Virtual Ballooning to Explore the Atmosphere

Virtual Ballooning to Explore the Atmosphere

Virtual Ballooning - older Flash versionNote: this is a new version of our Virtual Ballooning interactive. If you need the older, Flash-based version of Virtual Ballooning, it is still available and will be until AT LEAST the end of February 2019.

This new version of Virtual Ballooning uses HTML5 technologies, so it will run on tablet computers such as iPads, as well as Windows and Mac computers and Chromebooks. We are still adding features to this new version, and expect to have all of the features from the older version installed in this new version by the end of January 2019. We are also adding lots of new features and options, as well as an improved user interface.

Explore the atmosphere by launching Virtual Weather Balloons!

  • Click the Explore the Troposphere button in the interactive below to get started with a simple scenario.
  • After you've explored the troposphere, click Layer's of Earth's Atmosphere to investigate higher layers of the atmosphere. Advanced students might want to go straight to Layer's of Earth's Atmosphere, skipping Explore the Troposphere. If you used our Flash-based version of Virtual Ballooning in the past, this is the section of the new Virtual Ballooning that is most similar to the older, Flash-based version.

Use the Help button, with the question mark ("?") on it, to get instructions once you are at the Explore the Troposphere or Layer's of Earth's Atmosphere screen. 

Explore the Troposphere - what to look for

  • How does temperature change as you go higher up in the troposphere (the lowest layer of the atmosphere)? Does it get warmer, colder, stay the same, or change in a more complex pattern?
  • Different types of clouds are found at different heights. Cumulus clouds usually appear within a couple of kilometers of the ground, while cirrus clouds form at heights of six kilometers or higher. Is one type of cloud warmer than the other? Would you expect to find liquid water droplets in each type of cloud, or might one of these types of clouds be made of ice crystals?

Layers of Earth's Atmosphere - what to look for

  • Do temperature and air pressure change in a smooth, gradual way as your balloon flies higher? Or are there certain altitudes at which the temperature or pressure trend on the graph makes a sudden change in direction?
  • Scientists define the boundaries between different layers of the atmosphere based on sudden changes in the temperature vs. altitude and/or pressure vs. altitude graphs. How many layers of the atmosphere can you find?
  • After your balloon flights, read more about atmosphere layers at our Layers of Earth's atmosphere page.

Coming Soon (early 2019)

  • Discover the Stratosphere - a new section of Virtual Ballooning will allow you to re-live the pioneering balloon flights of the late 1800's that led to the discovery of the Stratosphere
  • Atmospheres of Other Worlds - explore the atmospheres of Venus, Mars, and Saturn's moon Titan by launching balloons on other worlds
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