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Photographer Captures Bursting Weather Balloon High Above Georgia

Sequence of photos showing the balloon's descent. (Photos: Mike Riffle)

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

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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