What would happen to a balloon if it was blown up in a classroom and then taken to the top of Mount Everest? What would happen when it came back down?

Asked by:
Katrina

Answer

Katrina, I happen to know the answer to this question... not by having climbed Mount Everest, but by my experience flying. We have an altitude chamber on the base, that allows one to simulate altitudes. Routinely we make the pressure in the chamber equal to that at the top of Everest (approx. 29,028 ft). For fun we have balloons taped to the ceiling so that you may observe what is also happening to the partial pressures inside your body. Many people feel the need to burp quite a bit as the altitude goes up and the pressure goes down. Remember that p_{1}v_{1}=p_{2}v_{2}. In a closed system: If the pressure is lowered, than the volume must increase. Therefore, when the pressure goes down, the balloons get larger and larger. They may even pop, depending on how full they were to start with. But if they don't pop, when the pressure went back up (you climbed back down to the classroom)... then the balloon would go back to it's normal size.
Answered by:
Frank DiBonaventuro, B.S., Air Force Officer, Physics Major, The Citadel

'Physics is mathematical not because we know so much about the physical world, but because we know so little; it is only its mathematical properties that we can discover.'