Balloons in the Car

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Destin from Smarter Every Day has just made a video on one of my favorite fluids brain teasers: what happens to a helium balloon when you accelerate in a car? Take a moment to think about the answer before watching or reading further…

Okay, so what happens? Contrary to what you may expect, hitting the accelerator with a balloon in the car will make it shift forward. This is a matter of buoyancy. As Destin demonstrates with the water bottle, when two fluids are accelerated forward, the denser one will shift backwards, which pushes the lighter one forward. Because the helium is lighter than the air filling the car, accelerating pushes the air backward (just as it does the pendulum and the car’s inhabitants) and that shifting of the air pushes the helium in the balloon forward. (Video credit: Smarter Every Day)

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