saw a piece of balloon fall from the sky,"" neither did I, but there is a lot of land and ocean for it to fall into."
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dharamnishth 15-05-2013
"They gain altitude till they explode... the sun might do it, or many other factors. as for littering, well, after it explodes the rubber fall back to earth and it will litter the place it landed on, its a good point there... and i doubt there is a law enforcing it or seeing this action as littering, even when it does"
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atmaja 16-05-2013
They eventually lose their gas and drop out of the sky. As 2/3 of the planet is water, many of them land in the water where marine animals mistake them for jelly fish (they don't know what mylar is.) The may eat them and are unable to pass them.
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pampaaaa 21-05-2013
    Eventually they will pop or deflate, and fall either on land or into the ocean. In the ocean, sea creatures like dolphins, porpoises, and seals will try to eat it and choke to death. If you see one, pick it up and save a life. I do think it would be littering, since its not organic material that would be turned into compost. I know some people think its fun, and your kid was young and oblivious, but please, educate her and don't do it. Thank you for asking, because sea creatures are suffering from our trash when they shouldn't.
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honda-civic 28-05-2013
    "Cracker question because helium balloons are actually a pretty controversial topic. Some people argue that they are harmful to the environment because on returning to Earth, animals mistake them for food, eat them, and die. Now for this to happen, the balloons would have to come back down in fairly large chunks. These chunks would then have to either block the animal's airways and choke them, or become lodged in their digestive system causing a fatal illness. Neither of these outcomes sounds very nice for animals so it's worth investigating more.           "
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lakhan 31-05-2013
    First of all, we'd better look at how balloons are released. When helium filled balloons are handed out at public events, they usually come with a piece of string or ribbon attached. The attachment is either tied into the knot, or secured with a plastic disk. Either way, if these balloons are accidentally (or purposely) released, the attachment becomes litter and that's bad. I've only spotted a few balloons in the amazing amount of litter I see surfing here in Sydney, but they all had ribbons attached. So rule number one, don't let go of your balloons!
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