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What Makes a Ballon Move?

  1. Sep 11, 2004 #1
    Hi all,

    I'm relatively new to physics, and was curious: when one does let the air release out of a ballon, why does it, and in which way is its force acting? I thought maybe the direction of the force was in the opposite direction it was traveling, but that doesn't seem to make much sense, since that would mean it wouldn't move because of Newton's third law. And does the amount of air surrounding the ballon have any effect on its force (i.e. would it move differently in a vacuum?)? Any information would be greatly appreciated! Thanks! :)
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 11, 2004 #2
    basically whats happening is the air pressure in the balloon is what pushes the air out of the balloon. and since every action has a reaction the air then pushes the balloon. it would move the same in a vacuum. this is kind of how spaceships move in space.
  4. Sep 11, 2004 #3
    This is exactly how spaceships move in space. They accelerate a gas of somekind, rocket exhaust, steam, compressed air, etc. out a nozzle and the reaction force acclerates the spaceship. Newton's Third Law at work!
  5. Sep 11, 2004 #4
    Rocket motion not only involves the third law, but also the law of conservation of momentum. As the rocket loses mass in the form of exhausts it gains velocity.
  6. Sep 12, 2004 #5
    If it were in a vacuum, I believe the ballon would fly in a parabola (or a straight line if there is no gravity). I think the funky flightpath we see is due to aerodynamical effects caused by fluctuations in balloon shape as it shrinks.

    Balloon rubber elasticity causes pressure. This pressure pushes [air] in one direction and [air + ballon] in the other direction. Because of symetry (cylindrical symetry), all other forces in all other directions cancel out. Only one pair of forces remain, and Newton's 3rd law takes care of it.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 12, 2004
  7. Sep 12, 2004 #6
    Thank you for the information.
    However, I have one more question: if the only two forces (as you said all others cancel out) are the equal and opposite forces, then how is it that the balloon moves, rather than remaining stationary?
  8. Sep 12, 2004 #7


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    The forces are equal and opposite - they don't "cancel." The expelled air moves one way and the balloon moves the other way.
  9. Sep 12, 2004 #8
    I said that the pressure pushes [(more) air] in one direction and [(less) air + (all the rubber from the) balloon] in the other. This is because there is a hole only on one end. For it to remain stationnary, you would need another hole, opposite to the first.
  10. Sep 12, 2004 #9
    It is the forces acting laterally to balloon trajectory that cancel out. Not the pair of opposites that causes the trajectory.
  11. Sep 13, 2004 #10
    FYI- The idea that a spacecraft could use expelled gases as thrust was first proven by an american rocket scientist by the name of Robert Goddard. He is known as the american father of rocketry and is ranked up there with Oberth and Tsiolkovsky. One of his first, and simplest experiements that proved this theory was conducted by placed a pistol inside a vaccum and then shooting blank rounds. The gun, which was connected to a pipe which was free to rotate, spun in circles. This was the first time the theory had been proven correct.
    Most of you probably already knew this..... but i thought it was an interesting part to the story.
  12. Sep 13, 2004 #11


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    Well, actually Tsoliovsky figured it out first, but Goddard didn't have access to the research, so it was credited to him as well.

    Welcome to PF anti-flag! :smile:
  13. Sep 13, 2004 #12
    First of all thank you enigma for the welcome.
    Secondly..... i guess thats what i get for believing things i read out of biographies. Was goddard at least the first to experimentally prove it??
    Thanks again
  14. Sep 13, 2004 #13


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    Yes, Goddard was.

    From this article on Tsiolkovsky (you had the spelling right... I can never remember it):

    Goddard was 16 at that time according to this bio and his first rocket test was on March 16th, 1926.
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