Helium balloons float because it has less density than air. Why don't the helium gas inside shrink to equalize the air pressure?
A quick Google search does not give me any relevant results.

(note: I'm assuming the helium doesn't escape through the pores in the balloon)

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ it does (I am ignoring the elastic pressure from the balloon here) , it is just that at equal pressure and temperature, the ideal gas law gives different densities for He and air. $\endgroup$
    – user65081
    Commented Aug 19, 2021 at 1:39

1 Answer 1


Start from the ideal gas law: PV = NkT where V is volume, N is number, k is Boltzmann's constant, T is temperature, and P is pressure. Nowhere does the mass density or mass of each atom appear.

If the Helium in the balloon is at the same temperature and roughly the same number density as the air outside, it will be at the same pressure as the air outside. In practice, the Helium will be slightly overpressured because the pressure of the Helium must balance the pressure of the air outside + the surface tension of the balloon.

Although both the air and the Helium will have roughly the same number density and pressure, the Helium will be less mass dense because each Helium atom is lighter.

The more dense air falls down around the less dense balloon, pushing it up.


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