# How Helium Balloons Work

By: Marshall Brain  |

## Hot Air

What about hot air balloons? They work by similar principles. If you heat up a gas it expands. In the case of a hot air balloon, when the gas inside the balloon expands the extra gas is pushed out the bottom of the balloon, meaning that there are fewer atoms inside the balloon, meaning that the air in the balloon is lighter than the air outside the balloon.

The amount of lifting power is controlled by how hot the air is. If you heat the air inside the balloon 100 degrees F hotter than the outside air temperature, then the air inside the balloon will be about 25 percent lighter than the air outside the balloon. So a cubic foot of air weighs about 35 grams at 32 degrees F. A cubic foot of hot air at 132 degrees F will weigh 25 percent less, or about 26.5 grams. The difference is 8.5 grams or so. So a hot air balloon has to be much bigger to support the same weight, but it will float because hotter air is lighter than cooler air.