Helium Balloon in a Car

By Anupum Pant

Background

Whenever I choose to write about Helium, there’s something I almost never forget to mention – Helium is precious (Click to know why). So, if you’ve read that, you’ll know that you shouldn’t use it in party balloons, nor should you use it to make your voice sound funny. These are the most silliest things you could do with a borderline non-renewable resource. However, if someone uses it in party balloons to make science look cool to 5-year-old, it’s beautiful.

The Experiment

Destin, a super-cool dad, from the YouTube channel Smarter every day, did exactly that. This is what he did:

Pendulum in a car: First, he tied a pendulum to the roof of his car. Then he accelerated the car. As everyone must have guessed, the pendulum moved back as the car accelerated. It’s natural for our brains to assume that everything would move back in an accelerating vehicle.

Helium Balloon in a car: Next, he tied a balloon filled with Helium to the base of the car. Then, right when he was about to accelerate his car, he asked his 5 year olds sitting in the back seat – “Where do you think the balloon would go if I accelerate?”

Answer the question before proceeding, and reason it if you can. (Even if you don’t know it, it’s easier to guess it right now because of the build up I gave in the previous paragraphs)

The Answer

Unless you already have dealt with this “anomaly”, it’s pretty tough to guess that the balloon would actually move forward as the car accelerates. Yes, it moves forward! Something moving forward in an accelerating car sounds counter intuitive. I knew it because someone had asked me it in a physics puzzle sometime back. Just for the record, I had answered it wrong then. There’s no way I could have guessed, or reasoned it accurately the first time. Did you?

The balloon seems to be defying the laws of physics. But a helium balloon moving forward as the car accelerates can be completely explained by physics. It’s just our brain fooling us again.

Simple Analogy

Here’s how Destin explains it with a simple analogy – using a glass jar filled incompletely with water (so there’s an air bubble inside). Assume that the glass jar is like the car. The water in it, is like the air in the car. And the Helium balloon is like the air bubble in the jar – Since an air bubble is lighter than water, it is safe to assume that because even Helium is lighter than the air.

Now when the jar accelerates forward, the water in the jar moves back – so does the air in the car. As a result, the air in the jar moves forward – just like the Helium balloon does.

Here, watch the video if that sounds too confusing…

Most of you probably know this. But I’m sure that many don’t. Moreover I found the video really cute – A super cool dad explaining science to his little kids in a car. Plus they ask you to go to their audible link that would get you a free audio book. At the same time, it would help a cool dad fund his children’s education. My heart melted. If nothing, the video will at least make you smile.

Miniature Sealed Self-Sustaining Ecosystem

By Anupum Pant
  1. 53 years ago, David Latimer (80) from Surrey planted an indoor Spiderwort in a huge glass globular bottle. He has watered it just once, in the year 1972. Since then, this self-sustaining ecosystem, has been sealed away from the outside world for around 40 years. In spite of being sealed away like that, the plant has grown very well in its own miniature ecosystem [Picture]. The only regular external energy it has received has been in the form of light. [more about this self-sustaining ecosystem and how it works]
  2. The EcoSphere or the Original EcoSphere takes it to the next level by introducing a shrimp in a similar setting. Like David Latimer’s bottle, this is also a self-sustaining ecosystem consisting of algae, bacteria and shrimp. The company that sells these things says that the shrimps would last for just around 10 years. Although, they also claim of 25-year-old spheres with living shrimps.
    10 years is little as compared to the ecosystem discussed in the first point. But we are talking about a pet living in a completely sealed space for 10 years, without demanding food, change of water or an appointment with the vet. For these little creatures it is probably a safe haven away from the dirty oil slicked oceans and predators; or probably just a prison.

These little biospheres are a far simpler and smaller versions of our big worlds. We are like the shrimp and the trees, our algae. This diagram explains in a simple way, how these artificial, extremely simplified versions of Earth work – [Diagram]

The shrimp and algae biospheres were discovered by two scientists, the late Dr. Joe Hanson and the late Dr. Clair Folsome. Later, NASA became interested in these systems. There got interested because:

  1. This tiny model of the Earth could add information to NASA’s Mission to Planet Earth program for studying Earth’s biosphere.
  2. It could help NASA’s research on human life support systems directed toward the construction of space stations for exploring our solar system.

Make it for yourself: Make magazine published a detailed DIY guide on how to create these living biospheres at home. [Link] Carl Sagan’s Review of these biospheres: The World Arrived in The Mail.

Random Foliage Fact:

The world’s smallest park is located in the median strip of SW Naito Parkway, approaching esplanade along the Willamette River near SW Taylor Street in downtown Portland, Oregon, United States. Mill Ends Park, a 2 ft is a circular park, has held a place in the Guinness book of Records since 1971. It isn’t a park you can send your children to. – [Wikipedia]