eli5 What happens to helium balloons after they float into the atmosphere?

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eli5 What happens to helium balloons after they float into the atmosphere?

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They will pop when they get high enough and the pressure is too low or helium will leak and will no longer float in the air. The result of both is the will fall back down to the ground.

Usually they burst when they reach a high enough altitude. The atmosphere is very thin and cold up there. The coldness makes the rubber of the balloon less elastic, and the lower air pressure means that the pressure inside the balloon is pushing harder against the inside of the balloon (similar to if you’ve seen pictures online of chip bags “puffing up” at high altitudes). Eventually the difference between the pressure inside and outside are too great, and the rubber can’t stretch enough, and it pops.

The balloon goes up where there is less air to squish it, so it gets bigger. When it gets bigger, the rubber stretches and the tiny holes and imperfections get bigger, and the helium leaks out until it’s empty. Or sometimes, it gets so big it pops.

They pop, leak or otherwise lose buoyancy and fall back to earth, polluting the environment and presenting choking hazards to wildlife.

I think they hurt the environment and eventually degrade into microplastics that enter the food chain. But they are pretty!