National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

Photographer Captures Bursting of Weather Balloon High Above Georgia

posted June 1, 2006

During the evening of May 30, 2006 Mike Riffle saw a bright object in the skies above the Columbus, Georgia area. As he began snapping photos, he witnessed an unusual sight - the bursting of a weather balloon as it reached the end of its mission. This balloon, after having been launched by the National Weather Service in Peachtree City, was at an altitude of 112,897 feet, and was brightly lit by the setting sun.


Weather Balloon at the End of its Mission over Columbus, GA.
( click images to enlarge or click here for animation)
Photos courtesy Mike Riffle.
[ Balloon brightly lit by the evening sun at an altitude in excess of 100,000 feet. ]
Balloon brightly lit by the evening sun at an altitude in excess of 100,000 feet.
[ Ballon just after bursting. ]
Balloon just after bursting.
[ Balloon now descending. ]
Balloon now descending.
[ Continuing to fall. ]
Continuing to fall.

Weather balloons are launched twice a day at the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Peachtree City. The instruments tugged aloft by the balloon send back valuable information about conditions in the middle and upper portions of the atmosphere. The ascent is intended to go as high as possible, but is limited by the strength of the balloon's fabric. The balloon bursts when the pressure exerted by the gas on the inside far exceeds the atmospheric pressure (which decreases rather quickly with height). This pressure difference eventually causes a tear in the balloon's fabric, and the balloon bursts.

The typical flight ends at an altitude exceeding 100,000 feet.

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