Central Coast

Dear Jon: Balloon releases; How high? How dangerous?

The potential problem depends on who you ask

Balloons are fascinating to watch as they float off into the air. But their departure raises some questions. Phil sent me a note to my email address and asked, "Dear Jon, countless balloons are released into the air. How high will they go and will they create a danger for aircraft?"

It's true, how many events can you think of where balloons are released? And no, that's not a "Family Feud" question! Although that would be a good one!

Here's the deal, a helium-filled balloon is lighter than the surrounding air. So the law of physics says that a helium filled balloon will be buoyed up as far as the weight of the helium inside the balloon is lighter than the surrounding air. Once the balloon and the surrounding air are even in weight mass, the balloon will no longer rise.

So how high is that?

It depends on the size and thickness of the balloon. Remember, it's all about weight distribution and that varies, balloon to balloon. I've seen estimates of 5 miles high for latex party balloons to 18 miles for professional weather balloons. The edge of space is approximately 62 miles.

So do these balloons pose a threat to aircraft or the environment?

It's not beyond the realm of possibility. Many environmentalists say balloons pose a threat to the environment and to wildlife, more than aircraft. It's been documented that balloon fragments litter the countryside and entangle wildlife.

Pilots on the other hand don't want anything impacting rotors or turbines.

Has there been a definitive study on this? Not really. I've read where latex balloons are not a threat to aircraft; where as Mylar balloons can pose a threat.

If you have a question for me, click the email link above. I welcome all inquiries. You can also message me on Facebook, "JonKBrent KIONKCOY" or Twitter "@DearJonKBrent."

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