>> Monday, July 7, 2008
This picture is from the Open Clip Art Library and was released into Public DomainYes, that is correct. You read it. Lawn chair balloonist. This man made his first accent into the skies via lawn chair in 2006. Then last year (July 2007), he made a 193 mile flight using a cluster of balloons. As if that wasn't enough, Couch wants to make the trip all the way into Idaho (he usually leaves from Oregon). Well... he did it. This weekend he "flew" 235 miles from Bend, OR and landed in a field in ID. He uses Cherry Kool-Aid as his "ballasts" and a BB gun for buoyancy- control. He has done numerous TV and radio appearances but does it for the fun of it.
So now we go on to the science.
Most of the helium that exists on Earth is the result of Radio Active Decay (a topic that takes way to long to explain). It is the second most abundant element in the universe after hydrogen. It is lighter than air (which is about 78% nitrogen) though heavier than hydrogen. Hydrogen burns easily, however, and helium does not, making it the best choice for balloons (score one for safety, Kent). Not only does it not burn, it it the least reactive of all the element on the chart. It is the least water soluble of all the gases and actually heats up when allowed to expand. Since there is little helium in the atmosphere, it would be very expensive to remove it from the air. Economically it is easier to remove helium from natural gas, which contains about 7% of this element. Because of it's low solubility, it is used in air mixtures for deep sea divers. Helium is also used as a tracer gas to find leaks in high-vacuum and high-pressure equipment... and apparently for making trips across state lines in lawn chairs.
Then what causes the squeaky voice from sucking on helium? Well, the speed of sound is also different in helium. It is actually three times faster than air.
Now that you know the basics of helium... does it make lawn-chair ballooning any less scary?
Not to me.