The Sound of a Balloon Popping

The pop of an overfilled balloon is enough to make anyone jump, but you’ve probably never seen it like this. The photo above uses an optical technique known as schlieren photography that reveals changes in density of a transparent gas like air. The shredded rubber of the balloon is still visible in black, and around the balloon there’s an expanding spherical shock wave. It’s the sudden release of energy when the balloon ruptures and the gas inside begins to expand that causes the shock wave. Notice, though, that the gas from the balloon is still clearly visible and balloon-shaped–much like a water balloon that’s just popped. From that clear delineation, I would say that this balloon was filled with a different gas than air–otherwise the density shouldn’t be different enough to make the interior gas distinguishable.  (Image credit: G. Settles)

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