How Everything Works
How Everything Works How Everything Works

Question 97

How can a balloon support the air around it (pressure wise) and still rise?
If you could have filled a balloon with nothing at all, it would float very nicely because it would have had no weight and the only force on it would have been the buoyant force upward. But an empty balloon will be crushed by the surrounding air, which will push inward on its surface with enormous forces. To keep the balloon from crushing, you must fill it with gas. Since this gas will weight the balloon down, you should choose the lightest gases around: hot air or helium. In the case of hot air, a relatively small number of air molecules create the pressure needed to keep the balloon inflated. With helium atoms, lots of helium atoms are needed to create the pressure but helium atoms are very light and their total weight is less than that of an equal volume of air. Thus the upward force on the helium filled balloon is more than its weight and floats upward.

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